What can I do to help myself? The question itself can be overwhelming. In DID often it’s hard to define what help is needed. Especially in frequent despair, there may be no guiding light to know which way to turn. The important thing is to know that you are not alone. Many, many others face this same question. Hopefully, you’ll find some help in these pages. If so, I hope you’ll let me know. [If you’re new to this blog and are unfamiliar with terms like Primary, Alter, and Little, please see the blog: What does it Mean to be a Personality? ]
First, I’d like to talk about grounding in two flavors: a sense of being/existing vs. identity/presence.
Second, let’s talk about who in your system should be grounded in various circumstances.
Third, can forcing a switch (changing who has executive control) be helpful?
Fourth, knowing your system and building internal knowledge of stability and cooperation is helpful.
Fifth, dealing with anxiety and panic requires that you know how to enable system-wide relaxation.
Sixth, if self-injury is a coping strategy, let’s think about what that does and does not do for you.
Seventh, DID, hopeless despair, and suicide are interlocked but can be faced and overcome.
Finally, Jesus is the ultimate answer. He is The Healer. Go to Him for help.
Honestly, a lot of the time in DID it’s very difficult to figure out what will help. Whether you’re dealing with depersonalization, derealization, identity confusion, amnesia, anxiety/panic, self-injury, drug abuse or any of dozens of related problems, it can be extremely problematic to decide what, if anything, will make things better in the moment. Being “in the moment” is the operative here, because it’s even more difficult to think about what’s ahead – a minute, an hour, a month, a year – unless one can occasionally, even often, find NOW.
Let’s begin this discussion with something called GROUNDING. People in the mental health field talk a lot about grounding. The point of grounding techniques is to bring one back into the moment. Many grounding techniques depend upon sensory stimulation (feeling the chair you’re sitting on, smelling something, focusing on objects in view). Other techniques involve mental exercises that affirm the present circumstance (I am in my office on Tues March 4). (See here for examples.)
If you look up grounding on the internet, you’ll find dozens of sites with all sorts of suggestions for bringing your sense of being (hearing, smelling, feeling, site location, and self-identification) into the present. Grounding develops a sense of immediacy: I am here now. There are even online grounding worksheets: and a variety of actions that can bring one into the present. I recommend that you take a look at several websites to get an overview of recommended techniques. In the literature grounding is always framed in a positive sense. It’s not always that way, but we’ll focus on the positive first.
What helps bring grounding in the moment is dependent upon what’s going on inside. Depersonalization has always been a huge issue with us. Thoughts were not mine. There was the feeling that the person standing in front of me and talking “toward me” was really not talking “to” me, i.e. “I” wasn’t there. In addition, the sense that our body did not belong to any of us was a constant for a very long time. To handle this we used a few tools regularly throughout the day. The first tool was to tap our fingers somewhere on our body. Even though we “knew” the body belonged to someone else, we were in it, and to make concrete the fact that we have access to this body, we needed to feel it. Tapping our arm or leg or abdomen throughout the day brought that reality into focus. The body still wasn’t ours, but sensing its solid nature helped. Even now, after all these years, there is a deep sense of confirmation inside when we tap our leg.[Note there is an entire school of trauma healing called EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing) that can use alternate tapping of one side of the body and then the other. It’s a simple technique with powerful brain effects. We would recommend that for grounding purposes you avoid alternate tapping because it may cause flooding of your mind with trauma memories. For grounding purposes just tap one leg or arm or wherever on one side and focus on FEELING the tapping as a way of realizing that your body is attached to you.]
