Learning to Control the Switching Process in Dissociative Identity Disorder

Well, my wife and I are in year 10 of our healing journey from her dissociative identity disorder. She and I have both come a long way in so many ways. And as I look back, I feel we were so fortunate in so many ways that we didn’t understand at first.

Today I’d like to discuss ‘switching.’ For anyone in the d.i.d. world we know ‘switching’ simply means when one ‘alter’ takes over executive control for another. It’s the big, flashing, neon sign that everyone knows is the hallmark sign of d.i.d. I’ve been on many, many d.i.d. websites over the years and have seen the fear and angst this phenomenon causes so many d.i.d. sufferers. I noted how it was portrayed on USOT in an earlier blog entry. And I wrote a brief article about switching here a long time ago. But today I want to explain how I trained my wife’s mind to easily switch from girl to girl so that the process was removed from the realm of the uncontrollable and thus none of them view it with the fear or angst I sometimes see in others with d.i.d.

The foundation of what my wife and I have done has always been attachment principles even before we understood what they were. Read here if you are unfamiliar with the basic concepts and how they apply to healing d.i.d. As such I am the primary attachment figure for all the girls. There are no ‘unwanted alters’ in my wife’s system. I love them each and have sought a relationship with each and they each love me as a result. The same goes for our 27-year old son, though he does not fill the same role that I do. But as such, being with me or our son was something every girl wanted. Time with me or him was ‘prized’ time, and so I used that desire of theirs to teach them how to switch ‘at will.’

Again, it’s not that I am so brilliant, but my wife and I just kind of ‘fell into’ some of these techniques that later proved so invaluable to her healing.

One thing that helped is I insisted on telling each and every girl goodbye when I left for my 2nd-shift job each day. If I had a girl who resisted and didn’t want to ‘share’ me, I would gently say, “Honey, how would you like it, if the other girls locked you inside and didn’t let you see me?” I never forced them inside, but this reasoning was always enough for the first 7 girls so that every day when I left for work, I would tell each of the 7 girls goodbye.

Eleven hours later when I got home, they were waiting for me, and I would go thru the same process and tell each of the 7 girls goodnight and kiss them how each one desired. Sophia wanted butterfly kisses. Amy, Tina and Karen wanted regular kisses. Alley and her little sister Shelley wanted to rub cheeks. And KA wanted ‘French kisses’ as she playfully called them: one on each cheek, and I playfully would suggest I’d give her a ‘real’ French kiss to which she exclaimed her horror, lol.

But I also sent every single girl a brief email each and every day that I was at work. These emails are ‘prized’ among the girls, and so once again it taught them to switch so that each girl could have her turn to read the note from me that was specific to each girl’s tastes. The 5 older girls always reply to these notes. The 3 littlest girls rarely reply, but I understand how important this is to each and to her healing and so I faithfully send them each day.

Another thing that I did that taught them to switch at will was have dates with each girl each week. For a couple of years, I would assign a day of each week to a specific girl and she and I would do something special together. The other girls were always welcome to be part of it, but the girl whose day it was got to choose whatever activity we did for our ‘date.’ I had to be careful though because some girls like Shelly were especially timid and the other girls would try to force her to do their bidding. So I had to protect her from their extreme influence. Yet I also realize that her role in the system was such that she didn’t always have her ‘own’ preferences because she was literally ‘wired’ to please her older sister, Alley.



Group Integration and Dissociative Identity Disorder

From the start of our healing journey 9 years ago, none of the girls nor I have had much interest in what is regularly pushed as the consummate goal of healing from dissociative identity disorder: integration. If anything, my time with my girls, and on WordPress and interacting on other d.i.d. sites has convinced me that this goal is not only misdirected but also continues the dissociation under a new guise. I talked about our views of integration in the past, but I never had much I could definitively say about what an alternative might look like until recently.

