What is emotional support?
I often get emails and questions from friends – partners – spouses of dissociative trauma survivors. These loved ones are often unsure about how to best support their partner amidst all the darkness.
These are the partners who care. But they don’t know what to do. They don’t know how to help.
What suggestions and ideas would you give?
Recently, Aaron Golub has given me some great ideas to share here on Discussing Dissociation.
Aaron is long-term advocate for dissociative community.
Aaron is also a dissociative survivor.
In Aaron’s words:
“We were support friends and advocates for more than 18 years long before we knew we were DID. We know what it’s like to love someone who is suffering and feeling helpless when they are in pain. While trauma based multiplicity is a complex subject here are a few simple lessons we’ve learned along the way”
Now, I’ve never met Aaron.
I don’t know where he lives. I don’t know where he comes from. I don’t know what he looks like. I really know nothing at all about Aaron or his system.
However, I have to assume that Aaron knows a fair bit about healing. I can tell by the ideas shared with me that not only does he know what is needed by dissociative survivors, he also knows how to offer emotional support, caring, and kindness.
According to Aaron Golub, to offer effective emotional support for dissociative trauma survivors, the support person should consider these five principles:
Is most important when befriending with someone with DID. This means keeping your promises, admitting your mistakes and doing what you say you’re going to do.
There are many books on multiplicity readily available on Amazon in addition to hundreds of DID sites and advocacy resources available via the internet. While we’re all different, the more you read the better understanding you’ll develop.
3) Open Mindedness
We’re all unique in our adaptation to extreme trauma. Reading Sybil, Rabbit, or other popular books on multiplicity may be helpful but many multiples are nothing like them. It’s unfortunate that the most successful multiple is often unknown. [Referring to Herschel Walker.]
We may never fully know what our friend successfully endured but expressing a genuine love and concern will go a long way. We’ll also need to develop compassion for ourselves when hearing of very disturbing aspects of the abuse they survived.
5) Having a sense of humor – fun
This is a big part of my healing. We all need to laugh more, experience more joy and happiness. It’s actually healing on a spiritual/psychological level to experience genuine happiness and joy as a part of our recovery.
Thanks, Aaron, for sharing that. I absolutely agree with you.
I’ll share some of my thoughts on these topics as well.
Why is Consistency Important?
Consistency is important because it offers a sense of safety, of stability, of clarity, of knowing what to expected.
Dissociative trauma survivors have had years of chaos, conflict, and being pulled to extremes. All too often, their family members were already black or white, this or that, flip-flopping without notice between one demand to the very opposite demand.
Part of the very need to split in the first place is due to having to balance extreme and opposite demands at the same time. The child survivor learned to switch themselves as well. They had to flip flop back and forth to match whatever inconsistent and extreme behavior or presentation was needed at the time of their trauma.
- How do children live with a parent who is both their provider / care-taker and their violent abuser / perpetrator?
- How do children deal with a parent who is saying “I love you” while physically hurting them?
- How do children manage with an alcoholic parent who is a slobbering, slurring, dysfunctional, emotional mess who at the same time, expects and demands perfection and complete emotional containment from the children living in distress?
- How do children deal with parents who have one set of rules and expectations for daytime, and a completely opposite set of rules and expectations for night time?
Having consistency – keeping your word, staying the same, being who you say you will be, following up with your promises – allows the survivor to know what to expect, and lets them see you as the same you over the spans of time.
Consistency also allows you to help build a solid foundation. It takes away the scary wobbly bits and gives your DID person solid footing. Consistency feels much safer, and much easier to manage. It is much more predictable, much more reliable, and therefore, far more trustworthy.
Why is Learning Important?
Learning is important because there is genuinely a whole lot to learn.
Plus, a lot of damage can occur by well-meaning people who have little knowledge about how to manage dissociation properly.
- Do not insist that a dissociative trauma survivor integrates tomorrow, especially when they just met their system yesterday.
- Do not call a dissociative insider a “demon”.
- Do not try to “pray away” the insiders from existence.
- When an insider finally gathers the courage to speak with you, do not ignore them or refuse to speak to them because they are not “the real person”.
To support dissociative folks adequately, you will need to learn what Dissociative Identity Disorder looks like. You will need to learn what is normal and typical for DID, and you will need to know what to expect. Knowing the path helps everyone, and reduces unneeded blame and painful misunderstandings.
Don’t expect your DID friend to be able to put all the complexities into words. They are still figuring it out themselves, and there is no need to re-invent the wheel. There are already plenty of good and helpful resources available, so jump on in and learn. For that matter, start here. There are hundreds of articles about Dissociative Identity Disorder here, and thousands of comments. If you read every page and every comment on this blog, you will have gained a LOT of valuable insight into DID.
