The Intimacy Factor and Dissociative Identity Disorder
Intimacy can be such a tabooed and feared topic, especially for those of us with dissociative identity disorder (DID) who have been subjected to years of prolonged abuse and unwanted touch. The very idea of intimacy denotes something very private, closely personal, and not prone to discussion. However, if true healing is to be obtained, those with dissociative identity disorder must discuss concerns of intimacy, closeness, and vulnerability in order to help heal and to have his or her needs met in their relationships.
With that being said, work around intimacy in dissociative identity disorder is difficult and complicated. It is beyond the scope of this post to discuss all aspects of intimacy. Seeking the guidance of a qualified mental health professional to guide you in your healing process is strongly recommended.
What Is Intimacy?
The dictionary defines intimacy as an expression of affection, a loving personal relationship with another, and an amourously familiar act, including, but not limited to, sexual intercourse.
(In fact, there are four types of intimacy. For an even deeper appreciation of what they are and how they can help create intimacy between you and your partner, watch my video below as I discuss the pathway to connectedness.)
In my relationship with my husband, intimacy pertains to a deep, personal connection that fosters feelings of comfort, safety, and security. Without feeling safe and secure in my relationship, intimacy could not be achieved.
Perhaps you agree with these explanations on intimacy or maybe you have a different idea of what intimacy is. Regardless of our personal interpretations, the question we are left with is how do we foster intimacy that will lead to us feeling connected with another while being safe at the same time.
What Helps Foster Intimacy?
For those of us with dissociative identity disorder, most have learned from an early age that touch was unsafe and dangerous, so it might feel more natural for us at the moment to be fearful and to shy away from being vulnerable.
First of all, be gentle with yourself and your expectations. Start with what is easy. One such way is to develop a level of trust and communication. Discussing your relationship with your partner and what the two of you need from each other is a great first step in fostering intimacy. Ths beginning dialogue will help you feel safe, loved, and accepted when expressing your feelings, your needs, your desires, and your wants. Without this basic level of communication, it will be difficult to move forward to a more intimate, and possibly sexual, level in your relationship.
Examples of Intimacy
To start with, intimacy is when you know and trust your partner, For example, intimacy will begin to develop when you both rely on each other to navigate the hardships and good times, when you are responsive to each other's needs, and when you make a permanent commitment to each other.
For me and my husband, communication and understanding have always been key in establishing feelings of safety and in nourishing my desire to be with him. Intimacy for us can be something as gentle as the comfort of holding each other's hand, softly snuggling with each other on the couch, or even laughing at each other's silly jokes.
What about you and your partner? When was the last time the two of you hugged, danced, or even playfully tickled each other? These are just a few ways to foster and express intimacy toward each other.
Respect Your Partner's Feelings
With that being said, for a long time, I was not comfortable with my husband initiating any form of intimacy with me. Because of the abuse of my past, it was difficult to hold hands or cuddle with him. However, if I wanted to express my love to my husband, I would have to open that door. And while he knew and understood the reasons for my inability to be loving and affectionate in return, there were times he could not help but feel rejected.
When I began writing this post, I asked my husband how he felt when I was not able to reciprocate intimacy. He says:
"I love you, and I understand why you cannot always engage with me, but sometimes I feel rejected. I would never hurt you, and it makes me feel like one of your abusers when you cannot connect with me. I have in my mind how I want to treat you and make you feel, but things don't always work out that way, and I feel disappointed that I cannot share certain moments with you."
I understand my husband's feelings of discontentment. Even though we with dissociative identity disorder are the ones who have suffered and endured years of abuse, our partners are still allowed to have a reaction when intimacy is not a possibility for us at that moment. Just as I did with my husband, you might need to remind your partner not to take your reaction personally, and reassure your partner he or she did nothing wrong.
Words of Caution
Since lack of intimacy by one partner can cause hurt feelings, it would be appropriate to set up expectations at the beginning of your relationship as to what you will allow. Establish safe boundaries so that your partner will be knowledgable of what you can and cannot do.
But be confident in this: there is no expiration date on intimacy in a relationship. If things are not feeling safe, take a step back and work from the beginning on reestablishing trust and communication. Continue discussing what your needs are. Intimacy is achievable and possible for those with dissociative identity disorder. I wish you a long, safe, and fulfilling intimate relationship with your partner.
Hargis, B. (2019, July 31). The Intimacy Factor and Dissociative Identity Disorder, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2022, July 2 from https://www.healthyplace.com/blogs/dissociativeliving/2019/7/the-intimacy-factor-and-dissociative-identity-disorder
Author: Becca Hargis
So im kinda crushing on an Alter in a system and im not 100% sure how it would work out, the Host of their system has a boyfriend and im not sure if that means hes all of theres boyfriend, When Hes out he never refers to the Guy as His boyfriend only the 'Hosts Boyfriend' or Just his Name, Im curious how relationships work when an Alter crushes on someone and wants to get in a realtionship with someone, would it be nearly the same as any other realtionship?
These are good suggestions and a thoughtful article, but I really wonder about the idea of tickling people without knowing 100% that it is okay with them. In many cases, it can bring out a little instead of an adult part, which can be cute and fun but less likely to lead to romance as an appropriate option. In fact, in many people's experience, having the littles around too often is a huge block for adult intimacy. It can also be a way of trespassing and 'making' the other feel something and lose control of their body, and many folks are not comfortable with it.
Hi, Donnalee. You raise some very legitimate concerns. Thank you. To have a little come out during a romantic moment would not only be inappropriate but could also be damaging to some in the system. In my post, I speak to relationships that have already communicated those boundaries and whose systems have agreed-upon ways of showing affection and intimacy. Hopefully, this would serve as a protection against any alter for whom romance and intimacy is not an option. As stated in my post, it is my wish that partners communicate first what is appropriate for him or her, and then move forward with a physical relationship.
I am not doctor or professional. My experience comes from the research I have done and personal experience with my wife being a multiple herself. Our system is comprised of only woman, mostly adults, one teenager and a little. Every system has a part that functions as a gatekeeper. A gatekeeper is the part who controls who is fronting and when, particularly in trauma related switches. These gatekeepers also prevent the wrong part coming out at the wrong time. So chances of having a little or another part who's not appropriate coming out at sensitive times is small. And most systems won't even let their littles front at all.
I have a personal relationship with everyone of our sisters (parts) that is different per person. Our little sees me as a parent, and I read stories to her and play with her when she is fronting. She has never come to front in inappropriate times. And I don't believe littles fronting is a very common thing, unless there is a very strong trust relationship between the system and the person on the outside.