The other day, I was part of a conversation asking the question whether the insiders in a dissociative system should be called parts or people.
And now, after recently reading Insomniac’s cute comment to me about that very same topic, I’ve decided to make a quick, informal post about it.
I’m interested in hearing what the rest of you think about this topic.
Of course, the official “politically correct” term is probably parts. Well, maybe it’s still “officially” supposed to be alters, but yuck.
Personally, I really dislike the term alters, and I really don’t use it often – it’s not a comfortable term in my opinion. Nope. It has too many other implications for me, and I just don’t go there very often.
But the word parts – that one I have used many times.
Parts, insiders, inners, head-mates, your people, your team, your kiddos, child parts, your system, your inside system people, that other one, the one over there, those ones you are hearing right now … There are many, many terms that can feel accurate to use in various situations.
It is true, that when I get to know people with Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID / MPD), and I get to know their insiders, those inside people become exactly that to me — people.
DID people are people with a lot of people. I don’t see the insiders as “parts” anymore. I see them, experience them, interact with them, relate to them, remember them, refer to them just like they are people in their own right. Real people. Not a part of one someone. A group of individual someones.
For right, or for wrong – that is how it feels for me.
I realize this is probably not at all the expected “mental health professional” stance on describing dissociative systems. It’s not an intellectual approach. This is a statement about what the experience is like for me when I meet you all.
So yes, to me, insiders are like people.
They are people that share a body, but they are people, many of whom are easily recognized as their own person within the group of people.
Inside people very much have their own voice.
They have their own presentation, their own thoughts, beliefs, memories, feelings, body sensations, facial gestures, perceptions, clothing, jobs, etc etc.
Each insider can potentially make the same body look very different — that’s so fascinating to me!
They have their own eyes, their own way of sitting, their own way of walking. They have their own way of speaking and their own way of writing.
Insiders become their own selves.
And in a way that they are not parts of any one someone, but more like they are important members of a group.
Groups are one, but the groups are filled full of lots of different individuals. Each of these individuals will have their own unique reason for being part of the group, and the whole of the group is completely flavored by the individuals that belong to it.
It is amazing to me that there are such differences between the people in a dissociative system. I realize that many of these differences are probably related to the differing demands being placed on the person as a whole at the time of creating each specific new insider, including some not-so-happy reasons to need to be somebody else.
However, the basic ability to become somebody else (even to pretend to be somebody else) has got to be an incredible talent in itself. I know I can’t do that very well (and yes, I have tried, funny enough. I guess that’s why I’m not a Hollywood actress, lol.)
In this article, I’m obviously not touching on the very difficult topics exploring the need to split and to become other people — will save that discussion for another day. Needless to say, I think it is an incredible skill to have been able to escape and separate yourselves from all that you needed to be separate from.
My hat is off to dissociative people who have created and developed highly sophisticated life skills at being different people.
It’s a rather awesome ability, if you ask me.
Three cheers for all of y’all who are managing life with DID !!
Copyright © 2008-2021 Kathy Broady MSW and Discussing Dissociation
- It’s Ok to be Unique – It’s Ok to be Plural
- When the Painful Past is the Painful Present
- Extinguishing Fear by Relaxing the Body
- Feeling Split about Anger
We hate it when people call i side people PARTS. it make us so sad. We be PEOPLE. We got feelings. And stories and our own memories. And things we like and dont like. And we talk different and dress different and we make our own choices. We each be our OWN person. We be proud to be our own person. We wouldnt want to be any other way.
We don’t really like the word alter either. We started saying “parts” since it was more understandable to the people on the outside. What we don’t say is that it is not “part of me” since there is no one single “I” that is superior to the others. We don’t have anyone who feels like the body is theirs, who feels like the legal name is their name and so on. The ones who are out the most appeared at 12 and 15’ish years old.
For us, part means part of a TEAM. It is reassuring to some of us since it helps them feel less alone. Even if they can’t have good communication yet and really struggle with getting access to the inside world, they are also part of the team and they matter. We really like the word insider as well.
I believe that we as human beings are capable of thinking more than one thought at a time🙃. Therefore, even though technically we are that mysterious one person, we are still our own people due to our perception of the reality. If the color blind person sees red as green, does it mean that red doesn’t exist? Will anything change if they call red “shade of green” or “alternative green”? Regardless of how many times I tell that person that this is red and this is green, their reality will stay the same.
