Don't Say Child Abuse Causes Dissociative Identity Disorder
All of the misconceptions about Dissociative Identity Disorder bother me because they create barriers to diagnosis, treatment, and support. But there’s one myth that bothers me for more personal and, up until today, private reasons. And that’s the assumption that child abuse causes Dissociative Identity Disorder.
Trauma Causes Dissociative Identity Disorder
Like all of the mythology surrounding this diagnosis, the widespread belief that child abuse causes Dissociative Identity Disorder is born from grains of truth. An overwhelming majority of adults with DID report chronic, severe childhood abuse; and a healthy portion of that majority report abuse at the hands of their parents. It’s also true that trauma is the single most consistent factor in the development of Dissociative Identity Disorder. Indeed, child abuse is a form of trauma. But it’s illogical to conclude that because:
- trauma causes DID, and
- child abuse is the form of trauma most people with DID report,
- child abuse causes Dissociative Identity Disorder.
Or worse, all adults with DID have cruel, abusive parents who visited unspeakable horrors on their child. Yes, child abuse equals trauma. But that doesn’t mean trauma equals child abuse. And it’s unfair to talk about DID as if it does.
Assumptions Silence People
Not only is it unfair, it’s silencing. It’s not difficult for me to tell people I have Dissociative Identity Disorder; but it’s difficult knowing the assumptions people make about me and my family because of my diagnosis. I don’t care if people think I’m some bizarre aberration because I have DID. I don’t care if they think I’m an attention-seeking malingerer. But I care very much if they draw ugly conclusions about my family and pass judgment on my parents. And I know I’m not the only one who is troubled every time they hear someone matter-of-factly report that child abuse causes Dissociative Identity Disorder. I know that more people might feel comfortable sharing their diagnosis if they felt assured that by doing so they weren’t involuntarily implicating members of their family of terrible crimes.
Assumptions Isolate People
Living with DID is isolating enough without the toxic rivalry among some of those who have it that stems in part, I firmly believe, from the assumption that child abuse causes Dissociative Identity Disorder. From a reader:
I was born with a serious illness, in and out of the hospital since birth. My parents were always scared I'd die. They weren’t perfect, but they never abused me. I've learned not to expect compassion from so called support sites. They act like my DID is less real than theirs because they were abused and I wasn’t. It’s a twisted kind of arrogance and it makes me feel even more lonely.
Don’t Make Assumptions about What Causes Dissociative Identity Disorder
“I have Dissociative Identity Disorder,” means simply and only, “I have Dissociative Identity Disorder.” It isn’t code for, “I was horribly abused." Please don't assume that a diagnosis gives you any insight into someone’s history or family of origin. It doesn’t.
Gray, H. (2011, August 29). Don't Say Child Abuse Causes Dissociative Identity Disorder, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2019, May 19 from https://www.healthyplace.com/blogs/dissociativeliving/2011/08/dont-say-child-abuse-causes-dissociative-identity-disorder
Author: Holly Gray
The three types of trauma that get specified during the ages specified, is what cause this specific disorder.
I'm pretty sure losing family members at an early age, pet, house burning down, moving away from your friends, changing schools or seeing someone die, are all tramatic. However that is not the kind that will cause DID. Maybe a dissociation of sorts, but not did.
Keeping it brief trust me when I say that there is absolutely no way by any stretch of the imagination that I ever abused her. Like most dads I raised my voice occasionally, I am forthright but I never said anything demeaning or hurtful. I expressed disappointment or lack of understanding but I loved my daughter more than life. I would never ever ever want to hurt her. She knows this for a fact.
With the help of Child Protective Services (who never asked me a single question!!), she destroyed mine and her brothers lives. Within 10 minutes they decided to take my kids based solely on her lies. My son is a normal healthy boy and CPS never asked him anything and when he protested they told him he was in denial. Her lies have caused him to live in a foster home for the last 3 years.
Anyway now she is claiming she has DID and its somehow my fault. She experienced NO ABUSE and NO TRAUMA as a child. Psychopathy runs in her mothers family and she has exhibited classic signs since she was about 10. Is she just up to her same old tricks? Could she possibly really have DID? Her mother was not around much, sometimes absent for months yet she has she chosen me to paint as some horrible person. WHY? How do I combat her lies? Should I just write her off and disown her? Im afraid what she will accuse me of next....