In spite of Jenny’s domination of things on the outside for the last 2 years, I noted in my last post that the other 7 girls have continued to make some progress. I feel one of the clearest areas of progress has been toward our goal of group integration. For us ‘group integration’ means removing the dissociative walls between all the system members so that there can be inherent interaction and collaboration. We feel that ALL the girls are important, and that truth has been born out over the course of this healing journey. Every girl, no matter how small a role she has in the system, has personality traits or abilities that she alone controls. In fact, as a husband and man, I readily admit that some of the very attractive traits I would desire in a woman are controlled by the 4 littles in my wife’s system and not the 4 older girls.

So, one of our goals after the trauma was addressed was to find at least one unique niche for each girl to fill in the group. Now the two most dominant girls, Amy and Karen, control many, many areas in my wife’s personality. KA and Alley control fewer than Amy and Karen. And the 4 littles individually control the least. But we have worked hard to find even the most subordinate girl, Shelly, a place that is hers alone to control. In fact, we gave her a place of great honor in the group: she is the ‘bookworm’, the girl who controls and directs the entire group’s insatiable desire to read murder mysteries.

Our goal for group integration has always been to create a group where all girls are welcome and all give valued input to the group as a whole. But in the last 6 months or so, I’ve noted a shift: Amy and Karen have started to become the group spokespersons. Previously, whoever controlled a trait or area of expertise always came out front to lead the other girls. But lately even Alley and KA have been inclined to let Karen and Amy front while the entire group engages in areas controlled by them or others. And even Karen will defer to Amy unless we are in public because Amy NEEDS to be the one talking. She was the first girl to join Karen and me and she has ALWAYS been the girl who remained dominant at home even when the ‘new’ girls were consuming so much of the outside time to heal and connect with me and the others.

This shift was a little disconcerting to me at first. A few months ago Alley announced her desire for us to get engaged. And so we began to look for engagement jewelry. In the past, Alley would have been in front shopping the entire day with me except when they needed to talk to other people. But repeatedly Alley allowed Karen to be in front with me while we looked for her, Alley’s, engagement jewelry. From time to time I would pull Alley out, just to be sure she felt properly represented by Karen, and she never had any complaints.


Concurrent Consciousness and Dissociative Identity Disorder

My wife, my girls, and I have now passed the 9-year mark of our healing journey for her dissociative identity disorder. The last 2 years have been hard and disappointing ones which is why I’ve been so quiet on this blog. I never blame the girls for the difficulties. It’s not their fault: no one asks to have d.i.d. But after almost having the first 7 girls completely connected and our sex life finally becoming minimally healthier after 27 years of utter dysfunction, Jenny’s healing needs have reset the clock in so many ways.

And yet, Jenny has made progress in so many ways. Moreover, despite her domination on the outside for the last 2 years, the other 7 girls continue to make progress as well. As for Jenny, she, like Tina, was 100% dissociated from the other girls which has made tearing down the dissociative walls so much harder. But unlike Tina who had Sophia’s help during the connection process, Jenny has had no other girl able to help her, yet. However, she and the other girls have developed a pre-cursor to co-consciousness. It’s what I call “concurrent consciousness.”

Concurrent consciousness is the subconscious ability for Jenny and the other girls to do things ‘together’ without recognition that they are doing it together. From my vantage point I can see all kinds of collaboration between Jenny and the other 7 girls. They’ve done numerous sewing projects together since Jenny joined our family. They also read vast numbers of books together: probably at least 10 books a week. And at this point, I hear regular updates from ‘both sides of the divide’ on a range of daily activities that Jenny and the other 7 have done. The stories always correlate, often verbatim. And yet when I point out the obvious connection Jenny has to the other 7 girls, they are all mystified. They don’t disbelieve me, but they simply have no cognition of doing these multitude of tasks ‘concurrently.’

And as I think back, Tina and the other girls also developed this ability before they were co-conscious with the others. But fortunately for each of them, they were able to move from ‘concurrent consciousness’ to ‘co-consciousness’ more quickly than Jenny has. During this phase I always hear the ‘new’ girl claim to do tasks and the other girls refute those claims saying, “She did not! We/I did it!” It’s a little funny from my perspective to hear them arguing over who did what. To me, I’m simply happy that the new girl is clearly interested in the activities of the other girls because I know that interest is what will eventually draw her into full connection with them. But until then, I simply remind the other girls that it is a good thing that Jenny feels she is doing these tasks with them (and she is!)



