In a Nutshell – think Promote Healthy Community
People with multiplicity in crisis are often also experiencing severe dissociation. Please explore the Dissociative Crisis Resources too.
Common Stressors to consider:
This cannot be overstated. Multiplicity is frequently disbelieved, poorly understood, sensationalised, used in the popular ‘serial killer trope‘, or trivialized as attention seeking. People with multiplicity run a gamut of reactions from others including voyeurism, fear, and contempt. Many have been thrown out of hospital or care while in crisis once they encountered a staff member who doesn’t believe multiplicity is possible. Some people have lost relationships, jobs, the trust of their communities (eg no longer allowed to care for friend’s children), or even access to their own children; not for being unsafe but for the misconception that people with multiplicity are inherently dangerous or unfit. Most people with multiplicity have few, if any, positive role models who have parts. Many have never even met another person with multiplicity when they first discover their own. Don’t buy into stigma! Be mindful of how heavy the burden of stigma can be for people with multiplicity. Promote healthy, diverse, and inclusive communities.
People with multiplicity can be overwhelmed by fear. Switching can evoke an existential terror (Where do I go? Will I come back?). Loss of a sense of sovereignty over your body and life can be frightening. People can also struggle with a loss of certainty of the parameters of their own identity (Can I say for sure I would never do that?). On a basic level, fear of the unknown can be profound. People with multiplicity are often confronted by many unknowns – they don’t know anything about multiplicity (or everything they know is informed by stigma), they don’t know anything about the other parts, they don’t know how their loved ones are going to react if they find out, and they don’t know if they are aware of all of their own important memories.
This level of fear can be intense and disabling. It alienates people from themselves and inhibits our ability to think critically and respond creatively to our situations. People get stuck using denial to shield themselves from terror and despair. If you can support a person with multiplicity to feel less afraid by being less afraid yourself and helping them maintain hope, they will have more resilience and capacity to engage their own resources. An attitude of curiosity and gentle inquiry, and a willingness to tolerate uncertainty and ambiguity are far more helpful.
Some people with multiplicity will have little or no awareness of what is happening when they are not ‘out’ running the body. This can make them feel like they are in crisis, or amnesia can be part of a crisis such as a suicide attempt. Whatever information you can provide the person with about what’s happening will be helpful. Sometimes it helps to encourage them to ask inside for more information.
Over or under responsibility towards other parts
Parts can struggle in their relationships towards each other in ways that leave them very vulnerable to outside exploitation as well as misery and alienation inside.
An extremely challenging aspect of life with multiplicity can be inheriting life decisions made by parts who are extremely different from you. Everyone has some experience with this, in that we all inherit decisions made by other people in our lives (eg our parents) that are sometimes hard to live with, and even choices we made when we were younger that still impact us. When parts are involved this can be much more frequent and intense experience.
Competition for limited resources
Parts can become extremely competitive about resources they perceive to be limited – whether this is time ‘out’ running the body, the power to make life decisions, or the affection of loved ones. Encouraging parts to work together and share resources, and to realise that some resources such as affection are not limited can be extremely healthy. Other resources that are limited can sometimes be creatively engaged (for example a group of parts all desperate for more time out may wish to explore increasing levels of co-consciousness to be able to support this goal), or other times must be mourned as a loss.
People with multiplicity can feel pulled in completely different directions by parts with very different identities and desires.
Discovering you have multiplicity can threaten your sense of identity in a profound way. Some people do not so much discover they have parts, as learn that they are a part, in a group of parts. Because most of the world does not think in a multiple framework, whichever part is out in the body is generally seen as the ‘real’ person at any given time. This also creates identity stress as the other parts inside are aware they are being perceived as belonging to and being defined by the characteristics of the part who is out. In some cases this can completely freeze up a group where almost no part can function unimpeded by internal argument and distress. Parts learning to allow each other to be different, to be comfortable with their own group diversity, and to act as responsible spokespersons for the rest of the inner community when they are out can dramatically reduce this stress.
Unmet needs & loneliness
Particularly for those people with multiplicity who experienced trauma in childhood, an intense awareness of unmet needs in the form of deep yearning, grief, and a sense of alienation from other people can dramatically restrict people’s ability to live in the present moment and connect with new friends. An ability to tolerate having deep unmet needs, and instead to go about working on meeting the needs you can now meet is not easy to cultivate but can be very fruitful.
Dissociation and psychosis are different processes, but they can coexist. Some people with multiplicity experience what is commonly termed psychosis in the way they experience or understand their parts. Parts may have a sense of their own identity that is impossible, confusing to others, or ‘delusional’, such as believing they are 300 years old, that they can fly, or that they command a nuclear submarine (when they do not). Some people with multiplicity can see their parts (as ‘hallucinations’) and interact with them physically, for example holding their hand as they walk down the street. Sometimes one or more parts has psychotic experiences while other parts do not. The term psychosis is used here not to imply that these experiences are not real, merely that they are not shared by other people.
