So you care deeply about someone with Dissociative Identity Disorder. There was something wonderful about them that drew you to them, and something trustworthy about you that drew them to you.
Beautiful as that may be, you are probably confused about all the dissociative issues that happen day-to-day.
Have you ever wondered why that happens, or why this happens?
Have you ever felt confused with the different behaviors you see coming from your dissociative partner?
Have you wondered how do you live with someone with a Dissociative Disorder?
I have some ideas. Start with these things:
1.Gain an understanding of what DID is.
There is a wealth of information available to learn about DID and all Dissociative Disorders. Your loved one will not be able to explain everything to you, nor do they need to do that, nor will the pressure to explain everything to you be comfortable for either of you. You can do your own research, and you can learn lots. You might be surprised what all you find out, and by learning about DID, you can be more informed and better able to handle situations.
Becoming well-informed about dissociative disorders will help you understand that so much of what you are seeing is actually very normal for a dissociative person. When you realize what is “normal”, you won’t feel so angry, or confused, or in the dark. It just helps to know what to expect.
2. Reassure your loved one, over and over, that you love them as a person, regardless of their DID.
Your loved one will feel insecure about themselves being a lovable person simply because they are dissociative, and they feel all kinds of mixed messages about themselves as a person, mostly due to a very troubled past. These insecurities are very common after lots of family trauma and probably have at least one parent who was far too rough, mean, demeaning, and cruel.
The “I’m not lovable” dynamic is going to be an issue — they won’t believe you that you love them, no matter what you say. So yep, you’ll have to reassure them over, and over, and over, and show them in all kinds of ways. There is a whole lot more that goes into their thinking these things, but expect this to be a recurring issue, even after years of time.
Don’t take it personal! These struggles relate more to the past than to the present, although it will be very important for you to provide a loving, safe, warm, gentle home environment as possible.
3. Talk openly with your partner.
Good communication is worth more than gold! Talk openly with your partner about what approach they want from you in addressing them as a person. Get some courage — this can be tough — but have lots of honest conversations with your partner so you can understand what they want and need from you. These needs will change, and it’s not easy to figure out the best approach anyway.
Do they want you to use one specific name consistently?
Do they want you to use the names of individual system members?
Talk openly together, and find out what is most comfortable for the two of you.
4. Be respectful to each and every insider.
Be respectful to each and every insider, especially the ones that you know and recognize, but also to the ones you don’t yet know or recognize. Know that these different selves will feel different and separate from each other, and they may very well appreciate being recognized as individuals. No matter who they are, treat each insider with kindness, respect, honesty, etc.
And remember this. There will be insiders watching you even if you don’t see them. They’ll be watching and listening from inside, even when someone else is presenting on the outside. In some ways, it’s like being on constant observation, so just be aware that anyone in the system, at any point in time, can possibly hear or see what is happening.
Treat them well, because they will most definitely remember if you don’t!
5. Build a personal relationship with each insider that you meet.
Personal relationships are important to everyone, including every one in a dissociative system. Each of the inner people will have their own ideas, thoughts, likes, preferences, dislikes, fears, feelings, etc. They will have their own names, mannerisms, behaviors, etc. As you get to know each insider as their own person, you will be able to recognize who is with you at that moment, and then you can understand what is happening much easier. It will make sense to you, for example, if you know the kid parts are out, and all of a sudden there are messy piles of stuffies and colored socks thrown around the house. However, if you don’t learn to recognize the different insiders, you will feel confused at the changes that you see and experience.
Another hint. When it comes to Christmas, lots of the insiders really and truly appreciate a gift that is just for them. Now… I know there are limits to how many presents you’ll be able to provide, but keep this in mind, and share the love across the whole of everyone. Don’t give all the gifts to just one or two of the insiders. Spread your gift-giving out to a wider variety of the people, and keep it fair for everyone in the system.
6. Be prepared for inconsistencies.
Yes, be very prepared for lots and lots of inconsistencies, and lots of changes of mind. DID is build on the concept of switching and being able to withstand extreme opposites. This was required for survival, and every dissociative person has a system full of insiders with very different approaches to life. This is normal for your loved one, and it’s not the fault of the DID survivor.
However, it can be very difficult to live with, both for the survivor themselves, and for the loved ones around them. Expect your DID person to tell you a variety of answers, each contradictory to the one they said last. Eventually, your DID loved one will find more consistency in themselves, as they build their inner teamwork and system cooperation. While that’s happening, please allow lots of grace for the flippity-flops.
