Embracing the Individuality of Alters in DID
Embracing the individuality of alters in dissociative identity disorder (DID) is often misunderstood by people without DID. One assumption is that alters are voices a person with DID hears in his or her head; this leads people to confuse DID with schizophrenia. Another assumption is that alters are imaginary friends made up in one's mind, yet unlike imaginary friends, alters are not consciously created. Lastly, many people believe that alters are different mood states or aspects of a person's personality. This isn't accurate, either (Mental Illness Myths And The Damage They Cause). The reality is that alters are individual persons existing within and sharing one body. Embracing the individuality of alters is key to DID treatment and recovery.
Alters in Dissociative Identity Disorder Are Individuals
It isn't always easy to understand alters in dissociative identity disorder and how they work. It was difficult for me to grasp the concept that these alters inside of me weren't just ideas or figments of my imagination. Part of it was related to the initial denial I experienced when I was first diagnosed, and part of it was because I couldn't physically engage with these alters at the time (Accepting And Learning To Cope With Your DID Diagnosis).
Early in my DID diagnosis, I wasn't even sure what to call my alters because there are so many terms used to describe them. My therapist calls them my parts. Literature calls them alters or alternate personalities. My friend calls them head people. But each of my alters call themselves by their individual names. A name is how people identify themselves as individuals. It is no different with alters.
Dissociative Identity Disorder Alters Are People Just Like You and Me
Just as with any person, it's important to understand that DID alters each have their own traits, skills, likes, and dislikes. Sometimes these traits, skills, and likes are commonly shared with other alters or with the host. It is also common for alters to be drastically different; they are individuals after all. These differences can sometimes complicate matters, but it is important to learn how to compromise. Part of being able to compromise is recognizing that each DID alter is an individual, and that individuality should be respected. For example, one of my younger alters likes dogs. I, however, am afraid of dogs. To compromise, I got her a stuffed toy dog and a few books about dogs that we can read together.
When it comes to love and DID, differences can also arise. It is possible for the host or an alter to be friends with a person that another alter does not like. I have a very good friend that I have known and trusted for years. One of my alters does not like this friend at all. I let him know that his feelings were heard and that it's okay for him not to like everyone, but that this person is my good friend and will continue to be a friend to me. It shouldn't be expected that a friend or partner of one will be a friend or partner of all.
It is helpful to recognize what you share in common with your alters. For me, I really enjoy adult coloring books to help relieve anxiety and depression. Several of my younger alters also enjoy coloring, so we color often. It brings us closer together. Even in sharing a like for the same activity, our differences are very apparent. One little girl likes coloring flowers. Another young alter likes coloring dinosaurs. We are individuals.
Accepting that DID Alters Are Individuals Sharing the Same Body
It is important to emphasize that alters and the host share the responsibility of being in the same body, so each must be respectful of that shared body. However, it is just as important to accept that each DID alter is an individual. Alters don't think they are imaginary friends or parts of someone's personality. Alters believe that they are individuals, and they want to be treated as such. Each alter is like piece of your puzzle: different sizes, shapes, and colors all fitting together to form something greater. When you accept the individuality of your alters, it becomes easier to work together within your multiples system and manage day-to-day living with dissociative identity disorder.
Matulewicz, C. (2015, December 3). Embracing the Individuality of Alters in DID, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2020, March 28 from https://www.healthyplace.com/blogs/dissociativeliving/2015/12/embracing-the-individuality-of-alters-in-did
Author: Crystalie Matulewicz
Does your wife have a therapist? How long has she been diagnosed and in therapy? Is she co-conscience? I have been diagnosed for over a year and when I was diagnosed I was already co-conscience. When I was first diagnosed it was very scary realizing I didn't have the control I thought I had. Now, I am learning how to try to take control....but I have no idea if others with DID are able to do that. For example, one identity (Little Girl) showed up as I was driving home from work yesterday. When that happens, I am able to keep driving but it becomes very difficult and Little Girl is moaning from the burden of having to do something "adult". I finally (for the first time) told her to try to hold off being out until I get home. Switching back was physically difficult and I called my husband to help try to ground me in the present which helped. Learning how to do this took a year of counseling though. For someone that has many more alters (right now I only have two) I would think it would take a lot more work.
I have been working with my therapist on getting to know this one alter almost exclusively for the first year. (We didn't meet the second alter until recently.) If I was switching frequently during the week/day with many alters I think it would be harder to learn how to communicate with each of them.
My husband and I are in marriage counseling with the same therapist. Last night at our session Little Girl came out. After speaking for a few minutes the therapist told her that this session was for me and Bill to discuss marriage things and that she could come back and visit with him during individual counseling next week. After a few more minutes I started switching back. But again, I have no idea if this possible with others with DID. This is just how things have played out with me.
Crystalie and Kelly
Thank you both for your comments
You both mentioned either not giving alters more power than necessary or and making sure who is behind the wheel.
This has been my struggle in dealing with my dear wife. Her alters are always on the attack .
As I see it when my wife acts out she is usually angry at her alters she constantly feels like her alters are trying to hurt her in some way or take over her to be with me.
So my struggle is trying to be supportive but at the same time trying to help her not give her alters that kind of control. Any suggestions?
Thank you so much for the time you take to write these blogs Crystalie. I really look forward to reading them! It's such a hard balancing act to not be in denial, treat separate identities as individuals, but remember I am one whole person and not to give the separate identities more power than needed. It has taken one whole year to get in touch with one of my identities because for the longest time I would only acknowledge her violent anger (I saw it as violent because I don't really experience anger myself.) Once I was able to understand that what I was perceiving of her was very one dimensional and under the anger was a lot of hurt, sadness, and loneliness, she finally trusted enough to reveal herself last week. So, seeing them as individuals is very important! Thanks again for another thoughtful article.
Thank you, Kelly. You are right, it is a balancing act. It definitely takes time to find the right balance of allowing your parts to be individuals but also asserting your own control (my therapist likes to say "being behind the wheel").
I am glad that one of your alters trusted you enough to come out. Dealing with violent/angry/destructive alters is so difficult, and I am still having trouble managing one of mine. It seems like a never-ending process at times.
Thank you for sharing this blogpost!
I have read your blog with great joy. I have DID myself.
There is one thing I think is important to emphasise. One of the big misconceptions with DID is, in my opinion, that there are different people sharing one body. Altough it does feel like there are different persons sharing the body, this is not really how it is in DID. The personality is broken into smaller pieces to protect itself from trauma experience. These pieces develope themselves over time to act and feel like individuals. But they originally are one.
But it really doesn't feel like 'one'.
I'm sorry if I made mistakes in language, I'm not a native speaker :)
No need to apologize, your language is fine :)
While it is true that there aren't physically multiple people, most alters want to be recognized as individual people, and I think that is important to recognize.