identity system

Responses to childhood trauma.

Our therapist mentioned a while back that there are common responses to childhood trauma.  The obvious ones being fight or flight. But she said three others were freeze, submit and attach.

I don’t think I understood at the time but looking at my system now I can see examples of all of these responses in system members.

They’re pretty self explanatory I guess but I just wanted to share this for reference if anyone finds it helpful, like I have.  I think these are even more relevant in dissociative disorders such as DID because there are often conflicting feelings towards abusers - we are often attached to them despite their abuse.  For us that has been one of the most grueling things to admit.

I know freeze is very common, in later trauma/abuse as well as child abuse. It often happens when fight/flight can’t happen and is when a child will become silent and still, anything to avoid drawing the attention of their abuser. It comes with a sense of powerlessness.

If the freeze response doesn’t work, the child can “submit” by going along with whatever the abuser is doing, in the hope that if they comply it will be over quicker/they won’t be punished. This can be seen in animals - they “play dead” and hope for the attacker to leave them. Submit parts often feel a great deal of shame and take on the blame/responsibility for what has happened.

It is apparently common to have alters who represent these trauma responses within the same system. I can now see all of the responses in our system, for example, fight presents in hypervigilant alters such as protectors, flight can be seen in those alters who distance themselves from external people to avoid being hurt, freeze is obvious in very scared/traumatised/often younger alters who can be stuck in the trauma, submit parts can feel shame or appear needy, whereas attached parts have a fear of being abandoned/always try to be better.

I’m not sure if this will help anyone but it helped us to figure out why certain alters act in a particular way/believe particular things.

man. you know what I really wanna do? make a comedy play/tv show script about being in a system.
because let’s be honest, it’s not a dangerous thing, dramatic yes, confusing yes, but not dangerous to people outside of your system.

  • “Wait, WHAT DO YOU MEAN (bilingual alter) WON’T WAKE UP WE HAVE A TEST TODAY!!!!!”
  • “…who put the body on a roof again?”
  • “uh…”
  • “GODDAMMIT (teenage alter) WHAT DID WE TELL YOU”
  • “…no, no (little), go to bed, it’s past your–No you can’t stay up the body is doing adult stuff– JUST GO TO BED!”
  • “questions we ask the host:
    what’s for dinner?
    what’s this word?
    who’s this?
    how do we talk to this person?
    what’s the equasion for this?
    things we ask (older alter):
    where’s the host?”
  • “why is everyone asleep it’s literally 7pm?”
  • “why is everyone awake it’s literally 3am?”
  • “can everybody shut up I’m trying to front”
  • arguments about what to do
  • including over what we eat
  • arguments over going to friends’ houses
feel free to add some system friends…

The movie Split is fast approaching and it will bring HARDCORE discrimination and stigma towards those living with Dissociative Identity Disorder. We can do nothing to stop the movie but we have to be loud RIGHT NOW! WE EXIST! WE ARE PEOPLE TRYING TO LIVE WITH THIS! WE ARE NOT SOME PSYCHOPATHIC PLOTLINE! I URGE ESPECIALLY THOSE WITHOUT THIS DISORDER TO HELP ALL THOSE WHO WILL BE AFFECTED BY THIS HORRIBLE MOVIE!  R E P O S T! please help us. stand with us.

date a boy with DID. be supportive of his alters. remind him of things he forgot.

A few of the mods of this blog have been talking, and we’ve been becoming increasingly concerned about a trend that we’ve all noticed in the DID community here. We’ve tried to address it in the past, but we feel that it’s important that we try again and acknowledge that it’s much bigger than we communicated before.

What systems need to understand is that it isn’t healthy for anyone to allow their life to revolve around or significantly focus on their alters and / or inner world. It’s one thing to work extensively with alters in order to try to stabilize and heal. Similarly, if a small group of alters works together to manage daily life, of course this requires some degree of internal interaction. What concerns us is seeing that many people in this community act like internal happenings are just as or more important than external events and responsibilities, like internal relationships are just as or more important than external relationships, or like having DID is one of the most important things about someone.

It’s important to get along with your alters. It’s important for every alter to feel respected and heard. It’s important for alters to feel safe and content because your alters are part of you (or, to be more accurate, your alters and you are part of the same overarching system). Your alters need to be doing well for you as a whole to be doing well. Their physical, emotional, and intellectual needs are no less or more important than yours or any other alters’.

What isn’t healthy is focusing on alters’ surface needs at the expense of working on what the system as a whole needs. For example, while child alters can feel more safe and accepted when they’re given toys and allowed to play, it’s the safety and acceptance that they really need. Giving child alters safe play time can help them to reach a realization of safety, but the toys and play time alone aren’t sufficient. Child alters aren’t literal kids that you’ve been tasked with babysitting. They, like every other part of you, were created and shaped by trauma, and they aren’t uniquely immune to its effects. What they need most is for you as a system to heal.