7. Find ways to give your dissociative loved one some positive experiences that they missed in the past.
What does this mean? For example, if your partner didn’t get to play very much as a child, find a whole series of fun things to do. The inside child parts will very much need time to play, draw, color, run, swing, throw a baseball, play in the park, etc. You’ll be able to find all kinds of fun activities that even the adults can enjoy. Go to water parks, go tobogganing, play at the beach, watch some of the fantastic kids movies, etc.
There is so much healing and recovery work to do that is hard, painful, and heavy. Bringing in the fun things will be a very much needed break from the hard stuff, and will most definitely help with recovering from the losses experienced in past years.
Another example: if your dissociative loved one didn’t get to eat properly while growing up, put a lot of effort into making sure they get enough good quality healthy food now. Cook special foods, create interesting treats, find new things to eat, and encourage everyone in the system to try these new foods.
Be willing to go overboard in the areas that were laden with deprivation in the past. Your DID loved one will need the extra help in these areas, and you can be of great assistance to their healing when you help out here.
8. Be cautious and careful about physical touch.
Most dissociative trauma survivors have experienced hideous amounts of unhealthy touch. This could have been in the form of sexual abuse, or physical abuse, violence, etc. The opposite probably also happened — a complete lack of touch. As young children, DID survivors had to navigate these difficult experiences all on their own. Their touch preferences will be very much grounded in what happened to them as a child.
Many survivors who were abused were often not comforted properly, so the concept of “good touch” will be new or foreign or frightening. Some survivors over-compensate later by having what feels to be an excessive and exhausting need for good touch. Other survivors will remain frightened by touch or uninterested in touch, and be massively aloof, preferring to not be touched at all.
Sudden or unexpected touch will likely be terrifying, triggering, and could set off a series of flashbacks, bad memories, or nightmares. It is particularly important to let your partner be very aware before there is any touch — even the good stuff.
Take the time to have some genuine conversations with your partner about which kinds of touch are particularly frightening or uncomfortable for them. Also, learn which areas of their body are particularly “No Go Zones”. These areas are likely heavily trauma-related, so if you know what places to avoid, you and your partner can both feel more secure with each other.
9. Sexual intimacy is completed complicated, so please tread oh, so so gently.
Oh boy. Now THIS is a difficult topic for disociative trauma survivors. As the partner, you’ll see the whole range of everything, from older insiders who appear interested and very sexually active, to younger parts who appear willing to be involved in sexual interactions, to angry ones, to terrified screaming ones, to frozen silent ones, to seeing insiders run to the bathroom afterwards, racing for the shower or to throw up. It’s NOT an easy area for anyone.
I can offer a 100% guarantee there will be struggles in this area, at some point in time, if not for a long period of time.
Let’s remember this. Some of the most hideous abuse suffered by your loved one most likely involved sexual abuse. So… any relationship involving sexual intimacy is going to be very tangled with the past, even if your partner is willing to be with you in the present. Sexual activity is the biggest trigger of sexual abuse. The literal involvement of the body itself will create huge PTSD reactions, even if the person is willing to be gently touched by you. The emotional backlash can be overwhelming, even if the experience between you and your partner was positive. The body will remember things before the person does.
Knowing WHO you are with will, of course, be a very tender topic. Please do not have sexual relationships with the child parts! This is an obvious for most partners, but some more “Mr. Magoo” types won’t even notice.
Sexual relationships are such a huge, huge area of work for couples. It CAN be addressed, and for many of you, will involve years of hard work.
This area of healing is as crucial as any other, so please don’t give up.
10. Have FUN with your partner.
There are so many wonderful attributes with your spouse and partner — that’s why you picked them to be with in the first place. Never ever forget these amazing qualities, and spend time doing the beautiful things. Maybe your partner is musically talented. Maybe they are incredibly artistically talented. Maybe they have an uncanny way with animals. Maybe they write amazing poetry. They WILL have some very unique and beautiful qualities and talents, so enjoy that! Create time in your week to enjoy the beauty that you see in your loved one. They are sooo much more than just their difficult history. They have a shine to them that is far beyond the “normal Joe’s” out there.
Find those beauty spots, and sit there for awhile.
Sit there for a long while, and really and truly enjoy your person.
Your dissociative loved one is very much worth the extra effort it will take to understand the DID side of life. It’s not scary. It’s just how it is. It’s difficult, yes. And do-able.
The more you can learn, the more you can accept, the greater your relationship will be.
There’s so much more to say, but let’s start there for now.
I wish you all the best in your journeys together.
Copyright © 2008-2016 Kathy Broady MSW and Discussing Dissociation