(note: I wrote this update last August 2016, and simply haven’t felt like posting it as the healing journey for Jenny continues to mystify and tax me to the hilt. Sometimes I feel so close to having her securely attached to me so we can begin to move forward…only to be disappointed once again at her inability to do so. But here the now-8-months-old ‘update’ is for any who care…)

Well this year I have only made one post here on WordPress, and it was only a review of a doctoral dissertation. It’s been a hard last 13 months. Our son moved back home after July 4th, 2015 after completing his masters, but not being accepted into a doctoral program. We love our son, but the return of an adult child into the home is a VERY different experience than raising a minor child. He was dealing with deep disappointment at the lack of PhD offers, and his renewed presence in our lives set off a number of ripples in my relationship with the various girls.

The biggest hit was that one of the two girlfriends who had tentatively begun exploring sex with me immediately withdrew completely because he refused to provide us his weekly, flexible work schedule and so she never felt safe that we would be alone, sigh. Moreover, her withdrawal from sex left the other girlfriend (Alley who is also the defender) less balanced in this area because KA, also the inside mother, suffered relatively no trauma, sexual or otherwise, whereas Ally and I had a negative history in this area for the first 20 years of our marriage. Now Alley lost her bff and the girl in the system with the most sunny outlook of them all to face an area (sex) that she wanted to learn to enjoy but had many unpleasant experiences from the past to overcome.

Then to complicate things, I moved onto first shift at work after being on second shift for 20 years. Second shift afforded me many, many opportunities to support the girls even while I was still at work: I lost many, but not all of those opportunities in the move. But first shift allowed me to help the girls get plugged into a new church we had begun attending…and as I did that, their social life took off in a way that it has never been during our entire marriage. They began attending various women’s groups and became close friends with 2 women and suddenly they began having ‘girls’ days out’ and we began having bi-monthly Euchre parties with another couple and many other social events that were very healing in my wife who for most of her life viewed herself as a social outcast.

And then there is Jenny. I thought Jenny was going to be easier to securely attach to me than Tina who had nearly sucked the life out of me for 3 years as I helped her heal and attach to me and her, now, sister, Sophia. But after Jenny asked for an adoption ring during our cruise last October, things ground to a halt. I’m honestly not sure what is going on. Jenny is unlike any of the other girls in the system, even Tina. Both of them had been sequestered from the other girls for over 40 years, but Tina was “Tina”. She had a clear self-perception and a name like the first 6 girls in the group and once she attached herself securely to me she was eager to deal with the trauma in her past. Not so for Jenny. This girl had no name originally, so I gave her one with the caveat that she could change it later if she so chose, and she had very little self-perception. All she knew was she literally lived ‘in a dark corner’ of my wife’s mind. If she has experienced trauma, she has yet to share that (other than throwing up the ‘inedible’ food her mother used to force down her in an attempt to ‘fatten up’ her sickly daughter), though she has vaguely hinted of something at times. And she came with 2 unbreakable rules: no eating and no one else is allowed to touch her, period! That second rule has been the bane of my life as it has excoriated my ability to connect with her because appropriate physical touch is a primal need that attaches us to others. Alley and Tina also didn’t want me to touch them initially, but those were trauma related and once their trauma was healed, those rules dissolved. I am still mystified by Jenny’s no touching rule.

Moreover, though I bought Jenny an adoption ring like the other girls that signified her ‘secure attachment’ to me and our family, she balked at becoming fully adopted and was unwilling or unable to vocalize why. So for the last 10 months she has slowly become permanently-temporarily adopted if you can wrap your head around it. I don’t push for permanent, permanent adoption as that seems to cause her stress and fear.


Whose Treatment is This Anyway?