I don’t really know what could be done about it though, other than trying to find out why she’s done this. But then you have your other child to look out for, who by her actions has suffered for no reason. If she’s been diagnosed with did, then hopefully she’s being treated for it and will be able to see what’s happened. I hope you can still have a good relationship with your other child, and I wish you the best.
DID is tricky, and I think most people I know know it comes from an kind of overwhelming trauma during early childhood.
I have, what we know is, dissociative order not otherwise specified (ddnos) since birth. They said they can't diagnose it any further until I'm older. I have lived with it for 17 years so far, but it's getting worse and happening more often. I don't remember a lot of what I do anymore. My parents say I talk different when I'm dissociating (like a toddler), have worse motter skills, etc. They say im like a different person, that I'm not myself. I've recently been in and dissociated at a residential treatment place and they said it's not behavioral, but metabolic or genetic. Any suggestions for me and next steps? Hope you can help.
Beck (pen name)
I feel your intense communication. I disagree with you though, I am sorry if that angers you. I believe that some people are inherently born with traits, genes, what have that give rise to dissociation as a defense than others are. So, with that in mind, a child who sees a traumatic accident, say was at Ground Zero, and eventhough the parents didn't abuse th echild but was a loving parent and took care of that child, perhaps got therapy for him or her (but you know the reality is that not everyone can afford therapy and not all therapy is well done) or moved the child to a safer local, etc. but the child was a type of person who is predisposed to dissociation, dissociates to the extent of alterters. So I guess what I am saying is that not every case of DID is caused by parents who cannot mee their needs for legit reasons, and even some parents got their kid help but the kid was just wired that way. There is such a thing as the diathesis stress model.
So if you really stop and think about it. No your parents may never have laid a hand on you, yes you may have been chronically ill and got medical treatments etc, but if your parents didn't take the time, effort and care to tend to your traumatic symptoms while they were freshly occurring OR after, coz let's face it, no kids ever show absolutely no symptoms of trauma, there's always at least one sign and if your parents really are loving and safe and devoted, they'll see them. If they're not tending to those needs or situations they're not as loving and as innocent as you think. Granted not all DID is the result of Sexual abuse, 90% is, but not all. But absolutely all abuse is the result of failures of caregivers somewhere along the way. Its that simple. If it's not the child's fault they are forced to resort to dissociating, and kids cannot be responsible for their upbringing, who is? Where does the blame lie? the answer is always the parents/caregivers. always.
The author did post a follow-up to this post that explained why she said those things originally http://www.healthyplace.com/blogs/dissociativeliving/2014/10/rethinking-dissociative-living-2-child-abuse/#more-2651
I agree with what you said, however. Even in cases where the parents are not the abusers, they can be neglectful, which is considered child abuse if it is severe enough.
I also just want to clarify that 90% of DID cases involve a history of child abuse and neglect, not just sexual abuse.
Yeah, I spent most of my life not knowing there were dissociated pieces until I purposely attempted to "summon" a new or existing piece as a last resort when I hit absolute rock bottom and wanted to die--and I was shocked that it actually worked. Then I was rather worried that when other pieces surfaced, they would bring with me the kind of horrific memories that other dissociated people often report. At the same time, I was perplexed as to why my own childhood memories weren't all rosy and whitewashed as is expected of so-called "core" identities. It took even more stress for me to realize that *I* was the trauma sponge for a third piece, whereas if I had recognized the situations that apparently split me as having been traumatic, I would have had a significantly greater/earlier capacity to help the system heal, in addition to avoiding the profound shock of the realization. Since then, the hosting identity and the newly discovered one have integrated, and while I miss both of us, the rediscovered strength in numerous areas of life is profound enough that I wish I had known what was going on many years ago. Of course people who have been violently tortured deserve every bit of the acknowledgement and care they need to reclaim their lives, but lesser wounds still require informed intervention.
My trauma was years of intense bullying, being attacked by a neighborhood dog, and the stress of withholding my homosexuality.
Read "I'm Eve," "A Mind of My Own," or "Three Faces of Eve." Chris Sizemore, one of the most renowned cases of MPD/DID, had trauma-based DID but it was NOT child abuse related.
