Here is a quote from my article “Overcoming Instability Issues and Unsuccessful Memory Work“:
“If you cannot speak, in your normal voice, discussing your trauma memories from the safety of the here-and-now while still connected in the present, then don’t even try to address your memories. It is too soon.”
It has come to my attention that I need to expand on these statements.
A. Your Normal Voice
To clarify, speaking “in your normal voice” does not mean to be devoid of all emotion. A dissociated, numb, detached voice is not your “normal voice”. A “normal voice” can and does have plenty of emotion — otherwise, we would all sound like robots.
Pick a safe topic (one not about trauma), but a topic about which you have passionate opinions. For example, what was your opinion about Donald Trump vs Hilary Clinton? Did you have a strong preference for which person you wanted to have as the next President? How much emotion was in your voice when you expressed your opinions about the election?
Or, think of your favorite funny movie – one that really makes you laugh and leaves you feeling good for the rest of the day. When you talk about that comedy show, reliving the funny plots to your friend, do you have emotion in your voice?
In each of these situations, most people will have a relatively strong emotional connection to the topic, but they will be able to use their “normal voice” and incorporate a healthy amount of emotion in their speech.
Reaching up to (but not beyond) this level of emotional intensity is my recommendation for early stages of trauma work.
B. Emotional Intensity
I do not recommend that the first steps and stages of addressing memories and trauma be experienced in the extremes of emotional states. To go from blocked, dissociated, amnesiac non-awareness of traumatic material to full-fledged, full-voiced screams and cries is far too big of a jump. That’s a black vs. white approach, and neither extreme is going to be helpful for you.
Of course there are times when more extreme and intense emotion needs to be expressed – that is absolutely true.
However, I do not think it is in any survivor’s best interest to start at that level of emotional intensity. Expression of that kind of emotional intensity happens way further down the line in treatment chronology, if ever. If you jump there too soon, there will be problems.
Because of the backlash.
If you have no awareness of certain traumas for years of time, and then, within a short amount of time, you get flooded with a tidal wave of emotional information about that trauma, you can bet that there will be struggles with self-injury, self-mutilation, and physical pain as a backlash response to the sudden and excessive emotional pain of remembering.
The strength of your dissociative walls — the years of not knowing about certain traumatic information, emotion, and physical feelings — clearly and without question indicates that there is, and will be for an extended period of time, system conflict about that memory information surfacing.
While some parts will be very relieved at the chance to talk about their trauma, you will also have some insiders upset and angry that the memory surfaced in the first place. Some insiders could be so upset if memories surface or are talked about that they might threaten punishment or harm, or they might forego threats and simply act on their own beliefs and their own feelings. You will have some insiders re-living the physical pain, and others trying to deny the whole shebang.
With all the opposing responses going on within your system, you won’t be able to sit with the emotional intensity for very long.
An internal war will follow. That’s not very healing. That’s quite traumatizing.
It is much better and safer to approach emotional intensity in graduated steps — to build your tolerance and emotional endurance, and to make sure that there is no internal backlash. While some parts of you might want to scream and shout, there may very likely be someone else inside who will believe that kind of behavior should be punished.
If you don’t have sufficient system cooperation to be expressing such intense emotion, and to maintain your safety in the days following, then it is not safe for you to be pushing for that level of intensity.
C. The Here and Now
When doing trauma work, it is absolutely critical to have a solid connection to the present day, the here and now. All too many dissociated insiders actually think / feel / believe they are still living in the time frame that they are most connected to. Just because you – the adult host — know it is 2009, does NOT mean that your inside parts have that solid awareness. They are more familiar with other time zones. They may fully believe they are still there, in those times, living in those places, near those perpetrators, etc. They will be frightened of ongoing abuse, and will react accordingly.
Check that thoroughly. If for any reason, your insiders still think they are in that traumatic time frame, they will still be too afraid to address the issues in the most effective ways. They will still believe their perpetrators can hear them, or can see them, or will be showing up again at any moment. (Working with internal introjects of external perpetrators is a huge issue, but will be addressed in at a different time.)
As you show the current time frame to your insiders and prove to them that they are living in a new time frame (the current year, somewhere 2016 or beyond), and that they are living in your current house, that the perpetrators they fear are far far away, you are giving your memory-holding parts the ability to get grounded back to the current day once they begin memory work. This grounding to the current time frame is critical for them to know they are safe.
D. Current Safety
ALL parts must know they are safe enough to talk about their trauma, but this is especially true for child parts. They have to know that it is okay, and that the perpetrator isn’t going to show up and hurt them for talking. They also have to know that the other insiders will not punish them for talking about their memories.
Before starting any memory work with young parts be sure to address the following issues with them:
- Are they still connected to now, this year, right now? Show this, prove this, in any way that they can.