The second tool was aimed at our lack of being someone. When lots of switching was going on and there was a vacuum inside, it was very hard to determine if I was anyone – a person – an individual who is living right now. There is a huge difference in having a sense of existing, which is a recognition of time passing, and a sense of being, which is a recognition of having an identity in time. Existing is rather existential. There is great emptiness, and it’s difficult to move to a place of action when a sense of being is absent. Grounding exercises may confirm existence but not personal presence. Maybe it can best be described as the need for someone to snap into place and say, “I am here now.” Most grounding exercises are good for connecting with sensory awareness, but they do little to help you figure out WHO you are in the moment. It can be a horrible feeling to not have any idea who you are – maybe no one. Over the years we’ve found that the most effective mechanism to force that sense of being in real time is to start some action – a job: cooking, reading, any daily task that requires a particular Primary or Alter to come out. Of course, absent an Alter or Primary being there to make decisions, there must be a fall back strategy to determine what action to use to bring someone out. We used cooking. It worked, and in retrospect we know why. More about that in a moment. To facilitate such a forced switch, it may be helpful to post notes around the places where you are most commonly in difficulty. Somehow we would know that there were instructions of what to do posted in various places around the house, office, and car. Different instructions can be used in different places. Using the instructions we could force a switch. The point is that someone is forced to come out and do the job. It may not be the optimal person for the current situation, but it’s a start.
So let’s go back to grounding. In the midst of a panic attack or a flashback or some other crisis, WHO should be grounded? At first we always tried to get the Alter or Primary in question to come to presence of time and being. The downside of this is that bringing a Little who is in panic mode into the present doesn’t really help you, unless you’re prepared to deal with her/him right then. Therefore, as our Primaries got stronger, we often would practice having a very strong Primary as the default person to gain control. As we found out by accident, if we decided to cook (action), a really major Primary would appear. She was in control at home. She had a large subsystem of Alters who did as she directed. So having her out was like standing on a strong rock. Once some level of control is gained, there is the choice of whether to deal with whoever was in the crisis situation at that moment or later. If we settle for grounding of the Alter in crisis, there is a real risk that she/he may not be able to stay grounded; furthermore, the temptation to deal with an issue at that moment to avoid another episode may overwhelm common sense. Thus, grounding is most beneficial if it leads to a strong, stable Primary or Alter coming out who can deal with the current situation. If one gets stuck with an unstable Alter, sometimes there are even more problems that come with grounding. For example, in a confused, depersonalized state there may be serious depression, but no capacity to commit suicide. We found that if this sort of Alter got under control as to time and place, she would often be more serious about ending it all. Having her switch out for someone stronger would then be necessary to prevent disaster. It’s a learning curve. No doubt all systems are different. Working out an escape plan for your system that allows you to quickly bring a safe person out on demand can be invaluable.
Forcing a switch by starting an action may seem like side-stepping the current crisis. Obviously, the ultimate goal is to always know who is out, have them be grounded, and work on figuring out why there are dissociative barriers. But that could be long time away. We recommend you do whatever works in your system to facilitate grounding as a sense of time and grounding as a sense of person. Once there is a sense of being (I, Teen #1, am here) and a sense of presence in time (May 3rd in a Chinese restaurant), there is the availability to access the body, mind, will, and emotions. For the moment, however long it lasts (minutes to months), there is opportunity to experience, consider, decide, and feel. In the worst of our crazy switching/ confusion, learning to practice being and presence and to record the experience proved very helpful. If one can get a Primary or an Alter to be fully present and aware, one can explore and document the attributes of that “person’s” body, mind, will, and emotions. Teen #1 may be 14, have blonde dreads, be an accomplished guitar player, decide to never speak to a teacher ever again, and think often of suicide. If “our cook” were forced out, she would be a middle-aged housewife, in charge of the house schedule and determined that the system of food, cleaning, laundry, kids’ homework, and animal chores be accomplished by all members of the household. Thus, the specifics of being and presence determines not just age or gender but determines opinions, physical capacity, relational skills, desires, internal biochemistry, and much, much more. So an advantage of forcing a switch can be that you get to know a greater subset of your parts.
One thing that surprises many people is that it’s possible for different Primaries or Alters to have unique physical attributes. Eye color and vision correction, food sensitivities, allergies, medication efficacy, mental capacity, and body memories are among the features that can be unique. To us, as individuals, this was comforting. I am not her. I am not at all like a Little. I do not agree at all with the opinions of others who use this body. I do not look like them. My self-image is unique. One could argue that this is not a healthy thing. After all, isn’t the goal of healing from DID for everyone to become one person?????? Well, yes and no.