After all this time – on the Outside we still say “parts” – but we see them as Inside “people”…..probably because “parts” sound less drastic to Outsiders’ ears than hearing us say our “Insider people”….. “parts” sound less “crazy” to us – like there is actually “someone” still in control…..but we feel so “bouncy” sometimes we don’t know “who” is in control….when we are not in “work mode” we have to just try to be “neutral” because we don’t know who we really are…we just wait for some kind of “feedback” or “input” from our “Insides” so we can figure out how we are supposed to be……doesn’t sound much like “control” to me…..when we don’t “hear” or “feel” anything – we feel really “lost”…..our body still doing what we have to do – but wishing the day would hurry up and end so we could maybe feel a bit of rest from anxiety somewhere deep…..Not fun when you keep wishing life was just over with – but you are too afraid to die because you feel like such a mess you don’t know where you will end up……hope looks like a pinpoint light years away in the distance….but we still keep looking for it…….
We have gotten used to referring to ourselves as parts or alters, probably because we don’t really place any particular meaning to either word. We have recently come to quite like the word insiders though, it feels like a more descriptive and accurate way of defining ourselves. We all have our own interests, attitudes, beliefs, and behaviors, so we suppose we could refer to ourselves as people, a group of people of course, who inhabit one body.
Raziel's Halo says
Okay… This is a hard thing to tackle. I sometimes call them alters when doing other comments and such online, but to me and the rest of us in here— insiders and people. Family. Siblings. Guardians. I loathe calling them parts, because we’re not just some emotionless machine or something. We’re not pieces of code in a computer or AI. We’re many souls (or pieces of healing souls) in one vessel. That’s all the body is – to us, its a vessel, and when we die, all of us will get our own bodies, and we’ll be a huge happy community!
Interesting…..I call them “parts”….but “see” them as different “people” – different ages, perspectives, fears, likes, etc…some I can “see” pretty clearly – some are like a foggy silhouette but whose existence I can’t deny……some do seem to give input on Outside stuff – some seem to just be only “living” with Inside stuff……
I don’t know how much I “switch” on the Outside….but I definitely DO feel “switching” Inside which can affect my perspectives and actions in Outside situations – (like when I would switch to “missions mode”)….then “I” (who was too scared to stand in a Dairy Queen line) am traveling to nations and speaking and reaching out to strangers…..Other times, I’m not sure what I end up “looking like” because I don’t see myself…..maybe I do look “different” on the Outside and Outsiders wonder “What’s HER deal?”……..I do know that when I “bottom out” I am “lost” in what a “part” is “full-front feeling” by having been triggered big time….so – I guess THAT would be an Outside “switch”…….I don’t know…..
There seems to be 3 ranges of “littles” – the really young ones, the middle range ones, and the older range ones…..the first group pretty “clueless”, the second group more prone to giving me input on Outside situations, and the latter group more prone to “watching” ME to see if “I” am “friend” or “foe” to them…..I sense that the latter group “know” what they “know” – but need to know if “I” will “take care” and “watch out” for them…..
It is still a hard journey for me because of all the “confusion”……
(I think I “over-answered” AGAIN…sorry ya’ll – think I am triggered these last few days in definite “processing mode”……..NOW I am confused as to if THAT is “good” or “bad”……..just keep breathing!)
The more I am “aware” of the parts…the more commenting and feedback I get from them regarding how I am to handle an Outside situation…….the littles seem to be more vocal to me than the older ones who seem to be more into standing back and “watching”….(almost as if they are determining whether I am “friend” or “foe” to them…..maybe that is a “temporary” situation….I don’t know……
Some of the more “middle range” littles seem to be especially on guard for “danger” and struggle with trust and confusion…the really young ones seem to be more in the “clueless” realm…..Rage seems to stay closer to them than to the older ones….as if the older range littles “know” what they “know” so Rage doesn’t have to watch over them as much…..but Rage can step a bit closer to the front and “watch” a situation whenever he feels the need to…..
So, the best I can figure is that “we” all try to do the best we can to figure out “where we are at” and if “we are OK”…….life can be hard…but I think it would be “harder” without them….I feel like “I” am too gullible and my “supposed to be nice”-ness would just taken advantage of before I even realized it…….