- Can they still see the room that you are physically in?
- Can they see that you live in this house now?
- Can they see that the house looks different? Can they see how the yard, garage, grounds, barns, etc look different from when the places where you grew up?
- When they are talking about the scary things that you remember, can they come back to being right there, in the current-day place where you are – the place that is far, far away from where those mean people live?
- Can they see your therapist’s office? Do they see the couch there? The pictures / decorations that are there? Do they know that your therapist’s office is also a very very very long way away from where those bad people are?
Reassure all child parts that you can and will keep them safe, both inside and out.
If you cannot promise that you will be able to keep them safe from mean insiders and outside perpetrators, then address those issues first, before attempting to make the hurting parts talk about trauma.
Everyone needs solid reassurance about safety BEFORE talking about their trauma.
The focus for the Saddest Little Bear Dissoci-ACTION Story Pack is on meeting new parts, and getting to know parts of your system.
Do you need help and guidance with meeting new parts in your system? This Story Pack should be helpful information for you.
I wish you the very BEARY best in your healing journey.
Copyright © 2008-2018 Kathy Broady MSW and Discussing Dissociation
I too like example of the mindfield. It is spot on.
for years we were pushed to do memory work and if we didnt we werent trying. and unlike m we werent expecting a miracle cure but our therapists were – we were trying to figure out where we were, where we went, and struggling with where did this come from cause it didnt happen, it couldnt have happened to us? but it was good bye times up and why arent you feeling great? so we slipped more into shame and guilt, feeling suicidal and our walls got thicker where most of us didnt even live in the body. today we work with someone whose focus has been helping to release the shame guilt which has helped shrink the walls. we have 7 systems plus a little piece of shattered core that is the original person. we made still have walls between the systems but we are working as much as possible with insiders in our respective systems. kathy has only heard from 1 or 2 of the systems and we still lose time but trusting that the others are ok like us has reduced the fear of what if and we know one day we will meet the others. it is a fine line to walk as kathy says but it is also a series of baby steps cause its not who gets through the minefield first its who gets through it safely
Wow … “its not who gets through the minefield first its who gets through it safely.” How perfectly said. Thank you for sharing your story and all of the inspiration that it contained.
Sorry…something like this may have already been discussed – but trying to read through all the blog posts and replies is rather overwhelming. Some I understand, some I don’t at all and it “scares” me.
I recently went through a major panic attack while at work. A particular person I work with has been a pretty much daily trigger for me on varying levels and I have tried to plow through it all. I sense many undercurrents from this person – biggies being feeling like I am being “head-gamed” and “manipulated” – which leaves me feeling extremely confused and fighting panic and/or internal rage (I manage to stay numb on the Outside). Each shift at work has often been emotionally exhausting for me – but I do not have the option to go elsewhere. Once in a good while, my T has had to intervene to request a day off for me – (I am unable to do so for myself because of the massive “fear of failure” triggering that hits the parts who help me work Outside). I am blessed to have a T who understands the massive Catch 22 I am in.
I have recently seen some young parts scrambling to get away from what I assume to be some type of perpetrator introject – but don’t yet know why it is there or what to do with it. Anyway, several young parts are now terrified that this work person is actually somehow connected to that introject who is “out to get them”. I am continually on edge fighting their panic whenever I see this person.. I do not know how to deal with the “head-game/manipulation” undercurrents and end up wondering if I am making everything up. Bottom line, they are in turmoil not only by whatever that Internal introject is, but also from the Outside person. It somehow feels connected to an intense level of fear and confusion about being head-gamed and manipulated. So the anxiety is coming from Outside as well as Internal.
Any ideas of how to deal with THAT??
I think I am like M in a way, except I do have memories but absolutely no emotions attached to them, I think I am actually a very cold person in a lot of ways. I do though have the need to be in control of my situations, if I feel trapped in any shape or form I have an overwhelming need to have something I can control, for me its usually my own body, through not eating, and being obsessive about running and training, its the only time I feel good about my body really and feel in total control. I have noticed though, that if an emotion does start to surface, somebody else takes over, who is very very angry. I also think I share flashbacks with some others, as its like Im watching what happened, and one minute its me and the next is someone else…does this make sense ?. I really wish the main part comes back soon, as the period is due and I cant deal with that even though I am female.
I have done alot of work in the last few weeks, and with others did a safety contract and some deals, but I am so overwhelmed in that, I can only help them so much. I am researching some of the issue they struggle with but finding it very difficult in some of the areas as I cant relate. I am not trying to control them but feel I have to help them because if I had fought harder things would not have happened to them. I wish I could cry but I never seem to be able too, I can get angry but again it gets to a certain point and someone else who I used to call the Rage (I now know her real name) takes over. We recently ended seeing current T, too many triggers in office, too unstructured therapy, not knowing what to expect is not good for us.
