Dissociative Identity Disorder is a normal response to trauma. It is the missing link to emotional healing. Frequently misunderstood and under diagnosed.
The names in this blog have been changed and the examples used are a compilation of many hours of counseling trauma survivors. This is not meant to be a comprehensive presentation of this very complex issue. There are many factors involved with emotional healing and I am discussing and revealing this one factor in this blog.
I was listening to Erin tell me her story the other day and I became quite frustrated at what I was hearing. Frustrated at what Erin had been taught in church and had been reinforced by well meaning friends. What she had heard and believed had caused her to push herself away, to deny her true and valid feelings. She was ‘fighting’ the intrusive thoughts she was hearing, as if they were from the Kingdom of Darkness (KOD). I asked her “What if those intrusive thoughts and images come from you? What if those irrational feelings and fears do have a valid source, a reason to be, that is not Satan?” Erin responded, “but I don’t want these thoughts, so why would I think them?” Good point…..so why is she having them? Why isn’t it the enemy?
VOICES AND THOUGHTS
Most of us in the church (God’s people I mean, not a congregation), are taught there are only two voices we hear. God’s ‘voice’ will be sometimes quieter and we hear him through our intuitive self and Spirit. Satan’s voice and his thoughts will be louder and directive, often condemning and contradictory to God’s word, or twisting it. I agree with that as well. There is however a third set of voices and thoughts. These voices can also be loud and directive, and in opposition to God’s word. They can also be soft and intuitive and difficult to here. I am talking about Dissociative voices and thoughts or alter parts … created by us in our mind, to protect or guard us from physical and emotional pain.
WHAT IS DISSOCIATION AND HOW COMMON IS IT?
Dissociation can be described as normal physiological response to trauma. Trauma can be described as any event that emotionally and/or physically overloads our soul (mind, will and emotions). The brain has a built in mechanism to help cope with overloads that would impair our ability to cope with life, after we have experienced trauma. Who of us has not experienced fear or pain? Fear, the day you, as a toddler, were accidentally separated from your Mum in the supermarket, or the day the tornado hit and your home was destroyed. Rejection, the time Dad stopped the car and told you to ‘get out,’ as punishment for being argumentative. He left you on the side of the road, you thought you would never see him again. Pain, when your dog, your best buddy, was hit by a car and died, more pain, more rejection, when Mum and Dad dismissed your tears and sadness. I could go on, but you get the picture … “It is too sad, too painful, overwhelming.” Add to those lesser traumas, repetitive sexual and verbal abuse. How does a child survive abuse that is perpetrated in their house and their is no escape? Or by the older boys in the neighboring house? Dissociation is the only way to do this. It is a God given coping mechanism that is automatically and almost instantly created in trauma and emotional overload.
HOW IT WORKS
Alter or dissociative or parts, ‘help’ us be removed or separated from those painful feelings and the memories of them. Denial of truth is the strongest coping mechanism we have. Dissociative parts are not demonic, they are created by us. The main organs in the brain responsible are the Thalamus, Amygdala and the Hippocampus. Peter Toth of Anazao Counseling has a short video explaining dissociation. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Foqgl1Of7jc&feature=youtu.be Parts function in our mind, and they communicate to us through our thoughts and feelings, even using images (from hidden memory) to communicate with us. Dissociative parts influence our thoughts and decisions. Parts are the reason that we hear thoughts totally contrary to what we want to think about or believe. These thoughts feel like they are me, but they just ‘pop’ in there, and feel like they by passed my normal thought processes. Parts will often express in feelings that have no known basis. I have a client who went with a friend who was shopping for a belt. When my client saw the belts in the store, she had a panic attack. My client has some memory of being beaten with belts. She also dissociated during some of the beatings as they overwhelmed her. Those dissociative parts, seeing the belts in the store, reacted as if my client was in danger, with fear and panic. My client knew she was in a safe place, but her dissociative/alter parts did not.
Parts do nothing other than the function. If you put a car in drive, it will drive until you take it out of drive. So to it is with dissociative parts. Alter parts created to cope with parental verbal abuse, will ‘come forward’ and ‘take’ the abusive words for the child. Another part might also come forward and ‘take’ the emotional pain for the child. It blunts the impact on the the emotions. Those parts will not change their function. They use our minds and emotions to express their function. They become a dysfunction in our adult lives though, as they continue to view life through the narrow lens of the traumas they have taken for us, as if we are still a child in need of their protection from potential verbal abuse. Dissociation has the capacity to totally keep knowledge of trauma from us. Denial, ‘nothing bad happened and I had a great relationship with my Dad’ are very normal ways of coping with trauma.
DISSOCIATION AND CHURCH
Erin is feeling confused. “Why can’t I take my thoughts captive?” Why when I push away my negative intrusive thoughts, do they come back at me stronger? Do these thoughts come from Satan? Why don’t they go away when I apply scripture? What am supposed to do? Is God powerless? Am I doing something wrong? Why doesn’t God help me?”
Erin when listening to a teaching about ‘taking your thoughts captive in obedience to Christ’, assumes the intrusive voices she hears are from demons, and she pushes those thoughts away. The problem is they get louder and stronger, and Erin feels weaker and God looks pretty weak too that He is not helping. Erin reads her Bible more, memorizes verses, uses them to try and control her mind but nothing is working. Her mind is sometimes racing and she feels a bit out of control on the inside.
Erin is just one of many Christians, desperate for relief, to be emotionally normal and closer to Jesus. They can’t trust what they hear in their head, the thoughts and feelings won’t go away. There is virtually no understanding of dissociation in ministries and churches, and Erin is very misunderstood. Well meaning people assume KOD is causing the disruptions in Erin’s life, and she needs to keep fighting. Erin has shared a little of her issues, and has been told she needs more faith, to pray more, to be in more Bible study, and get out more. Always doing more…. yet Jesus does not require any of that for her and He desperately wants His people to understand the impact of trauma in Erin’s life, and the dissociation functioning because of it. God’s people are perishing for lack of knowledge. Dissociation is a natural coping mechanism, it is common, it does interfere with our relationships with each other and with God.
DISSOCIATION CAN BE MILD
The example I used with Erin, reflects a person with a higher level of dissociation. Most people do not experience such loud intrusive thoughts and physical responses. Dissociation and the memories associated with it, can also be mild and the influences more difficult to pin point. Fear of global catastrophe, phobias, aversions to certain food types and textures, trigger reaction to certain smells and sounds, can be explained with dissociation. Parts functioning explains anger that is disruptive, suicidal ideation, hopelessness despair and addictions. Erin feels more relaxed after she cuts, John is less anxious when he completes all his OCD behaviors. Our own personal responsibility and choices also impact our lives as well, however with no recognition of this missing puzzle piece, struggling people will continue to struggle and be misunderstood. Sadly many give up and settle for a life of emotional mediocrity, or worse, they feel so hopeless they take the ultimate action of self rejection and end their life.
CHILD ABUSE AND DISSOCIATION
Considering the high levels of child abuse, and other childhood trauma, it is no wonder people have to fight to become emotionally healed and many leave church congregations simply because they are tired of doing the same things over and over, with no real and permanent change happening. We are wounding our own because we are taught partial truth as if it is complete. Well meaning people assume Satan is causing disruptions in people’s lives. Kingdom of darkness does use dissociation for his benefit, because he can. He will continue to do so as long as we are blinded to the truth.