Embracing the Individuality of Alters in DID
Thursday, December 3 2015 Crystalie Matulewicz
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.