Today, I am going to get a little personal, and I’m going to discuss something I’ve only mentioned briefly before. My experience with this subject is that when it is discussed, it often opens up the possibility of controversy. The reason why is that it is so difficult to discuss something that is hard to prove something that is so intensely personal. Especially when you are dealing with personalities. Particularly multiple personalities.
Many people who have never dealt with something of this magnitude automatically deny the possibility of a person having multiple personalities, even though there is a psychological diagnosis for it. Even in the psychological community the existence of such a condition is still debated. In my 20’s, when I was in college it was called Multiple Personality Disorder (MPD). Before I graduated, the name was changed, and this is how I understand it now: The name for the primary condition currently is Dissociative Identity Disorder, however I believe that full-blown MPD is a sub-diagnosis of DID. The last time I had the opportunity to discuss this with a psychiatrist he did not dispute or correct me on that detail, so for the time being, I will continue to use it.
My first exposure to the idea of MPD was the movie “Sybil“, starring Sally Field, which I saw as a child. I was intrigued by the concept, but thought little about it, until I saw an Oprah Winfrey show regarding the same subject. Again, I was intrigued, but nothing came of it for many years. Then, while I was in college I became involved with someone who, throughout the course of our relationship, would at times when he wasn’t getting something he wanted or felt threatened, would put his hands around my throat and try to strangle me. While I was trying to help him, often this was accompanied by the words, “If you keep trying to help us, we will kill you”, in a voice that wasn’t his. Please note the words “us” and “we”, not “me” and “I”. When he would “come back” he had no memory of what he had done, and flatly denied it, even when I showed him the marks on my skin.
It was also during this time that I met my first counselor and mentor, Roberta Richards. As it turned out, she happened to be an MPD specialist and wrote a book , “The Devil Next Door“, regarding a case of hers (and Rachel and Roberta, if you ever find this, please contact me). To this day, I still consider this my “bible” for DID. It is an extraordinarily graphic book, in that it shows the actual thinking process from the inside of someone with the condition. The most difficult thing about reading it however, was how much I identified with it.
What is more terrifying than identifying with a book written about someone with DID, is what it takes to create the condition. Our brains have, what some would call, a marvelous capacity to moderate the actual emotional impact of an event, particularly a traumatic one. A nice example of this is childbirth. Ask any mother who has just given birth moments before, screaming in pain delivering a child, and almost every single one of them will tell you they would do it again in an instant. The brain has already diminished the memory of the extreme pain that the mother has just been through. DID/MPD is nothing like this.
To create this condition, there are two conditions that I am aware of that must be met. One, the victim can only be a child. I am not aware of any time where DID was created in an adult (PTSD or amnesia, for example can be, but DID/MPD is far more extreme), as the brain as already developed coping mechanisms. The other mandatory aspect is that the trauma, be it physical, mental, emotional, psychological, or any combination thereof, must be so severe that the child’s brain cannot cope with the situation and absolutely must split into a separate, or broken personality.
I want you to think about that for a minute. DID/MPD can only happen to a child and only because of extreme trauma. That’s a terrifying thought. Extreme trauma does not mean a bad car accident. Extreme trauma means that another person or persons did something to an innocent child who has no means of coping.
The severity of the condition will depend on how old the child was at the time, how many times issues occurred, and how severe was the trauma. I consider myself extremely lucky and blessed. My trauma occurred as an older (starting about 6 or 7 years old) child, and mostly was not physical. I have most of my memories, and I have (for the most part) access to my personalities. When I was younger I had much less control, but it also took many years for me to get this far.
The person I mentioned earlier was not so lucky. I am not sure how far the abuse he endured went, but things I am aware of: he was hit in the head with a cast iron frying pan, and on at least one occasion was forced to eat his own vomit. He also wasn’t capable of dealing with the abuse and wasn’t able to heal.
Now, I’m very blessed. My husband also has MPD (mine is DID). He has/had a full split due to the extreme trauma he suffered as a small child, and through the two of us working together we have been able to find understanding healing. Neither of us could do it alone, but now we have found strength and hope with each other.
In coming posts I will, from time to time, revisit and add more details about our story. My husband fully supports what I am doing, and has given his permission to tell his as well as my own. It’s part of what we feel we are here to do. To bring understanding those who have been fortunate enough to not suffer so much damage, and to let those who have been through it and are still suffering that they are not alone.