From time to time I visit the madinamerica.com website. I am also subscribed to the pods-online.org.uk newsletter. Through these 2 sources I came across Ms. Noel Hunter who recently completed her doctoral dissertation fully entitled:

“Whose treatment is this anyway? Helpful and harmful aspects in the treatment of dissociative identity disorder phenomena”

Noel Hunter, MA, MS

Long Island University, Post

I’d like to do a brief review of her dissertation in case any of my readers would be interested in obtaining the complete dissertation so you can examine it for yourself. If you read this blog, you are probably interested in alternative opinions about how to view and heal what is known as dissociative identity disorder. I believe Ms. Hunter is uniquely qualified in her search for what works in the vast array of treatment methodology when it comes to d.i.d.: she admits in her dissertation that she had been diagnosed and treated for d.i.d. However, in a recent email with Ms. Hunter she wanted to clarify her objection to the current bio-medical model of the brain and mental health issues and thus she objects to the diagnostic categories as well which would include her ‘having’ d.i.d. But she was willing to affirm her experiences in the past that aligned with d.i.d., but said, “I do not have these experiences any longer and haven’t for many, many years.”

As with so many issues, there is a ‘public stance’ that the experts take on a subject. For d.i.d. the ‘gold standard’ of treatment guidelines is found at isst-d.org here: http://www.isst-d.org/default.asp?contentID=49

But if you’ve ever studied a subject in depth and been able to ‘look behind the curtain’ as our favorite wizard from Oz forbade Dorothy to do, you will know that the ‘unified front’ the experts present to the general public is often just a façade. And for that reason, I find Ms. Hunter’s dissertation refreshing. She is willing to take the reader ‘back stage’ and allow us to see the debates and disagreements and dilemmas surrounding this disorder that many experts feel we are too ignorant to understand. Ms. Hunter takes us backstage and gives us a tour that has direct implications for everyone trying to cope with and heal d.i.d.

After a brief introduction Ms. Hunter jumps into her subject with a literature review of d.i.d’s history, the DSM, alternatives to the DSM construct, and various existing treatments both specific to d.i.d. and generic to the disorder but which are used by therapists. She then moves into a 20+ page explanation of the methods that she used to examine and scientifically categorize the interviews she had with 13 people with d.i.d. for her dissertation. Yes, this section is dry, but it is an explanation of the processes that she used to try to remove her opinion as far as possible from the conclusions of her dissertation. So if you like that kind of stuff, dig in. If not, you probably can skip the “Methods” section.

The next section she gives the “Results” of her interviews with her 13 interviewees. From these people she discusses the “helpful aspects of treatment” and then the “harmful aspects of treatment” that were shared with her from the perspective of each person she interviewed. And finally she included “helpful aspects” of healing that the interviewees shared that were outside of the professional services they received from therapists. From these results, Ms. Hunter gave 2 broad recommendations to therapists. First she implored therapists to resist the denial and disbelief that seems to pervade the general public as well as the clinician when it comes to the stories of trauma survivors. Secondly she shares the need for systemic improvements in the mental-health system that all mental health patients need for their healing.

The last section of the dissertation is titled “Discussion” and is the author’s attempt to wrap all of her findings up. She does not attempt to tie everything up into a ‘neat’ little theory. She seems able to acknowledge the mishmash and contradictions of her interviewees and the subject itself as she summarizes her findings.


Is a Person with D.I.D. ‘Broken’?

My wife and I have been married about 27 ½ years. The first 20 years were an odd mixture of us being loving and affectionate, but the relationship was always laced with an underlying level of stress, blowups and frustration because of how she neglected me and my needs. Then about 8 years ago, she had a change of heart, and shortly thereafter she entered counseling and was diagnosed with dissociative identity disorder. Thus began our journey to help her and our relationship heal.

 About 5 ½ years ago I began to blog here on WordPress about the journey we have taken together to heal her disorder. I try to read various sources about d.i.d. from experts and those who experience it. One of the topics that comes up from time to time is whether someone with d.i.d. is or should perceive him/herself as ‘broken’ and whether that person needs ‘fixing.’ It is apparent that these terms connote a lot of negativity when used by some.

