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Persecutory Alters in Dissociative Identity Disorder

October 2, 2019 Becca Hargis

Trigger warning: This post contains mention of self-harm as it pertains to persecutory alters in dissociative identity disorder.

Persecutory alters are something that can exist within a dissociative identity disorder (DID) system. We, ourselves, live with this kind of alter. We can feel threatened, taunted, and condemned by this kind of alter. We are harassed with negative messages in our head, screaming that we deserved the abuse and the mistreatment and that we are worthy of death. These cruel messages are ones that persecutory alters in DID offer us.

What Is a Persecutory Alter in DID?

A persecutory alter is another name for an alter that persecutes the host and/or the system. It is an alter that mistreats, controls, and oppresses a DID system in an effort to create, manipulate, and coerce a desired behavior. While many people with DID understandably dislike, if not hate, these persecutory alters, it is crucial to understand that persecutors were not created to inflict pain or punish the host or system. Believe me when I say they are not bad alters. There is no such thing as a "bad" alter. When they were created, the persecutory alter started out as a protector, but at some point, and beyond the scope of this post, these alters found the need to use aggression and hostility as the means by which to protect the system. Persecutory alters can be just as fragile and vulnerable as other alters, which is why they lash out at the system. While it may not make sense, they have good reasons for behaving the way they do, even if we do not see it or understand it at the time.

Reasons for Persecutory Alters in DID

Persecutory alters are far more complex than this post can begin to touch. However, it is imperative to understand that persecutory alters are just trying to protect the system and keep it safe the only way they know at the moment. For example, when the host might begin to date or show romantic interest in another person, the persecutory alter, whose mission is to protect the system, might see this behavior as dangerous and harmful to the system because it might lead to unwelcome emotions, potential vulnerability, and unwanted intimacy. In order to control the behavior of the host, aggression, hostility, and persecution are used to change the host's behavior so he or she will not pursue a romantic relationship. In the eyes of the persecutory alter, this results in the desired safe, protected, and insulated system.

The Persecutory Alters in My DID System

When we first began therapy for DID, we had an alter that would show anger and hostility toward us by canceling our therapy appointments without our consent. She concluded that canceling our appointments would protect our system because she believed therapy would expose our secrets, make us vulnerable, and give the therapist power over us. So, since she was threatened by the therapy appointments, she canceled them.

My system has other persecutory alters, including ones that wish to self-harm our body and inflict an eating disorder on us. The intent of the persecutory alter is to punish us, but in reality, it is simply an attempt at negative reinforcement to prevent us from engaging in conduct the persecutor believes is threatening, such as feeding our body with nutrition or maintaining a healthy weight. The persecutory alter feels threatened by our recovery and tries to punish our attempts at being healthy with punishment through self-harm. 

How to Treat Persecutory Alters

It might be easy to take the view that the persecutor and his or her actions and feelings should just be eradicated and disregarded. Nothing could be further from the truth. Failure to understand the protective role the persecutor serves and finding a way to negate, abandon, and exclude the persecutor will negate any positive outcomes that can be had with this damaging alter. The best course of action to take with a persecutory alter is to recognize, validate, and understand their actions and feelings, even if you do not agree with them. Once you adopt the view that these alters are not bad, you then can begin the healing work of negotiating healthy behaviors with the persecutory alter and bring some peace and harmony to the system.

Even though my previously mentioned persecutory alters are still in my DID system, I have reason to hope and be happy. The job of the persecutory alter who canceled our therapy appointments is still the same: protection of the system; however, her means to protect has changed. She no longer protects us through intimidation and persecution. Once we realized she was not bad, we were able to bargain and negotiate with her to find alternative ways to protect us. She now protects the system in ways that are constructive. She channels her anger into caring for our littles, and she enforces healthy boundaries so that appropriate people can come into our lives and unhealthy people are excluded.

In regards to the other persecutory alters who use self-harm and punishment to enforce an eating disorder on us, their job has also changed. Instead of punishing us with self-mutilation for eating and nourishing our body, they now seek to protect our recovery by developing healthy anger directed toward diet culture and societal standards of how a body should look. 

Turning the Corner with Persecutory Alters in DID

It is very important to note, again, that persecutory alters are not bad; they just have misguided goals in their attempts to protect the system. The most powerful way to get a persecutor on your side and become an ally is to align your purpose with the purpose of the alter, which is to protect the system. Negotiating and bargaining with these alters is only available once you understand the role of a persecutor and validate his or her pain.

My relationship with my persecutory alters turned a positive corner when I acknowledged that their purpose was not to randomly harm us, but rather a misplaced attempt to protect us and keep us safe. Any malice I previously felt toward my persecutory alters dissipated when I realized they were trying to protect us. Since then, while things are still a work in progress, there is much less animosity and hostility and so much more understanding, compassion, and willingness to find other ways to protect. It didn't happen overnight, but it did happen.

I wish this same compassion and understanding for you and all of your alters.

APA Reference
Hargis, B. (2019, October 2). Persecutory Alters in Dissociative Identity Disorder, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2020, March 27 from https://www.healthyplace.com/blogs/dissociativeliving/2019/10/persecutory-alters-in-dissociative-identity-disorder



Author: Becca Hargis

Becca is a mental health advocate who is passionate about ending the stigma against mental illness. She is currently writing a book on her experiences with dissociative identity disorder. You can connect with her on her personal blog, TwitterFacebook and on Instagram.

Lorraine Erickson
October, 2 2019 at 2:09 pm

Dear Becca,
The blog you posted on October 2, 2019 is very insightful for those who have friends or family with DID. It helped me to understand you better and have great empathy with all your struggles.

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