Anyway, the idea of them ever “going away” is beyond my even wanting to consider….they give me feedback….”I” am just trying to get through day by day life and need all the input I can get as to where I am at in situations since “I” feel clueless much of the time and am afraid I am have a “bull’s eye” on me making me a target for “deception”…….
One time something happened (can’t remember what) and I could not “see” them or “hear” them….it was scary…..I felt absolutely ALONE and vulnerable…..I almost actually cried when I finally did hear one…..it was like finding a long lost friend….walking day by day life “alone” is scary when you are not sure of what is going on and there are so many undercurrents everywhere…..(paranoia????)…..
I have recently started calling them roommates. Due to the fact that I’m not the birth lori so I’m no different than the rest. we are all equal. The word Roommate takes away any power. No one is any better than the other.
Parts are becoming more vocal about expressing some of this , but not getting overly curious , some express feeling like a people whole some are felt as parts or maybe called a fragment?
Shirley J Davis says
When I speak to college students about DID, I ask them if they behave differently when they are with their parents than with their friends while out on the town.
Then I ask them if they would act visiting their grandparent’s house as they do when they are in the college dorm.
They usually giggle at my questions.
However, I then tell them that the different behaviors constitute a part of themselves that is different than the others.
That they too have parts. That usually sobers them because until that moment they had thought of DID as some weird condition that only strange people have.
You see, all humans, everybody, have parts.
Here’s what I understand, I’m hoping it is correct but the research is ongoing.
1) Parts are pieces of myself that have been splintered off by amnesiac walls by a process that is not well-understood. We know that extreme trauma does some really nasty things to the hippocampus and amygdala.
2) We also think that a major milestone in childhood development, when our personalities should have consolidated, was missed.
For number one, the fact that our brains have been damaged by stress hormones is an indisputable fact. Since both structures are important for memories to be “filed” correctly, it may account for the amnesiac walls.
For number two, the developmental milestone I’m talking about is where a young child pulls themselves together to be a solid “I”. I’ve seen this process in my young nephew. He is three and will talk about himself in the third person and when he is talking to himself in play uses the plural tenses. Later, around age 5 or 6, I fully expect this behavior to disappear as he becomes a solid “I”.
While I certainly understand why people like me living with DID would have a hard time seeing the difference, I cannot agree to call my insiders people. I too have looked at my therapist and stated, “they sure feel like other people.”
However, she helped me to understand one important thing.
All the other parts inside here are me and I am them.
They cannot nor can they ever be separate people.
We inhabit one body.
If I die they die.
We will never, ever be separated from one another.
We are one person.
If you open my skull and examine what’s inside, you will not see other or extra pieces of my brain in there.
It took me decades in treatment to understand that I am a “me” not a “we”, and like I stated, I understand and appreciate people feeling like they have inside “people” instead of seeing their parts as themselves. It’s pretty normal and natural, at least in my eyes.
Thank you Kathy for asking this intriguing quesiton. Shirley
The Gang's All Here says
I’ve had interesting discussions about this with other people with DID on another forum, and I agree with you on some points and disagree with you on others. I agree that there is one body and one brain, and of course, one whole system. And I agree about the effects of trauma on the brain and failing to consolidate into a single “I.” However, what then develops is a system that is made up of separate individual consciousnesses, and those can be called by whatever the system is comfortable with: parts, alters, people, etc.
When you say that “all the other parts inside here are me and I am them”, who is the “I” that you are referring to? Are you speaking as the whole system, or as a part of it? You’re all parts of a system, but the parts are NOT identical to each other–they belong to the same system, but they are distinct individuals. It’s true that you can’t see them by looking at the surface of your brain, but there are fMRI studies that show differences among different parts. The brain of someone with DID is organized into more than one consciousness–more than one individual.
Those college students that you talk to may behave differently in different situations, but they have a single “I” that is doing those different behaviors. My system has a number of different “I”s, even though we have a lot of co-consciousness and very little amnesia in our daily life. Different interests, different likes, different feelings, different beliefs–all the things that make one individual different from another.
I, the part who is writing this, is a “me,” but the whole system is a “we.”