She's not the only one.
Everyone dissociates on some level. It is a natural process to the human mind. Nobody has had the perfect childhood. Our parents have all made mistakes. Things happen. It's not perfect. So, dissociation happens and doesn't have to be trauma based.
Now, also dissociation also lies on a spectrum. Dissociative Identity Disorder actually is a trauma based disorder. It likely is based on the trauma impact of the individual and how it impacted them but trauma and abuse is trauma and abuse point period the end.
ongoing repeated trauma in childhood. go to the isstd and sidran. also look into the fact that the trauma was never validated or supported. how many of us have had to stand up and tell what has happened and got supported and saved from what happened which in essence created the very world necessary for us to survive in.... you know your worlds that collide for you... but i guess you have to believe what your therapists and other organizations who spend a great deal of time and energy working on this stuff to trust that they might know a little about what they are talking about. i mean at one time wouldn't you have believed that holly? i'm not advocating that all therapists and professionals are the ones who know all right and wrong. but some actually do know a little about some of this stuff.
and to copy what i posted in another blog..... because maybe
To spell this out.
Dissociate (the root word or dissociative) :1. to break or cause to break the association between (people, organizations, etc) 2. ( tr ) to regard or treat as separate or unconnected 3. to undergo or subject to dissociation.
Identity: 1.the state or fact of remaining the same one or ones, as under varying aspects or conditions: The identity of the fingerprints on the gun with those on file provided evidence that he was the killer. 2.the condition of being oneself or itself, and not another: He doubted his own identity. 3.condition or character as to who a person or what a thing is: a case of mistaken identity. 4.the state or fact of being the same one as described.
Disorder: 1.lack of order or regular arrangement; confusion: Your room is in utter disorder. 2.an irregularity: a disorder in legal proceedings. 3.breach of order; disorderly conduct; public disturbance. 4.a disturbance in physical or mental health or functions; malady or dysfunction: a mild stomach disorder.
Looking at these definitions alone one can conclude that the definition on DID is that there is a disturbance in the mental health or functions that is described as a break or disconnectedness in identity. It makes no sense that this would occur self misalignment would happen under normal circumstances. Why would a child break its identity, causing a disturbance in mental functions, over non traumatic experiences? I suppose this would require looking into the definition on mental functions.
Mental Functions: or cognitive processes are defined as : perception, introspection, memory, creativity, imagination, conception, belief, reasoning, volition, and emotion — in other words, all the different things that we can do with our minds.
Now this leads us to note that these are all things in which anyone with a mental disorder can have disturbed.
I think anyone can draw their own conclusions but if you look closely at the above information I believe it is pretty safe to say that any child that was raised in a loving and safe environment would not have DID.
Trauma: 1. Pathology. a. a body wound or shock produced by sudden physical injury, as from violence or accident. b. the condition produced by this; traumatism. 2.Psychiatry. a. an experience that produces psychological injury or pain. b. the psychological injury so caused.
So defining DID as a trauma disorder is simply saying that the origin of this separation of self that has caused a disturbance in cognitive processes is an experience that produces psychological pain or injury.
Now with all this said attempt to define DID as a disorder that does not have a basis of trauma.
How does this make a change to the public view!?!?!?!?!?!?!!?
In my case, I was abused, but my main abusers were not family members and I am fairly certain I was not the victim of incest. When I still used survivor forums, I often was met with disbelief when I said that my parents were not my primary abusers. They abused me emotionally (and sometimes physically) but there was no incest. I was told that I "couldn't be sure of that" and that many of my experiences "proved" that I had incest in my history. One example is that I had a difficult time with toilet training. I was in daycare much of the time, and I consciously remember there being some very questionable practices involved with bathroom use (both for toilet-trained children and those still in diapers). I have always figured that *that* was the reason for my difficulties.
One of my survivor friends read an article that suggested "trouble with toilet training" as a *possible* sign of incest and decided that that "proved" I was in denial about things. It's immensely frustrating to me, because as much harm as my parents have done, they are not guilty of incest. Until one of my system members suggests otherwise and I receive evidence to suggest that they sexually abused me, I am not going to change my personal narrative to fit what the survivor community tells me "ought" to have happened.