I dare say, that if your loved one became ill with myeloproliferative neoplasms, you would do a little research and study to figure out what that was, and how to help it.
You wouldn’t expect your loved one to explain to you all the details about myeloproliferative neoplasms. You would naturally get information from the experts, and from other survivors of the disease who knew more about it.
Dissociation and DID is no different.
Learn about it. KNOW what to expect. The more informed you are, the better prepared you are, the better support you can be, and the less chaos, stress, and conflict there will be for everyone.
Why is Open-Mindedness Important?
DID survivors had to face the most extreme circumstances in their lives when they had the fewest resources or assistance. With no help and no guidance, they had to find the strength and ingenuity to live through the unthinkable, the unfathomable, the most mind-bogging of situations.
DID survivors had to open their minds and get incredibly creative just to manage every horrifying minute-by-minute.
And they did it. They survived. They stayed sane. They stayed alive.
They used an open mind. Their creativity, strength, and internal resources are absolutely incredible.
They created the internal system they needed to get through their trauma.
They didn’t create “extras” for no reason.
They didn’t create a full system just because it was fun to split apart.
They created their system based on who they needed to survive the trauma and atrocities they were facing at the time.
Whoever is in the system is who was needed at the time. Don’t judge your DID person for having such a wide variety of inner people — they needed every single one of them. Congratulate your DID person for being so amazingly strong, capable, resourceful, and able to get through all that they had to face.
Aaron is right in saying that all dissociative trauma survivors are not the same as who you read about in Sybil, or who you see portrayed in the movies.
Get to know YOUR DID person as who they are, unique to themselves. Understand they survived a crazy mix of cruelties that were again, unique to their own life. Other folks may have survived similar atrocities, but your DID person will have had their own life, their own family, their own perpetrators, their own story.
Their system was built around their own unique experiences, and won’t be the same as anyone else.
Why is Compassion Important?
Compassion and comfort are two giant elements of what was desperately missing from the trauma experiences which led to the need for splitting in the first place.
Typically, for most dissociative trauma survivors, there was no help. They were alone in their pain. There was no guidance. No way out. No assistance. No protection. No rescuer.
And then, even after managing to live through the violence, there was no comfort. No reassurance. No support. No gentleness. No correcting the wrongs.
Dissociative survivors had to survive both the trauma alone, and the aftermath of the trauma alone.
Ouch, then double ouch.
Offering compassion and comfort is one of the most healing experiences a DID survivor can have. Having the opportunity to have someone share the pain, and sit with them, listen to them, understand them, and still feel positively towards them is an incredible experience of healing.
Not blaming your DID person for what their abusers did to them is also a critical learning part for the supporting person. Your DID person learned how to live with abusers and perpetrators. Their behavior, thoughts, and feelings are directly connected with what they learned while needing to comply with, endure, and tolerate excessive violence and abuse.
Your DID person CAN learn how to live with non-abusive people, and this requires a whole new set of skills.
Do remember, this is a learning process for the survivor as well, and your patience and understanding will help you both reach the goal of having a good, healthy relationship together.
Why is Having Fun and Good-Humor Important?
When your life has been filled to the brim and beyond with pain, torture, trauma, and heartbreak, having FUN is an incredible breath of fresh air.
Having the opportunity to enjoy life, to be silly, to let loose, to giggle, and feel free is incredible.
After all, these are some of the best feelings in life, and don’t we ALL feel good after we have a good laugh!
Another advantage to having a genuinely good time filled with fun is that it helps to accentuate the difference between you, the support person and them, the perpetrators. Yes, you will have to keep proving you are different, and what better way to go about that than having positive experiences together.
Building your bond of friendship – a heartfelt connection – can only be increased in strength by having fun together.
Go play! Go to the beach. Play checkers. Dance to fun music. Watch funny shows on TV. Go for adventure walks. Cook silly foods. Snack on new treats. Look for new experiences that are fun and can teach your DID person that there are good things that happen in life.
Your DID person is a beautiful person — this is why you care for them in the first place. Find ways to understand what has happened for them, so that your relationship can grow.
And thank you for walking alongside them as they heal their hurts, and for helping to make a difference our world. Thank you for joining in with the team of helpers, and for working to overcome the hurters.
As a support person, you can and will absolutely make all the difference in the world to your DID person.
If you have any thoughts or questions, be sure to post them in the Comment section. It would be great to hear from you too.
Copyright © 2008-2017 Kathy Broady MSW and Discussing Dissociation