Attachment Theory and Self Soothing: The Roadmap for Healing D.I.D.

Dissociative identity disorder, formerly known as multiple personality disorder is considered a complex disorder to heal. My wife and I began the journey down that road 5 years ago. But as we near the end, I’ve become aware of the tenets of attachment theory, and it’s been like finally discovering the name of our faithful guide on this journey after he guided us in and out and around so many common pitfalls.

One of those pitfalls that commonly catches people healing from d.i.d. is the push for “self soothing.” Attachment theory teaches us that in a strong parental relationship an infant naturally seeks to be soothed and comforted by its primary attachment figure. When an infant smiles, babbles or cries, it seeks to arouse the attention of an attachment figure. As that bond grows the child becomes dependent upon the figure for affect regulation and in the process learns to regulate itself thru self-soothing techniques. This takes place over the course of childhood  until a person becomes largely self-regulatory, but attachment theory makes it clear no person ever outgrows the need for the soothing security of attachment bonds with significant others.

But I’ve noticed a two-fold problem when it comes to self soothing. First when someone with d.i.d. is pushed to self soothe, it ignores the natural process of learning self-soothing techniques. A child learns to self-soothe from the wealth of experiences it had with its loving parents; those skills are not naturally learned in a vacuum or through a self-help book or at the office of one’s therapist. Thus, when a person with d.i.d. is pushed to self-soothe without a bank of soothing attachment experiences the process has limited effect.

That’s why I always “demanded” that the girls allow me to soothe them when they first entered my life. If I found out that a girl was crying on the inside, I would not rest until I had brought her outside to be with me so that she could find comfort in my arms. It’s part of a child’s need for proximity if I understand it correctly. Now as we are much further along, the girls have found other outlets to soothe themselves, but when daily “trauma” and trials arise, I’m still the soothing source of choice.

But the second problem I have with the push for self soothing is that attachment theory is clear that no matter how old we are, we NEVER outgrow the need for the soothing bonds of attachment relationships. And so my problem is with any approach that doesn’t stress the fact that self soothing outside of the context of soothing attachment relationships will still feel empty and hollow to a person. A person without the proper attachment relationships knows he/she is still alone no matter how much he/she may hold to a regimen of self-comforting tricks. These can never replace a hug, a smile, or a pat on the back from someone important to him/her.

Right before my wife and I started this journey, I was healed of an emotional trauma that caused me to be uncomfortable with someone crying. That was just in time because I’ve spent the last 5 years holding my girls while they cried; stroking their hair and face, rubbing their back, carrying them in my arms or on my hip. As their primary attachment figure I was satisfying their desperate need for comfort in the wake of their trauma. And as I gave myself to those needs for affection, slowly they built their own bank of self-regulatory skills. Now they can self soothe fully because of the strength of their relationship with me in the past and that continues today.

Self-soothing is a great and normal skill that a healthy person learns from the wealth of attachment experiences he/she has throughout life. But this skill never is to serve as a replacement for the attachment relationships themselves. We never outgrow the need for appropriate physical proximity and affection from those we love. As spouses and supporting family members we can supply what was once missing.


Sam, I Am


2 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. jeffssong
    Jan 19, 2013 @ 22:13:37

    Interesting post, Sam! “Self-soothing” – I don’t know if that is a concept that was learned or self-taught. By 14 or so I was into ‘meditation’ a bit – at 16 ‘self-hypnosis’ techniques (part of the psych training – and part of the reason I’m such a stubborn a-hoe sometimes when it came to therapy sessions). We used dissociation as a “self-soothing” technique as well: just everyone ‘go away’ and let just one or two out to bear the abuse. And holding back on their emotions until they became empty and hollow – and that felt good some of the times as well.

    I/we think (personally) – you’ve done well, your wife and you (And son). It appears you all have made great progress in this – job well done. 😀


    • Sam Ruck
      Jan 21, 2013 @ 13:35:41

      Hey Jeff and all,

      good to hear from you again. I hope things are going well for you and the Mrs. I really appreciate the time you took to comment.



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