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.