And when you write, “We inhabit one body. If I die they die. We will never, ever be separated from one another. We are one person.” It sounds like you do still think of yourselves as a “we.”
So, we don’t just FEEL like we consist of different people, we DO consist of different people (I don’t like the term insiders, by the way–we have a lot of parts who front, and no one particular host). It’s just that all of us are part of one system, with one brain and one body, and we need to learn how to have access to each other’s feelings, thoughts, and memories so that we can become LESS separate and better able to experience more of life AS we’re living it.
Mr D says
I agree with this statement
I say aspects of self. when talking to other people so it hopefully is a bit more understandable.
to me it feels like what kiyacat said. fractured parts that can take up the eyes, write and sometimes talk.
only one or two feels like distinct people but even then for me and my/our experience I’m not sure.
Thank you for this. Referring to insiders as people is scary, because accepting more and more how many we are, but I dont like alters, and parts – well, that doesnt do some of the more fully developed of us justice.
Us Plus says
Yep! People! That’s who we are! All kinds of different people, all in community. Even the birth person is a people. 😊😞😀😬😂😃😌🙃🙄🤓😜🙂😋😏😫🙁😶🤔😢😤😰
All kinds of people. And mostly, we are good with that.
Mainstream society needs to broaden its definition of “person.” A “person” is not a body or a legal document. A “person” is a being “with its own relatively enduring pattern of perceiving, relating to and thinking about the environment and self.” This doesn’t require legal or external standing.
Our system’s views may be influenced by the fact that we have no “host” or “original” and that we see the body as a container, vehicle, and dwelling rather than a “person.” But even if none of that were true, we’d still respect the dignity and selfhood of everyone within.
When talking to most non-dissociative people, I call my other selves “alters,” and sometimes “parts.” They have a hard time understanding the other terms, like “people,” “others,” etc. I think it gives them a brain freeze, or something. But they can understand the term “alter” or “part.” So, idk… I guess I’ll still use the word “alter” or “part” when trying to explain to non-dissociative people, even tho not many around here really agree with those terms. When I use those terms, a lot of my other selves don’t like it! They turn it right back around on me and call ME an alter or part! Which I don’t like! lol But I see the logic behind it, because if THEY are an alter or part, then I am, too. I just happen to be the “front alter” most of the time. So… idk, it’s confusing sometimes. Most of the littles, tho, don’t care one way or the other, as long as they get candy or toys to play with. lol
It’s hard, tho, in talking to non-dissociative people, to call my other selves anything BUT an alter or part, because they just seem to understand that more. And I think it really is an emotional difference on the inside of me that has an aversion to being a “part” or an “alter,” even though I still think that is the best way to describe the fragmentation of myself.
When talking with my dissociative friends, though, or my husband (who is non-dissociative), I use my other selves’ names when I refer to them, because that’s their name! There are those, tho, who don’t have names that I’m aware of, so I generally refer to them as a part of such-and-such system. For example, “A little from the “J” system.” Or, “Someone from The Grid.” If I don’t know which system they belong to, it’s probably because I don’t interact with them much or am less aware of what role they have played in my life, so I’m less likely to talk about them anyways. I hope that doesn’t sound mean… :\ There’s just lots and lots in here. I can’t possibly have personal interaction with every single part of me. It’s too much.
We be pepol!! That be mene to call pepol just parts. That dont be nice at all. We dont like it when pepol say PARTS or ALTERS. We be real. We be rigt here. We be are own pepol we got are own thots and things we like and we do difrent stuff.
I was 80elle.
Thank you Kathy. Yes, in therapy we do speak about shame a lot. My T keeps telling me I shouldn`t feel ashamed. But I do. It is so entrenched, the shame.I`m ashamed of the shame. I feel like if I`d been stronger, I wouldn`t have needed to dissociate therefore wouldn`t be so messed up, now. The `right things to say` regarding dissociation sound so, so right. That`s not my reality, though.
Jill Summerville Sparks says
Keep thinking that the reason there is so much discontent with outsiders is the others. Keep getting left out. Keep feeling disconnected. Keep wanting to hang up all the hats and say.. What’s worth it? Don’t even get answers where ever we write.. And miserable.