You may not be ready to face your trauma now. Instead, you can start with making sure that your external environment is safe. You can work on symptoms of other mental health conditions that you have. You can find and practice healthier coping mechanisms. You can learn what healthy relationships look like. You can learn to ground yourself when you’re dissociated and even to prevent yourself from dissociating. What you cannot and should not try to do is focus on exploring your system and alters indefinitely at the expense of working towards actual progress. Learning that your child alters feel safer when they have a stuffed animal to hug can be a great realization! Spending days, weeks, months, or longer trying to learn all of your alters unique preferences, however, is a distraction.

It is not healthy to focus on alters’ desires at the expense of external life. While giving alters time to do what they enjoy can help the system to internalize that every part matters, this shouldn’t interfere with academics, your job, or your goals in life. Just as self care is important, giving alters some time to themselves can make for a more stable and happier system. However, just as self care shouldn’t become an excuse to never try to get anything done, making your alters happy shouldn’t become the same. Alters documenting their existence on Tumblr isn’t more worthwhile than meeting up with friends, going somewhere fun, or learning a new skill. Giving alters time out isn’t a more pressing issue than getting your homework done, making sure that you understand what you need to do for your job, volunteering, working on a personal project, or doing something else meaningful or fulfilling.

Similarly, relationships with alters should not take precedent over external relationships. While, again, it’s important for all alters to get along, you shouldn’t prioritize alters dating each other or being friends with each other over looking for, forming, and supporting external friendships, romantic and / or sexual relationships, and general connections. Keeping to yourself because you have your alters for company is not the same as meeting someone new or reaching out to old acquaintances. External loved ones can introduce you to new ideas, teach you new things, support you through hard times, and help you to grow as a person in ways that alters, as part of you, can’t. External loved ones should never make you feel bad about having alters or try to turn any of your alters against each other, but you in turn should try not to neglect them in favor of focusing on symbolic relationships between your alters.

What happens in your internal world will never be a good replacement for external life. Focusing on the jobs that alters have can never be as fulfilling as succeeding academically or in a job of your own. Internal families, partnerships, and friends can never be as fulfilling as finding or making your own family, partner(s), and friends. It may be difficult for you to achieve what you want to externally right now, and that’s okay! If spending time thinking about your internal world helps you to feel calmer, more confident, or more prepared to deal with your actual life, that can be okay. However, you need to be very careful that your internal world doesn’t become a crutch. Remember, distraction can be a coping mechanism, but if taken too far, it’s just another pathological response that’s standing between you and healing.

Another concern is that by focusing too much on your alters and how they feel like separate individuals, you can lose sight of how you all fit together. It can be harder to heal from trauma if you can’t acknowledge that it happened to you, all of you, and not just to specific alters. It can be harder to learn to handle triggers, face your fears, or respond appropriately to other intense situations and emotions if you always lean on specific alters to do so. It can be harder to rely on your abilities if you believe that only specific alters can accomplish your goals. It can be harder to really grasp and work towards your potential if you never acknowledge that your alters’ strengths belong to the system as a whole even if you can’t all access those strengths evenly right now.

There’s also the risk of getting so caught up in alters’ presentations that you give them more weight than the system’s reality. For example, an alter’s age cannot determine what age individuals the system should be with; an alter that presents as a minor in an adult system cannot be romantically or sexually involved with actual minors, just as an alter that presents as an adult in an underage system cannot be romantically or sexually involved with actual adults. An alter presenting as a certain race or ethnicity does not truly understand what it’s like to actually be a member of that racial or ethnic group. An alter presenting as disabled or with conversion disorder does not truly understand what it’s like to actually be permanently disabled in that way. An alter being a doctor or therapist internally does not give the system the medical or professional knowledge and experience of a doctor or therapist. Alters’ internal realities are never as concrete as external reality.

Finally, there’s all of the issues inherent in making a disorder a key part of your identity. Remember that you as a person have so much more going for you than what internal world jobs or abilities your alters have. You’re worth so much more than a list of alter names and associated traits. There’s so much more that’s interesting about you than that you have DID, how many alters that you have, or how your alters present. Some people might struggle with internalizing this, and that’s okay. Even if you’re one of those people, working towards understanding yourself as a whole is worthwhile. Like everything else here, it may take time, effort, and a large change in how you view and understand your system and DID as a whole, but it’s so much healthier in the long run, and every little bit of progress counts.

To reiterate and to make sure that this is absolutely clear, working with your alters is important for healing! It’s okay to acknowledge that your alters can be different from you in important ways. It’s okay for alters to want to spend time doing things that they enjoy, working towards their own interests and passions, or forming their own relationships. It’s okay to not be sure yet what your system’s overall goals, talents, or traits are. It’s okay for several alters to be important parts of your daily life and to have no intention of changing that. Where the line needs to be drawn is allowing your DID, your mental illness, to overshadow your external life. While it may feel comforting now, it’s overall limiting, and you deserve better than that.

-Katherine of Those Interrupted

(Note: I used “DID” throughout this post because OSDD-1 systems don’t seem to have this problem as often. However, this post can apply to all systems.)