We were going in and just reacting, feeling like we are going round and round. This T although familiar with dissociation in terms of ptsd was not an expert in DID. WE did see someone else recently who was amazing, in just 1 and a half hours, I understood so much more, and as a result directed my stubborn bullhead determination towards something positive instead of negative of not eating. We are waiting to hear if she will take us on and to be honest I am so afraid she wont, I have researched and researched but I cant do this alone, I just want someone to show me the tools or map and be there to redirect if necessary. I am prepared to do the work, and know the trauma part will be hard, but I am prepared to do it as long as I feel Ihave the tools and coping skills to get through it. I felt our last T wanted me to be too dependant on her, and although that is an issue for me I also believe that if we are to heal we must become self reliant and learn to cope alone so to speak, this T wouldnt have cared if I called 10 times a day and that to me does not help but actually hurts us in the long run. I admit I didnt like her style at all. Dont know why Im even writing this but right now |I feel like I have the weight of the world on my shoulders with main part not here, and I really dont want to mess things up but at the same time really want to move forward. Main part was really struggling with diagnosis and I feel she is stuck in that victim mind set but at the same time I really miss her and I guess need her in some way.
Getting back to the topic, I know for me I am prepared to lay it all on the table but need to feel like I am safe and that I have the skills to cope with it. I know if I end up in hospital they will have to tie me down because I cant be trapped there, it will trigger me bigtime that I would sell my soul to the devil to avoid that. Sorry for going on.
I do not know where I should post or if you can even help me, but I am the second oldest of six children born to a mother diagnosed with Multiple Personality Disorder (diagnosed in 1993). I have written a book about what life was like living with her. It is a book about forgiveness, love and relationships entitles, “Mother Had A Secret”. I have an agent soliciting the manuscript to publishers but because I am not a celebrity, she is having a hard time getting editors to even read the book. I have created a blog http://motherhadasecret.blogspot.com where I have posted the first two chapters of the book for people’s review. I am asking people to read the chapters and post a comment to read more, showing the publishers that people really are interested in learning more about DID/MPD. If there is anything you could do to help me with this, I would be very grateful. Thanks so much for your time.
Kathy Broady says
Thank you for your post.
I am glad to see that you are writing a book about being the child of a multiple. I have worked with several children of dissociative parents. It is the makings of a unique childhood, that is for sure. The stability and functioning level of the DID parent has such a profound effect on the children, of course… It sounds like you have been through some very rough times.
I wish you the best with your hopes to publish your book.
Thanks for posting –
Thanks for the feedback. It helps. A lot.
You are right about the shame and self-hatred being too difficult to sit with. I don’t self injure or anything like that. I tend to have that critical judge who rides me with internal dialogue about how I am not doing anything right. And I tend to have difficulty eating. That also has gotten worse lately.
The torturous part of denial is this: What if I really am just imagining that I was sexually abused as a young child? Then I must be a really sick, self-absorbed person who doesn’t even have a handle on reality. And somehow my world is going to crash down around me because of my delusion. I will be shamed to my very core. It will be worse than death.
These thoughts and feelings seem truly real at times. At other times I believe that they are not true. So I am in a no-man’s land of not knowing anything for sure about the facts, and my judge has a field day with all of this.
Does this make sense?
This same exact thing happens to me – torturing myself that I am making it all up, that I’m a sick and sadistic person, that I just want attention, that’s I’m somehow attached to being a victim. That possibility terrifies me, and it is one of the big reasons there is so much conflict among parts inside.
I don’t know how to be sure of anything when so much of my experience feels unreal and like “not me”. But maybe it IS me and I’m just too terrible to want to take responsibility for it.
How can someone know for sure that they are not making it up? I’ve been trying to figure that out for years. My only “memories” don’t feel like memories at all, because they AREN’T my memories. But that leaves me in a really scary and stuck position, because I’m not sure how to tell if they are memories from another part or if they are a sick, twisted ploy for attention by someone who has always been a little too imaginative. I’m afraid that I’m so awful that I’m even fooling myself, which is why I can’t tell what is real and what is not.
It’s especially bad after I tell my T something that feels important – the backlash is immediate and severe and exhausting. Sometimes I can tolerate it and ignore the parts screaming that I’m making it all up, and sometimes I can’t handle it and I allow other parts to punish us or something else bad.
So yeah… I get that, Ljane. It makes sense to me.
T. Clark says
LJane, beating yourselves up emotionally is self-harm. That is not a blaming statement. Just don’t want you to think self-harm is only physical. How we talk to ourselves is important. We noticed ourselves shaming us today. Noticing seems like an important step.