- Is Schizophrenia having ‘multiple personalities’?
- Parts vs Voices?
- My Approach to First Episode Psychosis
- Where does my psychosis come from?
For many people with multiplicity there are also struggles with intense trauma or abuse issues. Many people also meet the criteria for Posttraumatic Stress Disorder. Not everyone with multiplicity has a trauma history. For some people the trauma issues and multiplicity are tangled in ways that make them hate the multiplicity or see the parts as ‘the problem’. Some people find that their multiplicity resolves as they work on the trauma issues or get away from abusive situations. Others find that their systems work much better as a connected and caring group as trauma issues are worked on and abusive dynamics replaced.
- Self Care and a Myth of Crisis Mode
- Traumatic Replay
- Relationships and Traumal
- Thoughts about peer work, DID, & community
- Do you need a ‘DID Expert’ therapist?
- My experience of sexual health counselling
Abuse or Exploitation
- When Multiplicity doesn’t protect us
- Families, abuse, & hope
- Pain, & Truth, & holding onto the stories that Heal
Common crises for people with Multiplicity:
Discovering you might have parts
This is often a time of extreme vulnerability for people. Sometimes this is a gradual realisation, sometimes it is a sudden shock such as switching for the first time (that you are aware of), or challenging what you thought was a voice to affect the physical world – only discover that the voice is a part who can indeed switch out and impact the physical world. People can be completely terrified and very confused.
Unhelpful therapy or advice from others
Unfortunately this is pretty common. Sometimes people are told they’re sick and will never get better, or that they ‘have to’ do certain things a certain way to be able to recover, or that their multiplicity ‘must’ function a certain way or be understood through a particular framework.
- Countering DID myths – We’re not all the same!
- What’s the Point of Therapy?
- Do you have to remember/talk about trauma?
- What’s the deal with Integration?
Power struggles between parts
This can be extremely destabilizing and frightening for people even when the outcome is ultimately good. Power struggles are common and the most powerful parts can make life chaos for less powerful parts. It can take a lot of work for power to be used ethically and with love between parts, particularly when people have never experienced this themselves or seen it in others.
Vulnerable or child parts out inappropriately
For example, driving to a location and getting stuck there because a four year old part comes out and cannot drive home. Or a mute part coming out at the doctors and creating confusion. People with multiplicity who are having trouble with this can be very difficult to interact with and highly vulnerable. Responsible and ethical switching is not always easy, but moving towards making sure young and vulnerable parts are protected rather than inadvertently exposed and abandoned to fend for themselves is very important. Sometimes this can be as simple as asking for an adult or appropriate part to come out, or setting up basic rules for safety such as child parts are not allowed to come out while driving, and then being careful about triggers such as child oriented music.
Hostile parts coming out and behaving abusively to others
Self destructive parts
Some people with multiplicity have parts who engage in dangerous or destructive behaviour such as self harm, risk taking, alcohol abuse, re-contacting childhood abusers, or suicide attempts. Sometimes parts may express ‘self’ loathing by hating their other parts. These experiences can be extremely stressful and frightening and turn parts against each other in an internal war. Parts who feel scared of being hurt by another part may experience this as assault rather than ‘self’ harm, or as attempted murder, rather than suicide.
Parts getting stuck
Some people with multiplicity do not ever switch. Some people only switch in therapy, or only when home. Others live life as a group and need to keep switching to access all the diverse skill sets contained by different parts. If they get stuck – either a needed part stuck inside (eg the student part during exam week) or a part who lacks a key life feature gettting stuck out too long (for example a part who does not eat) the group as a whole can be in a lot of difficulty.
Chaotic and intense switching.
Intense or Chronic Pain and Emotional Instability
Many things can fuel a person with multiplicity to be stuck in a cycle of chronic distress, such as profound unmet needs, or trying to suppress all their pain. People with multiplicity (like anyone) can be drawn into the rescue fantasy of the mental health system, where if they just show they are wounded and compliant enough someone may come along and ‘cure’ them. People with multiplicity can lose faith in their own capacity to navigate life, sometimes as a result of well intentioned but disempowering ‘support’ offered by other people. People with multiplicity can be in awful life circumstances and legitimately desperately seeking support for situations no one could manage! Sometimes they will not be able to disclose the circumstances (such as ongoing sexual abuse) and therefore supporters may be unaware of what is driving their chronic distress. People with multiplicity are not necessarily able to ‘pass on’ good experiences for all parts to benefit from, so one lonely and distraught part can persist in help seeking even when the others are going very well.