Managing Self-Sabotaging Behaviors Part 2: Communication

February 14, 2011 Holly Gray

I define self-sabotaging behaviors within Dissociative Identity Disorder as any thought, feeling, or action by any member of the system that actively impedes the intentions and goals of any other member of the system. Self-sabotage, by my definition, is a regular part of life with DID. And what most of us do when an alter disrupts our lives in some way is attempt to change the disruptive behavior. It makes sense, but it's counter-productive. Before you know it, you're entrenched in a power struggle that ultimately solves nothing. Without even realizing it, I engaged in a power struggle for years with an alter who effectively blocked all internal communication. Once I became aware of the situation, I stopped trying to change it. I now believe acceptance is the first step in managing self-sabotaging behaviors. And communication, I think, is the second.

[caption id="attachment_1629" align="alignleft" width="300" caption="Photo by Scarleth White"]Photo by Scarleth White[/caption]

Communicate Your Genuine Feelings about Self-Sabotaging Behaviors

Accepting things exactly as they are isn't the same as making peace with things exactly as they are. It just means ceasing the tug-of-war, putting down your end of the rope. And then, when your energy is no longer focused on stopping the self-sabotaging behaviors, something very painful happens: you begin to feel. I thought I knew how I felt about my inability to communicate with my Dissociative Identity Disorder system. I felt frustrated. But when I accepted that I couldn't force a change, I felt a whole lot more than frustration. I felt excruciatingly helpless, trapped, small, and afraid. Therapists encouraged me to communicate with this alter - the very alter who was keeping me from communicating! What could I do? The only option I felt I had was to simply write her a letter, telling her exactly how I felt.

February 2010

You are like a powerful undertow. Every time I try to rise to the surface to breathe, to speak my truth, to get help, you pull me back down. It's easier to just stay down. It's easier not to fight you. I'm tired of fighting you. I want to give in. I want to let you win.

There are those who might say I was being defeatist. And perhaps they'd be right. But sometimes surrender is the first step to freedom.

Self-Sabotaging Behaviors Are Never Arbitrary

A funny thing happened when I stopped focusing on this alter and her behavior and started focusing on me and how I felt: she responded and explained why she was blocking internal communication. To my surprise, her reasoning made perfect sense. She wasn't messing with me, or trying to make my life difficult. She was protecting the system in the only way she could. I can't emphasize enough how vital I believe it is to understand the other party's point of view in any disagreement - internal or external, whether you have Dissociative Identity Disorder or not. Negotiation is impossible if your own position is the only one you understand. And the only way to understand is to communicate openly, honestly, and from a place of acceptance.

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APA Reference
Gray, H. (2011, February 14). Managing Self-Sabotaging Behaviors Part 2: Communication, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2024, June 22 from

Author: Holly Gray

August, 6 2011 at 9:30 am

Hi SAGobrecht,
I have been diagnosed. But, as my therapist says, a diagnosis is nothing except a convenient way to describe a group of symptoms. I have heard voices in my head, however, I most often don't. I think a DID diagnosis is like most other psych diagnoses. There are some symptoms one "must" have to be diagnosed with something in particular, and many symptoms one "may" have.
Also, I know only too well, speaking from my own experience and to no one else's, that rushing the process of getting to know the internal world is impossible. DID and other dissociative disorders are indeed set up to keep unpleasant info hidden. We can fool others, we can fool "ourselves," but we cannot fool the subconscious, or "inner-world." Info, in whatever form it comes (and there are many possibilities, voices being just one of them), will only come when it is ready.
Again, this is jusy my experience and opinion. It may or may not be similar to anyone else's.
Best wishes.

July, 28 2011 at 4:30 pm

Hey Holly,
I fit all of the symptoms of DID but I don't "hear" any voices of any alters. I haven't been diagnosed with DID (yet) but dissociation has always been there, like it or not. I am in therapy but learning about dissociation is all very new to me. I know for a fact I dissociate constantly but I don't seem to have alters, or maybe I just haven't "met" them yet, so to speak? What's your take on that?

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

Holly Gray
August, 5 2011 at 2:59 pm

Hi SAGobrecht,
I've been thinking about how best to respond to your question. Let me tell you why: there are a number of reasons why you may chronically dissociate but not have alters and I want to be careful not to influence you with what is my very limited perspective. But Dissociative Identity Disorder and DDNOS are what I know best, so I'm going to respond to you as if you have one of them. To be very clear, you might not and I ultimately have no way of knowing. So just know that I'm choosing to give you the answer I'd give to someone who does have either DID or DDNOS.
Now that that's out of the way ... ;)
Assuming you have Dissociative Identity Disorder Not Otherwise Specified (DDNOS), your symptoms make perfect sense. Some people call DDNOS "DID lite." It's just the label for a disorder that is clearly a dissociative disorder but does not meet all the criteria for one of the other dissociative disorders, most typically DID. It wouldn't be unusual at all for someone with DDNOS to dissociate chronically and yet not have alters.
Assuming you have DID, what you describe really isn't unusual. It's a myth that everyone with DID walks around hearing audible voices in their heads. Many people with DID do not ever have auditory symptoms. In fact, it's far more common for those with DID to have to work very hard to establish communication with alters. So having DID and yet not hearing voices isn't unusual at all.
It's worth mentioning that having alters is really just an extreme form of identity alteration, something just about everyone experiences from time to time. It isn't that we literally have more than one person in our bodies, it's that we experience parts of ourselves as distinctly separate.
Here are two articles on identity alteration that may be of help to you:
Thanks for reading, and I hope to see you again soon!