Your situation is important. It makes sense to us that you would be confused about what is real. You, too, HazelE. We can see how confusing reality is versus the ways we protected ourselves all these years.
Anyone hurting who reads this post, please read this out loud when you are somewhere you feel safe: We care about what is happening to you. You are not alone. You don’t have to honor your pain with more pain. You can be a survivor and hold compassion for your parts.
Hello Ljane and HazelE,
I think what you are experiencing is something that many of us can relate to. I thought that I was lying to my T, my husband and myself the first few years I started to discover some of my insiders and parts of their stories. There simply was no other explanation because I had no memory of much of what was being said and felt by my insiders. So, it must not be true then right?
Well, as time went on the stories remained consistent, the insiders presented the same over and over again and what they were saying just started to feel right. Do I have definitive proof of what they have told me from outside sources? No. Does what my insiders tell me make sense to how and why my life has unfolded as it has? Yes.
The proof has been in my insiders existence in the first place, their consistent and enduring details of abuse (much of this as body memories) and the relief that I felt in surrendering to the truth that they were telling me.
I recently “remembered” something during a therapy session, and it caused me to really lose control, crying and unable to talk for quite some time. It was more of a realization of shame and self-hate and how that ties into abuse . The thing is, I could not talk about what I realized. But I didn’t feel that I had any control over what I realized either. I have never felt so “taken over” by my emotions. Could I have stopped it? Could I have controlled it? I willed myself to email the contents of my realization to my therapist a couple of days later. I am just wondering if I am trying too hard because I didn’t go into therapy that day with any kind of agenda to remember trauma– it just happened. And I definitely continue to torture myself with the idea that I am making all of this up. Is that backlash?
Your thoughts about this would be really helpful.
Kathy Broady says
Thanks for the comment – you’ve made a good point. Sometimes, yes, big emotion surfaces unexpectedly. Shame and self-hate are big huge feelings, especially as they connect with abuse. I am glad to hear that you wrote to your therapist when you could and explained what was going on for you. That was good. And, shame and self-hatred are such important and huge topics, that I really hope you keep working on them. The idea that you were rendered speechless by the hugeness of your emotion really says how big and important those topics are for you.
I don’t know anything about your history, or your trauma stories, but I’d be willing to bet that the abuse was not your fault – that you are not to blame, and that you didn’t cause it to happen. It will be really important for you to figure out why, for you, it is easier to hate yourself and block out the abuse, than to hate your perpetrators and heal from your abuse.
And yes, it sounds like for you, that one type of backlash you might experience after doing some emotive work could be an intense wave of denial. You used the term “torture myself” … That’s some pretty intense denial. So… the sequence might have been….
a. You realized something about the abuse that led you to feeling huge shame and self hatred
b. It becomes too hard to sit with the feelings/realizations about the abuse, so you smash that back down with some huge denial.
c. The denial becomes a form of torture somehow…. (do you feel or get injured somehow when your denial becomes this strong?)
If you denial tortures you, how is it helping you?
These dynamics are fundamentally important to resolving your trauma issues. Keep working at them.
Working out the complications of these emotional binds are key to your being able to address more of your healing work.
Keep working at it — good luck!
This reminds me of the first time we ever told a traumatic memory to a therapist. M had read somewhere that all you needed to do was “tell the memory” and it would all be over – trauma dealt with. So in a session she sat there and recited a particular event in great detail, then sat back waiting for the “magic cure” that this reciting would bring.
Our therapist at the time said that it was an awful thing to have happen, but in order for it to be understood and accepted as a factor in our past it couldn’t be recited as if a story in the newspaper about someone else. We needed to attach emotions to the memory and realise that it happened to this body.
M wasn’t impressed 🙂 She’s never held any of the traumatic memories, but has acted as a spokesperson for others to relay the memories during assessments etc. So she gets to experience many of them through pictures, smells and the sense of fear. She was aiming for us being “cured” by the end of the year at that point, so thought telling some things would help in that goal.
We’re all much more cautious now about what we say so that we don’t get the retaliation – which we still get, but not as frequently.
Kathy Broady says
Oh, if it could only be as easy as reading a newspaper article!! That is actually a cute story — probably wasn’t funny at all at the time — but I can picture how unimpressed M must have been with her lack of a “magic cure”.
I’m glad to hear you’re learning how to balance your trauma work with safety issues. I encourage you to do a little more work in the system department — talk more with the ones who believe in the “retaliation” and address those issues with them first before actually talking about the trauma. Once you’ve heard their concerns, and answered their fears (or whatever its about), you’ll likely get more cooperation from them.
Keep up the good work… even tho’ its gonna take a little longer than you first thought…. 🙂
It’s still worth it —