Shirley J Davis says
Hi Jill, it’s Shirley your old friend. You don’t have to understand all of it, just accept that you had a really rough time as a kid and that your mind did a wonderful and miraculous thing to help you. Don’t overthink it. I care.
I refer to them as `parts`. I am a `part`….and all these parts make up me. I am really ashamed of this, though. That I was too weak to *survive*without dissociating. I am a broken up mess that`s been broken up too many times to be fixed together.
Kathy Broady says
Thanks for your comment.
I do hope that you will talk about your feelings of shame with your therapist. There’s a lot of depth and importance there in what you are feeling, and that shame will affect your healing and your relationship with your insiders.
In my opinion, there is nothing at all shameful about dissociating — it’s an incredibly creative way to handle extreme situations. I think the shameful part belongs to whoever adults that were putting you into such horrible situations that such extreme measures were required to survive them.
Have you seen the blog article written here about The Benefits of
Being Multiple? I’d like to refer you to that. There are a lot of interesting comments on that article – it’s clearly a controversial topic. Not everyone agrees with me.
Anyway… in my opinion, the sooner you can find a way to become friends and partners with your insiders, the sooner you will feel more inner peace. They are still connected to the very depths of you, and the All of You were clearly strong enough to survive some very difficult ordeals. That can become something to be proud of.
So… yep, I hope you continue to work thru’ these kinds of things in your therapy. I wish you the very best in your healing journey.
Jill Summerville Sparks says
What happens when there is confusion with no answers? What happens when there is a wound.. Or abandonment issue that arose and there is confusion whether DID is real.. Whether the insiders are real.. Or people.. Or not?
What happens when you don’t know what to do anymore.. Stay with a therapist who sais not to bring the others into therapy.. But .. And the whole abandonment thing has you shackled and you don’t want to leave?
What happens when you are just LOST and wondering.. Did “they” ever really exist.. Or am I mad.. Crazy.. Or just a plain liar?
The people/parts/alters/self-states debate really makes me upset. It changes so often and nothing seems universal. I am in the United States and it varies from one therapist and hospital to another.
I find it offensive when I am told that having DID is a coping skill that kept me alive. Living this way does not feel like something to be positively embraced. I was diagnosed 20 years ago but only started trauma/DID therapy just over one year ago. Most of the time I find it hard to want to stay alive, am constantly alone, self-injurious, sad, and depressed because of PTSD and the havoc wreaked in my life by dissociation.
I denied for a very long time that what was going on in my head was real. The “people” (or insiders as I call them) made me debilitated as a result of refusing to acknowledge them. Now, I am learning to process what they truly are and have not reached a definitive decision. Kathy, it has been interesting to read your post regarding this subject. I just found your blog today!
This post made my heart grow three times in size. <333 Which is to say: I liked it C:
Fuck i hate that word. Parts. Parts of what! A fucking car? We are PEOPLE. i am not lile the others. They are people too. We are not parts of each other. We dont look anything alike or act alike or sound alike. Fucking thank god for that.
Oh hell forget it. I am nothing like the little kids. We are people. Oh forget it. You dont have to publish this comment. Just erase it. I am sick Of everyone inside. I wish they would just go away. Missy
💗 i like your post
Sam Ruck says
to be truthful, no the girls don’t actually find that totally soothing because at this point in their healing they each see herself as “completely” real. They love that I treat each one as a real person. But they still struggle with the reality that they truly do need each other. From their standpoint they’ve never had all the personality skills that a non-dissociated person does, so they don’t understand what they are lacking or that those skills and traits can be found in the other girls. So I don’t push them to come to that conclusion. I just treat each one like the Golden Rule says and figure the realization that they need each other will come with more healing.
Whilst it is somewhat comforting when my current therapist really does treat us all as separate people I also wonder if this is therapeutically the most effective way to do things. Though, she justifies, that before you can know yourself as an integrated singleton, you need to know yourselves as a DID system. Every single member of that system needs to be given the chance to get to know themselves and each other. Yes we are all “people” but people with the knowledge that we hope to become a “person”.