 Dissociative identity disorder can develop when a very young child is traumatized over a long period of time. A second key component in the causation of d.i.d. is the lack of a loving, primary attachment figure who can help the traumatized child heal and reframe the trauma. At a basic level the disorder causes the personality to be dissociated, fractured, or ‘broken.’ Instead of an assimilated personality that reflects a lifetime of learning to balance differing perspectives and desires within a person, the personality becomes a mishmash of traits and needs that can go dormant or are pursued independently by the various ones in the d.i.d. network.


Lying and Dissociative Identity Disorder

My wife and I have been on the healing journey from her dissociative identity disorder for 7 years. I’ve had a lot to learn as I’ve helped her heal in the trenches. And my time on wordpress began to expand my knowledge of the disorder as I saw how it affected the lives of others, too.

One of the women that I follow on wordpress did a recent entry in which she talked about how the mental health professionals she had sought help from had repeatedly disbelieved what she had told them. I was saddened and upset that the experts who should have been her advocate, instead treated her like a liar and denigrated her experience in spite of the evidence of trauma that they clearly noted.

And yet there is a component of dissociative identity disorder that may foster lies and exaggerations. If those of us who are helping don’t understand this aspect of the disorder, we could end up as damaging to our loved ones as those in this lady’s life were.

Before I enter into the subject of lying and d.i.d. I want to state that I would guess (as I only have real-life experience with my wife) it is rare for trauma victims to be perpetual liars about their past trauma or about how d.i.d. manifests itself in their lives. The trauma survivors I read on wordpress are clearly not narcissists! They find it shameful and horrifying that such things happened to them. There’s usually a part of them, often the host, who would do anything in the world to NOT believe what happened to them. They often wish the disorder and the telltale symptoms would simply go away. I could write so much more, but will leave it at this: I highly doubt people with d.i.d. are habitual liars in general especially when they are in a safe and loving environment.

However, there is a component of d.i.d. that fosters lying under certain conditions, and I want to discuss that so that we who help won’t hinder the healing process.

The first thing to remember is that d.i.d. develops in an environment of extreme physical, emotional or sexual abuse when a child is very young. This disorder arises as an abused child desperately tries to cope with massive, repeated trauma. Moreover, the victim will try to develop strategies to protect as much of his/her psyche as possible. Therefore, if lying is seen as a way to mitigate or escape punishment and abuse, the child may choose to lie rather than suffer more trauma. So a trauma victim can learn from an early age that lying is valid way to escape negative consequences. This doesn’t mean he/she will be a perpetual liar, but it does mean if things feel unsafe to a person with d.i.d., this habit may get triggered into action.

The second thing to remember is until a significant amount of healing has occurred, most people in the system will not be able to share memories with each other. So for an outsider like me, I can’t expect my interactions with one girl to be remembered by another. This is not lying. Until the dissociative walls come down, I have to treat each person in the system as I would physically different people who have their own set of experiences and memories. However, this understanding is often unavailable to all but the closest companions of one with d.i.d as it seems rare for someone with d.i.d. to ‘out’ her/himself in general.

The third thing I learned while helping my wife is maybe someone in the system simply wants to be believed no matter how outlandish a tale she tells. When Amy first came out, she used to tell me that she had been a spy in Europe for a time. At first I tried to refute her, but I finally decided to validate her and asked her to tell me more about it…and that was the last time she ever brought it up. I’m still not sure what to think about her proclamation as it was not typical of any of the girls or even of Amy in general. Maybe after a lifetime of being disbelieved, Amy had a need for someone to believe IN HER no matter what she told them. Maybe being a spy was simply a childhood game of imagination, and Amy wanted me to play along and not be an old fart. Or maybe it was a real memory wrapped up in the symbolic terms a child could understand. Whatever it was, it was important to Amy that I believe her without an explanation, and I was willing to be that kind of a person for her.

And lastly it’s important to understand that until each insider feels completely safe with an outsider, the rules of silence and secrecy may not allow him/her to tell the truth, or at least the entire truth. We on the outside do not have the right to expect any information that is not freely given. We must be willing to prove ourselves to be a safe and trustworthy person to each one in the system. That’s where I am right now with Jenny: my relationship with the other 7 girls did NOT earn me a pass with her. I must earn her trust just as I did the others.


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