I very much appreciate your reply to Akid, because it helps me have a different perspective on what I already know. My counselor has tried to help me see it that way, but I guess hearing it from another source really helped. Thank you.
My parents weren't intentionally abusive and neglectful, they were both unwell and immature and frightened of the world and didn't know how to manage an insecure, withdrawn, traumatised child.
My peers at school who bullied me for over a decade did intentionally abuse me.
And of course birth trauma isn't an intentional abuse as such. Especially as everything was done to keep me alive, it just damaged me and my ability to form secure attachments.
I have spent a lot of my online forum space feeling I have to try and validate my own experiences. Too many people judge or invalidate me for not having a 'bad enough' [sexually abusive] past to have DID-like symptoms, and I've also been accused of 'faking' DID.
Another myth is that you have to have DID to have alters/parts, and have been diagnosed by a psychiatrist no less. [Try that with the NHS!] And really, you don't have to have DID to have separate self states. You just have to have been traumatised, usually repeatedly, and starting from a young age, in some way. Shock! Horror! True, in DID they're more defined, but. Borderline, C-PTSD, any diagnosis on the trauma spectrum can cause splits. And, remember people, a formal official diagnosis isn't a badge of courage, it's what YOU live with every day, what you know in your heart is true that counts.
Thank you for posting this. :)
It’s been a few yrs since your post. I hope you’re okay.
My DID was caused when I was a victim of abuse and trauma, but I was never abused as a child by my parents or family members. In fact, I grew up in a loving family. Thank you for exposing the myth that DID is not caused by child abuse. I appreciate your article.
I am overwhelmed with gratitude by such a thoughful and comprehensive repsonse to my questions. I have been searching, searching, searching for someone or something which might validate my experience and misgivings in coming to terms with this diagnosis.
"...and ultimately a really good way to drive yourself nuts."
I've driven myself nuts over this for so long that the odometer in my mind has flipped twice.
The material in your blog, Holly, has been among the most useful and practical I have found beyond the simple listing of symptoms (few of which I could readily endorse) that most mental-health websites publish. I appreciate reading your work and the messages of those who follow your post. I will pursue the resources you have included above. Thank you.
@Janice, thank you so much for reading. Indeed, trauma is the effect something has on a person's psyche, not the something itself.
@LeeDeb yes, I so agree with this: "I also think that being an introspective, imaginative, and creative person make for a way to get through what ever is traumatic to that child." I firmly believe I have Dissociative Identity Disorder (as opposed to some other coping mechanism) because I am, by nature, highly imaginative and prone to dissociation.
@castorgirl wow, this hadn't occurred to me: "I say complicated, because as a child, you hope that your parents will protect you from trauma, and when they can’t or won’t, there is confusion." That's really insightful, thank you. The more I think about it, the more I see that even if a parent is genuinely doing all they can for a child, and is by all rights an amazing parent, there is an inherent betrayal in their inability to protect, to keep bad things from happening, regardless of their degree of power. It isn't fair, but there you have it.
@Stephanie I'm really glad you made the stress connection. That's really what DID is, a way of coping with overwhelming stress that surpasses the child's resources. What causes the stress matters insofar as it matters to the person who experiences it, but it doesn't matter in terms of quantifying the stress in the first place. Trauma is the effect something has on us, not the something itself.
I would support the evidence that describes my parents' behavior as dismissive and minimizing and often neglectful; my father was bipolar and my family-life was unstable, at best. Given this information, I can even understand how an exam at the age of five revealing the possibility of sexual abuse might be ignored by my parents. (I do not remember making the complaints that necessitated such an exam, but my mother reluctantly shared this information with me when I, led by a previous psychiatrist's suspicion of such some years ago, made direct inquiry of her.)
Is "healing" possible without recovering memories? What if there are no traumatic incidents to recall?
I don't know what changed, but one day I realized that it was my coping skill for stress. Regardless of abuse or no abuse, I endured incredibly amounts of stress throughout my childhood that I wasn't able to cope with nor was given much help for. Admittedly, my parents were emotionally abusive and manipulative, and often sexually inappropriate, but nothing fit what I thought had to have happened for a diagnosis like DID. And, eventually, I realized that was okay. Nothing is ever that clear cut and I'm sad that I wasted so much time terrorizing myself over misconceptions and misgivings about a disorder that so few people really understand anyway.