February, 16 2011 at 6:23 am

This is a really interesting topic. I often struggle with self-sabotaging behaviours, and while I can't blame them all on the DID system, they are all a product of my dysfunctional childhood.
I like your tug of war imagery; Paul from Mind Parts often talks about balance in healing… I’ve transferred that thought into a metaphorical seesaw, and at the moment there are parts of the system jumping up and down on one end of the seesaw, while others are trying to find ways to balance the actions out. It’s like they’re so busy doing their own thing, that they’ve forgotten that they can just stop, turn to each other and talk. I think you're right, communication is vital.
Take care,

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

Holly Gray
February, 16 2011 at 7:30 am

Hi CG,
Oh I like the image of the seesaw, that fits.
"It’s like they’re so busy doing their own thing, that they’ve forgotten that they can just stop, turn to each other and talk."
I love how you articulate that. I'd never thought of it that way. That's helpful, thank you.
"I think you’re right, communication is vital."
And because it's so vital, it seems extra unfair that it can also be so hard! Thank goodness it gets easier.

February, 15 2011 at 4:42 am

This is exactly what I needed to hear. I feel like there is this never ending battle going on inside. A constant war....and I am losing that war. I have been journaling, and writing letters, but as I go back and look at what I have written over the last couple of weeks, I can see now that I am still fighting. Even though I am being more polite about it, I am still struggling to maintain control, avoiding any and all vulnerablility, and I'm definitely keeping those walls firmly in place.
So I want to thank you for sharing the letter that you wrote, and for sharing your story of surrender. I like that you say that sometimes surrender is the first step to freedom. This is something for me to work on. So far with everything that I've written, I am only digging my hole deeper. So what do I have to lose by surrendering, right?

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

Holly Gray
February, 16 2011 at 7:25 am

Hi Mareeya,
I'm glad it helped to read this.
"Even though I am being more polite about it, I am still struggling to maintain control, avoiding any and all vulnerablility, and I’m definitely keeping those walls firmly in place."
I know what you mean. I remember when communication was, for the most part, impossible for me as a result of this blocking I tried and tried and tried. I'd write letters, talk in my head, ask advice of others, read, everything I could think of. And the polite thing? Oh yes. I'd get in a magnanimous mood and write things I believed were gracious, inviting, and understanding. When it didn't work I just got angry and resentful. I'm being nice, why can't they! But really, I was just trying to get what I wanted in a new and different way.
Surrender is something I have to work on continually, both within the context of DID and other aspects of life as well. It's hard. Until you actually surrender and then it's easy. It's the willingness to let go that's hard to come by, not the letting go itself.
"So what do I have to lose by surrendering, right?"
Exactly! That's how I felt too when I discovered this alter was blocking communication. It didn't feel good but it changed my life.

February, 15 2011 at 2:36 am

No truer words have been said. The roots of the "fight" are clear. And it's very hard to learn that to heal we need to not keep up the fight inside. To let down the walls, to feel, to be vulnerable, to communicate inside and out... that's all what healing is about. You said it really well.

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

Holly Gray
February, 16 2011 at 7:20 am

Hi Paul,
"And it’s very hard to learn that to heal we need to not keep up the fight inside."
I agree. It's so counter-intuitive! If something hurts, you move away from it. But within the DID system, we must move towards what hurts. Maybe that's too broad of a statement. I'll amend it to say that within the context of managing these kinds of disruptions and power struggles, I think I have to move towards what hurts.
Thanks Paul!

February, 14 2011 at 9:36 am

Glad to see you back Holly and thank you for you words,
I can't really talk to my alters yet. Msg are sent to me but not me to them. Anything I try to write, type or say gets deleted for the most part. One ray of light though, I can do something quick and fast. One says internally a whisper in my ear " I want to cut grab a knife" I can feel the pressure for her to do so. I can say "no! we do not need to do that!" out loud. It ends up in lost time for me but no new knife wounds so something I said out loud got one of the protectors up and aware.
I does not happen daily as it used to more a couple times a week if things are really stressful but I do walk around thanking out loud whoever wants to listen for what they have done for me. It is all I can really do right now. There are some massive conversations going on when I am not around sometimes I get the footnote versions :)
I guess all I can do is wait and keep trying there is so much though, so much history that the wisdom of my therapist is it is really protective they know a bit more then me and have said they damn breaking if you will would not be a good thing. So one day I hope to talk to the one who wants to cut but for now the episodes are getting less and less so I have to take that as a step in the right direction.
Self Sabotage is a way of life for me right now, I am just rolling with it for now.
Thank you

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

Holly Gray
February, 16 2011 at 7:13 am

Hi Suede,
" ... I do walk around thanking out loud whoever wants to listen for what they have done for me."
Wow, I think that's really great. I do a lot of internally saying, "Someone help me!" inside when I'm in distress, but I forget to balance that with gratitude. But gratitude is so important. Thank you for reminding me of that.
I know what you mean about the dam breaking. That was the reasoning behind the internal communication block for me too. And it's wise, I think. There has to be a way to manage the flow of information without overwhelming the system. What occurred to me when I was negotiating with this alter was that if she can block communication, she can also unblock it - but why did it need to be an all or nothing thing? Now this alter still blocks communication, but only where necessary. She manages the flow of information, ensuring that communication is happening, but no dams are breaking. It's interesting, I think a lot of learning to live more successfully with Dissociative Identity Disorder is about using dissociative skills in your favor.
"Self Sabotage is a way of life for me right now, I am just rolling with it for now."
It sounds like you're doing a great job - communicating where you can, acknowledging your honest feelings, showing gratitude, etc. And it also sounds like it's paying off. Sometimes the payoff is so slow though. And rolling with it is all you can do.

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