I disagree as one with DID these are all Parts of me. They are not people. They have the emotions, behaviors, etc. that I was not equipped to deal with at the time of my abuse, but these are really my emotions that were never able to develop. Without my mind and body they would not exist. They are an intregal part of me but they are not people. Many have limited functions and abilities. I am not a circus act and I don’t have 20+ people running around in my head. These are parts of self, which self? Me, the host. As I heal they are giving me insight and showing me the skills that I am missing. So now we are copresent together (my term), I don’t ever want to take their new jobs or an old job if it is still appropriate for me and them so we now do them together. I don’t like it when DID is sensationalized and made to be something that it is not. It was a blessing of a coping skill that was given to me.
Kathy Broady says
Thanks for your comment, (I don’t know why it didn’t work the first time, but thank you for your persistence), and of course, I agree with so very much of what you are saying. The “correct answer” is that the insiders are not distinct and separate people – I know that, and I’m not confused by the limitations of reality.
This topic may be one where “emotional truth” may lead to a different answer than other levels of reality. ???? Just a thought…
Interesting comment tho’ — thanks for writing.
Hi Kathy. I like your answer Sounds like you know were really real. But I’m having trouble with knowing what you fully mean but i know it’s kind. Can you explain it simply. Like we real? . And we Re i. Reality right?
Sam Ruck says
I never use any dehumanizing language even when I refer to their “group” or “network.” When the little girls read the literature out there, that says insiders aren’t real or they are only parts of the host, etc. they have repeatedly begged me to reaffirm that they are “real little girls.” The line I have taken with them is “you are real but incomplete without the other girls.”
Kathy Broady says
Hi Sam 🙂
And I have to ask…. does that line feel soothing to your wife and the girls? I am assuming so, but can you say a little more about how they feel about that?
Thanks — and much appreciation for the comment. 🙂
Diane E Baumer (@stardancer9) says
I tend to just refer to my insiders as that, insiders. When I was in therapy for DID, I had a huge falling out with my therapist about the use of the term “parts,” which I very much objected to. I see us all like one big jigsaw puzzle, and if each of my insiders is going to be referred to as a “part” of that puzzle, then I, too, should be referred to as a “part.” He disagreed, and saw those inside as separate in some way, and refused to refer to me as an equal part in the whole. So,while I may refer to someone inside as my “name”-part, to someone who is unfamiliar with us, I generally refer to those inside as insiders when talking about them to people who are familiar with us.
I, unfortunately, don’t have a lot of respect for any therapist who insists on things being one way or another. They are, after all, following one basic idea about MPD/DID that hasn’t changed in years and are not listening to the way things -are- with their clients.
Kathy Broady says
I like what you wrote. Thanks for your comment.
If you’ve been to my original website, AbuseConsultants.com, you’ll see that I very much agree with the puzzle metaphor. To me, DID is like a complicated, multi-dimensional puzzle, full of life, pain, joy, and surprises.
And, yes, there is very much no one way to view this. I do think that every person has their own view of how things are for them. What works for one person may not fit at all — not even in the slightest — for another person. So yes… therapists can’t say / shouldn’t say they have the ONE answer.
For goodness sakes… if there is ONE answer to the complications of DID, somebody please tell me quickly what it is. After all these years, I don’t know it!
Darla Stacey says
I call them my “little’s” Thank you all so much for this article and comments. ✌💜
Reblogged this on Being Emily living plural.
yeah I’d say we are mostly people, but we do have some fractured parts that I don’t know what else to call them. They don’t “have a body” but take up the eyes, can write, and sometimes talk. But the main “players” in my system are definately people. They have their own likes, dislikes, they argue with each other and me, they have separate ages, clothings, ways of being, and different looks. They backseat drive. It is hard to look in the mirror sometimes because I see THEM. I may be thinking from my side of the brain, but see someone much younger looking back at me. I can get stuck in mirrors because the ‘parts’ or people can see themselves and it reitterates that they are real. They take great time looking at themselves, seeing how different reactions look. We can get lost for hours at a time. Not being vain – but SEEING ourselves. My new therapist sees us too. It is really different and new for us. She knows 10 from 8 from me. She’s met 11 and the little 3. We all have different reactions to what she says an how we process trauma.
Kathy Broady says
That’s a very good point. Some of the insiders are much more developed like people with fuller lives, than others from inside. I’ve certainly seen that to be true asw ell.
It sounds to me like you are doing some great work, and I’m really pleased to hear that you and your therapist are able to see your different selves. That’s excellent news. Well done!
Keep up the good work!