“So thanks to all of this therapy, I have lost my father.”
“You haven’t lost your father….You did lose the father that you thought you had…”
“OK, I get it. I didn’t have the perfect dad…. And my therapy has successfully shattered my romanticized image of my narcissistic father. Is that how you would say it?”
“I would say, the patient, born to a depressed mother, idealized her father so as to not feel completely alone….. and now she can see her dad for who he really is. It is shattering. But if you can now move beyond that connection to your father, it may open the possibility of finding love elsewhere.”
“Now I’m left with nothing!”
“Maybe it’s worth it to finally take off the blinders, even if you don’t like what you see. Or you are left to wonder in the darkness for even longer.”
“Why did you take my blinders off?”
“I didn’t remove your blinders. You did.”
This is a paraphrased, condensed conversation from “In Treatment” – Dr. Paul Weston’s final session with Mia. In this session, Mia discusses a difficult conversation she had with her father, and she realizes that her father – the man she idealized for years – actually did things to hurt her.
This “In Treatment” episode highlights a dynamic that many trauma survivors face in their therapy process.
Many dissociative trauma survivors enter therapy with the belief that their parents would not and could not hurt them. While it is certainly true that some survivors with Dissociative Identity Disorder have one “safe” parent (a non-offending parent that was not directly involved in the abuse), most DID survivors have at least one parent with a dark, offender side to them.
Through the years of growing up, many survivors that split within themselves also keep a split view of their parents. This is easy to understand especially when you keep the dissociative framework in mind.
For example, the day parts (front parts, host parts) that are not allowed to know about the abuse, will very often view the father as a relatively normal father that does normal fatherly things. They will see their father as a good guy, a man that provided for the family, and while they may not always like the rules of the household, they typically won’t think of their father as an abuser of any sort.
In fact, these day / host parts will adamantly say that they have never been abused by their father, and will be highly insulted if anyone thinks otherwise.
The day parts will know nothing else about the father other than his day world presentation, and they will especially not know anything in regards to any kind of abuse or trauma or perpetration. They often feel a strong connection to the father, and are convinced that he loves them (and specifically not in a harmful, sexual way).
These day parts may be in denial about the father’s abuse, or in the context of dissociation, they probably did not experience very much if any abuse from their father.
When this is the case, these parts can come to the absolute adamant defense of their father, and not be lying. As far as they are concerned, their father was NOT a perpetrator, and they have absolutely no recall and no memory of anything else happening. Sexual abuse and trauma may feel like totally absurd oddities, and these parts will argue incessantly about their father’s innocence.
What happens when the other parts of the dissociative system start to talk about their experiences with the father?
What if the inside parts actually did experience sexual abuse or physical abuse from the father?
What if these parts have memory after memory of abuse by the father, and remember nothing nice about him?
Who is telling the truth?
Are the day parts that say the father did not abuse them telling the truth? Or are the inside parts that clearly have body memories and flashbacks of painful sexual abuse telling the truth?
Who is lying?
Who is telling the truth?
Actually, each of these parts, in most circumstances, is genuinely telling the truth from their own perspective.
The day parts genuinely did not experience abuse by the father.
The inside parts genuinely did not experience anything but trauma from the father.
How is that possible?
Because of the dissociative walls in between the different parts of the system.
Strong, intense dissociation can create absolute amnesia. What happens in one world will not leak through to the other worlds. One side of a dissociative person can have totally and completely different memories than the other people in the dissociative system.
One side of the dissociative person can be totally blocked off from another side of the dissociative system. What can be true for one set of system alters can be entirely false for another set of system alters. It is this very conflict that supports and creates the dissociative splits in the first place.
When something is too conflicting to be contained, splitting off the opposing information into different parts of the dissociative system helps the child to manage each of the conflicting worlds.
Thick dissociative, amnesia-creating walls allow the day world to not be overwhelmed or upset about abuse – they can’t tell or show difficulties when they don’t even know about the abuse. They can interact with the public world and not see or know or tell anyone about abuse. They can function normally in school or at work, and not give off too many troubling signs. Their dissociative walls serve to exclude them completely from information about the abuse.
For the parts that withstand the abuse, their thick dissociative walls keep them isolated and contained away from the world. These parts experience nothing but their abusers. They cannot grasp how wrong and vicious abuse is, especially since they have no other awareness of right and wrong, or that it shouldn’t be happening to them. This leaves the abused parts completely trapped in their abusive worlds because they cannot conceptualize anything other than tolerating abuse. Abused parts don’t attempt to leave their abusers as they simply cannot fathom any element of life outside of their abusive prison walls. They do not know that a life different from abuse can exist.
When a trauma survivor with DID presents in therapy, both sides of their system will begin to speak. The front parts will share their happy day-life experiences, and the inside alters will tell their stories about trauma. The therapist sitting outside of the dissociative walls will hear both sides of the story.
Part of the healing work is then to get these two sides to listen to each other. Of course, there is a balance and a timing for when to say what, but the basic goal is to lower the dissociative walls and let each side of the system learn about the reality of the other side.
The day parts will hear that their father was not always so kind and gentle with them. The inside parts will catch up to the current day time-frame and learn that they do not have to stay stuck in abusive relationships. Each side of the system will help each other see the whole picture.
It’s not easy – but taking the blinders off and looking at the whole picture of your life and your relationships are extremely important pieces of your healing journey.
You can do it. The safety and healing will be very much worth the hard work involved.
Have you realized that the various parts in your dissociative system have experienced very different lives from each other?
Are you willing to take your blinders off and look at the whole truth of your life?
Do you understand what it means to keep internal parts stuck within dissociative walls where they know only the world of abuse?
What are the worst things that could happen to you if you actually lowered your dissociative walls and connected with the realities of your other parts?
What are the benefits of genuinely connecting with the others in your system?
I wish you the best in your healing journey.
Copyright © 2008-2018 Kathy Broady MSW and Discussing Dissociation