While the initial ideal may be that all the Primaries are identified and all conflicts leading to dissociation are resolved, that doesn’t mean that in the process (or ever) the differences among individuals can or should be ignored. In some cases ignoring the needs of an individual can be fatal. Just because I may be rather calm at the moment doesn’t mean that some deeply disturbed Alter is not going to come out and start swallowing pills, given the opportunity. The process of healing generally requires that all Primaries and Alters are treated with love and respect to the extent possible. One fundamental feature of stability is, through experience and hopefully internal conversation, knowing who is how stable, what the internal and external needs are, and providing an environment where the maximum level of peace and calm can be achieved. So help yourself by learning to love and respect each other from the get go.
Anxiety and panic can be perpetual problems in DID. In putting this blog together, I read an article about using muscle tensing to overcome panic in PTSD. (See here). I recommend you read it, although I’m not sure I can affirm its value in all cases. As I understand it, induced relaxation can actually be triggering. I’m not sure why that would be physiologically, but I can certainly see how someone telling a person to relax could be triggering, based upon trauma-based programming. This article claims that body tensing when done mindfully decreases the body sensations associated with trauma. For some people that may be true. Our experience is the opposite. We live in such a severe case of muscle tension that there is excruciating pain when touched almost anywhere on our body. This was true long before we knew anything of our past, living as the Primary Presenter in an understanding that we were a “normal” person. We throw this information out there because the state of the body reflects emotion and vice versa. Test it out. If muscle tensing brings relief to a traumatic state, fantastic. If, like us, there is hardly any more tensing possible, you might need to learn ways to relax.
Most people deal with anxiety and panic by trying to relax. Relaxation is an interesting topic. Whole libraries of books have been written on the subject. Obviously, I’m writing from the perspective of a programmed multiple. A random sampling of ways to relax may be a soaking bath, listening to favorite music, stretching exercises, watching a TV show, getting a massage, reading a book, and on and on. Our experience is that finding a way to relax that benefits the overall system can be a challenge. If hidden within there are Alters who have an adverse reaction to something most of you believe is relaxing, there will be upheaval within. We can now finally take a bath because all of the Littles who were “drowned” are now healed. Anything involving a screen, such as a movie or TV, is still out. Some people use therapeutic massage as a foundational feature of self-health. Many survivors wouldn’t even consider it. The point is that the body needs to calm down for the emotions to relax. Finding what works for you is empirical, and hopefully, with healing it will change over time. At the very least deep breathing exercises (breathing in slowly through your nose, count to three, and then breath out through pursed lips) causes a physiological relaxation in everyone. The point is that this is something that systems must work at. Having mechanisms for relaxation that work for the overall system is invaluable. My suggestion is keep trying. If you get triggered, you then know that’s an area you need to work on.
Over the years an area in which I’ve needed a lot of help (and gotten very little) is self-injury (SI). Clearly, some SI was programmed. Most of it has been a life-long coping strategy. Again there are innumerable books on the topic. However, most of them just make me angry. There are many different reasons people do SI, and in DID different Alters or Primaries have their own reasons, so it’s not a simple I will or will not do this. Over the years in our system it was done to tangibly express inner pain, to destress, to validate presence in a body, to get rid of superficial body flaws, to re-enact rituals, to prove pain tolerance, to put off suicide……. As far back as we have any continuous memories, we did SI. As a very, very young child we did SI. There was never a time in our life that it stopped. When I think of all the harmful coping skills that people use (alcohol, drugs, non-stop working, binge eating), SI doesn’t seem so horrible, as long as it’s not so severe as to cause major disfigurement or infection. If I were asked to sign a contract with a counselor regarding SI, that would have most likely been the end of that therapeutic relationship. Somehow I needed SI to help KNOW that I was not going to kill myself. So my first suggestion if SI is a problem for you, stop freaking out. Unless you’re doing serious bodily harm requiring lots of stitches or treatment for infections, many worse coping strategies could be used.
