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From Trauma to DID: The Comfort Factor

As a little girl, I loved going to bed at night. Alone under the covers, the room dark and quiet, I went away. I wasn’t asleep, though I drifted off eventually. I was just gone. It was the most glorious relief. It was my secret trick, this disappearing act. I didn’t know then that it’s name is dissociation, or that it took many forms and existed to meet my needs. I called it “thinking.” Even today, when someone brings me back from another place with a question or comment I often reply, “Oh sorry, I was just thinking.” Even today, my ability to disappear is my greatest comfort. And it was born of an enormous need. This unmet need for comfort, The Comfort Factor, is one of the reasons I have Dissociative Identity Disorder.

By Lance Neilson
By Lance Neilson

But the film in your memory, you cannot walk out of it so easily. Wherever you go it is always playing. So when I say that I am a refugee, you must understand that there is no refuge. -Chris Cleave, Little Bee

The Comfort Factor

This is life for most children who develop DID. There is no refuge for them. They are utterly overwhelmed on a regular basis. Some of their most primary needs aren’t met. They need protection they won’t get. They need help that won’t be offered. Barring those things, they need, at the least, some comfort. Ideally, this comfort would come in the form of another person, someone Alice Miller calls a “helping witness.” She describes this helping witness as ” … a person who loved them, but was unable to protect them.” In The Essential Role of an Enlightened Witness in Society, Miller explains:

Dostoyevsky [sic], for instance, had a brutal father, but a loving mother. She wasn’t strong enough to protect him from his father, but she gave him a powerful conception of love, without which his novels would have been unimaginable.

When trauma is inescapable, when there is no protection or help, a child must be nurtured and comforted if he is to have any hope of survival. These needs, at bare minimum, must be met. But there are children who have neither protection nor any form of comfort. The luckiest of them develop DID. A last resort, it is still a viable way to satisfy this unmet need for comfort. In lieu of a real life refuge, they flee into their minds. In lieu of a flesh and blood helping witness, they create their own.

From Trauma to DID

It wasn’t just trauma that caused the disorder I live with today. It was the enormous psychological and physiological stress I endured as a result of The Sensitivity Factor. It was the outright and total abandonment of reality that The Denial Factor demanded. It was the malleability of my early childhood identity, The Age Factor. And finally, The Comfort Factor, the parched and gnawing unmet need for comfort. All of that is how I got from trauma to DID.

Complete Series: From Trauma to DID

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9 thoughts on “From Trauma to DID: The Comfort Factor”

  1. It has become increasingly clear to me that DID is a very possible and most likely diagnosis for me triggered by the un/usual childhood problems…Without getting into detail at the moment, at 57 years old it is becoming even more symptomatic. This comes after a double-lung transplant (life-saving) and other major changes. I think one could write a book or several for those of us who have had to invent, create different worlds and ways to deal with our own realities or escape them. Luckily, I did have a very loving mother and my great healer is music. I have been a songwriter most of my life (since the age of 9) and it is in music that helps calm me down and bring me around. Lately, though, I get hyper-sensitive and physically PLAYING music is becoming hard. I am thinking about contacting a psychiatrist…again?!!! I am so glad to have found your place on the net…

  2. Nice, Holly! I can’t help but read that and /feel/ understanding. Which it’s so hard to get any of that across in 500 words or less, on a busy day, on a blog.

    Love Alice Miller, btw. Any survivor/helper type folks out there who haven’t yet read any, I highly recommend her. Short texts – terrifyingly insightful though.

    1. Thanks, Kate! High compliment coming from a fellow blogger. 🙂

      I second your Alice Miller recommendation. She was truly a pioneer in the study of childhood trauma and its impact both on the individual and society.

  3. I know. It is strange to think that upsetting memories can be comforting. In my case though, my working and personal life became so completely miserable due to the switching on and off and the memory loss that comes with it, that I became dysfunctional. To me, this is worse than dealing with my chaotic (at times) childhood. I get a lot of comfort knowing that my parts-as I call them- are beginning to talk to each other in what I believe is an effort to help me get some kind of life back. And yes, I think all of us who developed DID are quite impressive. It was our way of staying “sane”, even though sometimes we don’t feel like we actually are. But we are.

    1. Carla –

      “I get a lot of comfort knowing that my parts-as I call them- are beginning to talk to each other in what I believe is an effort to help me get some kind of life back.”

      Ah yes, I do understand this. In the beginning, communication from other self-parts was scary. But now I feel more alive and more whole when I’m able to connect with them. What used to be the comfortable status quo – living entirely cut off from the rest of my system – now feels hollow and, at times, even distressing. So I can see how accepting the information that comes to you might be a kind of comfort. Even if it’s upsetting, it’s part of you and receiving it, I would imagine, can help you feel more whole and connected to who you are.

  4. I totally agree with all the factors you have explained so well that lead to DID. As I was reading The Comfort Factor-I suddenly remembered rocking back and forth as a child and patting myself on the back while saying “I love you carla, you’re a good girl. It’s okay-your a good girl.” I did this because I needed comfort so badly that I had to give it to myself as there was no one else to give it to me at that time. This was not a bad memory for me as I am just starting to recover some of my childhood memories after years of denial and am grateful for each one I remember. This is the new way I am comforting myself-letting the memories return and accepting them. Thanks for helping this process along through your writings.

    1. Hi Carla,

      Wow, the memory you describe is so poignant. Thank you so much for sharing that. It’s really quite impressive, isn’t it, that a child’s brain can find a way to save itself?

      “This is the new way I am comforting myself-letting the memories return and accepting them. ”

      This is a fresh and interesting perspective on memories, Carla. I’m really glad you shared that. I think right now it might be a bit beyond my understanding but it’s something to reach for. It definitely resonates for me, though I can’t quite wrap my brain around it.

      I’m so glad my writings have been helpful for you. The dialogue, too, is extremely helpful for me. So I thank you for reading and taking the time to comment.

  5. I have never been able to put words to what i felt and still feel about my abuse back there. I realize today I still disossociate .alot. Perhaps so much now I look back I was relived from jobs .Not paying attention. to cashiering. STuff that took total concentration. Wow and school no wonder Today I wonder why I even exist.

    My home life chaotic ..vulger screaming .cold as ice environment.no one talking to one another each going in different directions. Today its difficult to be in a relationship with anyone. im sick of fighting to be here actually

    1. Hi Carolann,

      Thanks for your comment. One of the best descriptions I’ve read about receiving the diagnosis of DID, finally knowing what’s wrong, was in a book called Amongst Ourselves – “DID explains the life you never understood.” That’s certainly been my experience. It’s interesting to look back on my life, having the knowledge that I do now. Things that never made sense before are much easier to understand now.

      It occurs to me that you might enjoy this blog post – http://tinyurl.com/28vdz6c. In the author’s words, it’s about “Complex PTSD and trying so hard to justify our existence.” I found it insightful. Perhaps you might too.

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