I have only recently been diagnosed DID; rather, I should say that I have only recently *accepted* a diagnosis of DID -- and that, reluctantly. My primary reservation stems from my inability to remember any trauma whatsoever in my childhood. It is further inconcievable to me that my parents could have perpetrated such trauma upon my person nor that they could have been unaware of my having suffered so at the hands of anyone else.
I am in a double-bind: the only way that I can permit such a diagnosis is if I assure myself that my parents are beyond recrimination, but I cannot believe such pathology possible without a contributing souce of significant trauma. I feel as though I am pirouetting on a knife edge in my therapy to "begin to remember what happened that created the need to dissociate."
I'm glad you commented.
I have been in your double-bind before. It's a decidedly uncomfortable place to be. Let me tell you what I've discovered in the 6 years since I was diagnosed:
A - I have met only one person diagnosed with DID who never wondered why they have DID, who never thought or said something on the order of, 'but what happened to me wasn't bad enough to cause DID!' I'm sure there are others, but it's telling that I have spoken to and heard from hundreds of people with DID over the years and only one has claimed never to wonder if their trauma was "bad enough."
B - Without fail, every time I've ever heard someone wonder why they have DID because what happened to them wasn't "that bad" and they go on to reference something from their childhood, it is always "that bad." We don't recognize it as such because we associate this diagnosis exclusively with nightmares beyond imagination. That's a myth. DID is the result of repetitive dissociative coping due to overwhelming stress that exceeds the psyche's resources. There are plenty of people who suffered genuine nightmare childhoods and do not have DID or any other dissociative disorder. We cannot rely on measuring "how bad" an experience was to validate this diagnosis. That's a subjective measure and ultimately a really good way to drive yourself nuts.
C - I read your second comment, which validates answer B above. You say, " ... my father was bipolar and my family-life was unstable, at best." That one sentence tells us why you have Dissociative Identity Disorder. But then you go on to say, "Given this information, I can even understand how an exam at the age of five revealing the possibility of sexual abuse might be ignored by my parents." So now we have even more information - something (perhaps not sexual abuse, but something) led to that examination. An examination that, even as an adult would be invasive and upsetting. You were five. The exam itself may have been traumatic. I don't point this out to try and get you to attach new meaning to old memories. I point it out because you're saying, essentially, I don't remember trauma but, in fact, you do. You are looking for something larger, something huge and heinous, yes? I ask because that was once my mistake and I see countless others make it too, it's understandable. Your memories don't seem to match up to what you believe causes DID. The reason for that is two-fold:
1) The causes of DID have been so sensationalized and dramatized at this point that you are left to compare your own history with a myth. 2) Dissociation itself affects how we store memories ... what you reported doesn't feel traumatic to you because, I'm guessing, the emotions and the facts are stored separately.
This is terribly long-winded, I'm sorry. It's late and my brain is tired and when that happens I lose the ability to be succinct. I hope you'll read this post and watch the accompanying video. I think it might help: http://www.healthyplace.com/blogs/dissociativeliving/2011/01/dissociative-identity-disorder-video-dissociative-memory/
One last thing: You mention you have only recently been diagnosed. Please know that the ISSTD's treatement guidelines for adults with Dissociative Identity Disorder, along with every clinician I respect in the field of trauma and dissociation recommend a phase oriented treatment approach with phase one concentrating on stabilization, symptoms reduction, and skills training ... NOT processing traumatic material. Obviously, if things come up, they come up and must be dealt with. But overall, the first stage of DID treatment should focus on, as I said, stabilization, symptom reduction, and skills training. You may be interested in a book called Coping with Trauma-Related Dissociation, Skills Training for Patients and Therapists. It's an excellent manual for phase one treatment and is easy to use in therapy.
" It’s also true that trauma is the single most consistent factor in the development of Dissociative Identity Disorder. Indeed, child abuse is a form of trauma."
I also think that being an introspective, imaginative, and creative person make for a way to get through what ever is traumatic to that child. being left alone can be traumatic. an adult screaming at you can be also.
again thank you so much for your blogs have learned much and enjoyed all that I have read.