On the positive side, SI is a serious enough behavior that examining why you do it can lead to profitable avenues of therapy. Those Alters who use it to destress can find other means. Uncovering rituals and healing those memories can stop some SI. I think the most pervasive use of SI in our system has been to express what couldn’t otherwise be expressed. Inside one body different parts are being tortured for programming, used in porn/prostitution, involved in cult rituals, used as a breeder, on secret government assignments, and going to school to develop a career. The unknown horror of all of it has to be expressed. SI does that well. I know counselors working with children try to give opportunity for expression with art and play therapy. Alone, with no one caring, our Littles did art with their own blood. The deep has to be expressed – somehow, somewhere. It’s not a healthy option, but it is an option that is rarely fatal. And when healing comes, it’s no longer needed. In the meantime, be gentle with yourself. Minimize the permanent effects. Try to determine what SI is doing for you in the moment and express that some other way – writing, drawing, music, etc. Mostly, believe that healing is possible and this phase will pass over time.
Perhaps the most difficult area in which to find help is Suicide. It’s the taboo topic in our society. Yet for those who have programmed Alters, suicide programming is a given. Suicide programming is beyond the scope of this blog, but please beware. It can be triggered at any point, esp. in therapy. “Telling” what you know or have done is often a trigger for suicide programs to kick in. A rather lengthy discussion on the topic can be found here. If you’re falling apart inside or beginning to seriously engage in deprogramming, find a couple people who can be there 24/7, if needed. You’ll need someone who will answer the phone anytime or someone who will check in on you when the going gets rough. This can be a spouse, family member, pastor, counselor, or friend. We can’t stress this enough; if you have suicide programming find help.
Suicide is also the final common path to hopeless despair. Hopeless despair in DID/SRA is so common it may actually be a diagnostic feature. When systems unravel, time is lost, sense of being is compromised, jobs/ marriages/ friendships get wrecked, or cult or government agents are trying to reclaim what is being lost, suicide often seems like the only way out. Let me say here, “That’s a lie.” We thought it was true for years, but it’s not. There is help – always. There are people all over the US (and in many, many other nations) who have answers. As mentioned above, the key is finding that one or two people who will ALWAYS answer the phone when you call. No one can wade through the black ink of hopeless despair alone. You must know that someone wants you to live. If you’re in that circumstance and you have no one – you can Contact Me. I’ll be that someone until you find others. There are also suicide help-lines. Make use of them. Talk to someone. One of the greatest ways you can help yourself is to stay in communication with someone trustworthy.
Finally, and actually the most important point: stay tight with Jesus. He knows all of your Alters and Primaries. He knows how they came to be and what they need to be healed. He hates what was done to you. He loves you more than you can imagine, even if you, too, were a perpetrator. Forgiveness runs deeper than man can comprehend. In that instant when you don’t know who or where you are, call out to Him. He NEVER fails to answer. He is in the midst of all your pain. When hopeless despair seems to lead to an inevitable death, He is there to rescue. The more you trust Him, the more you call out to Him, the more you understand how much He loves you, the easier the path to healing will be. There is nothing Pollyannaish about this. We went YEARS not knowing if we would live through this. Yes, He’s there – but sometimes He seems to only be a wisp of something positive. I’m here to tell you, it’s enough because He IS enough. No matter what your belief system might be, at death He is all there is to face. Heaven or hell – we decide by the choices we make. Do we choose Him? Do we believe who He IS? Can we accept a love we can’t possibly understand but which is freely given? All you need to know is the Name above all Names, Jesus. He will ground you. He will give you your ultimate identity. He will help you in your anxiety because He is the Prince of Peace. There is no peace greater than being in His Presence. In the final analysis, no matter what your situation, THE BEST option is to call on His Name. He’s available 24/7 and for all eternity. If you don’ know Him and you want to, go to the page Statement of Faith and Salvation. If you have any questions at all about Him, Contact Me. Today we are here writing these blogs because long ago we called on the Name of Jesus and He kept us alive. He is Truth. He is Light. He is Freedom from all darkness. Call on the Name of Jesus out loud. Ask Him to come into your life. Even if only one part of you lets Him in, all will be saved.
Let me know what sorts of other difficulties you think I should talk about on this blog. If you have any comments, please share them. Also, don’t forget to subscribe on the bottom of the right panel. God Bless.