“May God himself, the God of peace, sanctify you through and through. May your whole spirit, soul, and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. The one who calls you is faithful and He will do it” -1 Thessalonians 5: 23-24 (BIBLE)
“We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired even of life. Indeed, in our hearts we felt the sentence of death. But this happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God, who raises from the dead. He has delivered us from such a deadly peril, and He will deliver us. On Him we have set our hope that He will continue to deliver us, as you help us by your prayers.” –2 Corinthians 1: 8-10 (BIBLE)
“Be pleased, O Lord, to save me; O Lord, come quickly to help me. May all who seek to take my life be put to shame and confusion; may all who desire my ruin be turned back in disgrace.” –Psalm 40: 13-14 (BIBLE)
“Peace I leave with you; My peace I give you. I do not give you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.” –John 14: 27 (BIBLE)
The term dissociation is used for describing our natural human ability to move mentally away from immediate surroundings and “lose ourselves” in something else. Everyone dissociates when daydreaming or “getting lost” in a movie, good book, or video game. We often dissociate when driving down familiar roads. Not all dissociation is extreme or even unhealthy.
In fact, social scientists have identified the tendency to “zone out” as a very common behavior in modern man. Some say that in our highly complicated society many folks are fragmented in awareness much of the time, disconnected from present sensations, maintaining a somewhat altered state of consciousness that resembles a mild trance. This means most of us may not often be fully awake. At the same time, the relatively innocuous tendency to withdraw, when coupled with early harsh abuse, can in some instances develop into a dissociative disorder.
Clinical dissociative diagnoses can be visualized on a continuum from less to more severe. On the more mild side are the addictive behaviors, followed by Borderline Personality Disorder and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. The final most severe manifestation, which results from particularly traumatic and brutal childhood abuse, is Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID), formerly known as Multiple Personality Disorder. The majority of individuals with DID are women; men tend to adapt to violent ongoing mistreatment by becoming pathologically aggressive and/or criminally sociopathic.
The Context of Dissociation
A young person suffering extreme and repeated abuse may survive by fragmenting her personality to create separate alternate identities. This enables her to hide the pain in personality parts beneath the level of awareness. As she matures, the memories containing the trauma are lost to her consciousness. She succeeds in maintaining a semblance of control over her life as long as she is able to keep the overwhelming early experiences locked in denial.
Current dissociative personality theory incorporates ideas from many recent treatment approaches. For example, in 1961 psychologist Eric Berne developed Transactional Analysis, based on the idea that each healthy adult has separate inner “parent”, “adult”, and “child” parts in his personality. This theory was popularized in the book I’m OK, You’re OK, by Thomas Harris, M.D.
At the same time, Dr. Virginia Satir and others at Stanford University began using a therapy technique called Family Systems Theory, an approach that considers individual pathology in terms of the person’s relational context and identifies typical roles and functions in different types of family structure. Another newly understood behavioral phenomenon was abreaction, in which a victim of trauma re-experiences a distressing event as if it were occurring here and now.
These and other findings in working with troubled people, like the discovery of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and the development of some Gestalt and Primal Therapy techniques, extended awareness of the multifaceted defense mechanisms in the human mind and heart. (Major psychological theory sketches are found in the Appendix to The Heartmenders Manual, available from Lulu.com.)
We are intricately designed to bond with others from our earliest interactions. Our moods fluctuate in learned ways and according to inborn tendencies. As each child develops in her particular environment, she creates certain adaptive social roles that are in some ways separate and apart from one another. These relational ego states or sub-personalities help her navigate through complicated social situations.
We normally engage in self-talk, hold contrary opinions simultaneously, and learn to adopt various social behaviors in different settings as a natural part of living with others. Basically, this common propensity is expanded tremendously and becomes a dysfunctional mental survival mechanism in Dissociative Identity Disorder.
The term inner child is used several different ways in psychological and recovery literature. It sometimes refers to immature aspects of an individual’s personality; others see it as the sensitive, vulnerable part of being; while still others use the term as a label for “subselves”, created as containers to hold negative experiences, reactions, and emotions from the past.
As stated elsewhere in The Heartmenders Manual, all of us to some extent have concealed places in our hearts where we are separated from God, others, and self. We create walls of protection to guard our hidden wounds, lying beliefs, and unhealthy reactions. Each of us holds inside for each stage in his lifespan a storehouse of physical, intellectual, emotional, and spiritual perceptions. Access to buried unresolved memories is through the “inner child.”
Identification and Identity
In the Old Testament a name served as more than identification; it granted identity. The Hebrew language gives God many names based on His characteristics. Some of these names are El Shaddai, El Elyon, Adonai, Yahweh Nissi, Yahweh Sabboath, and Yahweh Tsidkenu. Here are some of the meanings: God Almighty; The Most High God; God is Master; The Lord is My Banner; The Lord of Hosts; and The Lord Our Righteousness.
In a way the BIBLE shows the perfect pattern for personality integration by revealing the Lord as united in His many facets and functions, yet completely distinct in every part. When we see Him as any of His names, He is fully present in that way yet still existent in every other aspect of His being.
Most of us have a continuing sense of our identity over time, even though as children we remember “trying on” experimental roles and behaviors. Those who “hid away” unpleasantness, sinful activity, or trauma to keep from feeling it, may have now lost access to that part of their individuality.
These heart memories are reconnected to consciousness in the context of who we were at the time we experienced them. Jesus, who is the same “yesterday, today, and forever” (Hebrews 13: 8–BIBLE), can heal the brokenness and separation in our hearts that happened then, in the present.
DID is an exquisitely intricate childhood defense mechanism when abuse has been especially severe, early, or long-term. In DID a group of mental activities or experiences is “split off’ from the mainstream of everyday awareness and encapsulated in an alternate consciousness that functions more or less separately from the primary personality.
This God-given ability, which allows an unprotected child to “lock away” abuse in order to survive, prevents the young one’s complete break with reality. When this has occurred, it may look on the surface as if the victim is in denial concerning what happened, while in truth the individual’s awareness of an unresolved disturbing memory is being blocked in some way.
The diagnosis of Dissociative Identity Disorder is, in simplified terms, the evidence in one individual of at least two distinct personas. Either part may be dominant at certain times, and the current visible personality is the one who presently determines behavior. DID victims see their lives like a 500-piece jigsaw puzzle, which is scattered all over the floor; and there is no picture on the box showing how the completed project will look when put together. The chaos and painful struggle to maintain control of daily life when entire sections of understanding are missing can make consistency and safety a heroic struggle for the multiple (DID sufferer), and result in her feeling continually re-victimized.
When DID is present, the internal system’s functioning usually starts to erode in the person’s late twenties or thirties. This, too, may be God’s plan, because in adulthood the victim has more survival tools, the protection of age, and added experience. This means greater potential for healing from repeated abuse.
Helping those with DID is like administering heart-healing therapy with many people at the same time. An individual may have dozens of alters, or alternate personalities, all highly fragile and damaged by childhood trauma. These identities can sometimes be distinguishable as separate individuals with different memories, emotions, habits, likes and dislikes, even unique physical conditions. Each alter is an important part of the inner “family system”, with specific functions to fulfill. The overriding purpose for all the alters’ creation was protection for the vulnerable defenseless child within.
Because the wounding in DID tends to be very great, heart healing usually comes slowly over time, with great patience and understanding needed on the part of those who are helping. As the counselee gradually learns to trust her therapist, she can allow the counselor to get acquainted with different child parts, and together they can start to see patterns emerge within the intricate organization of the system.
A good way to approach this analysis is to think of the clusters of alternate personalities as resembling a large extended family with various relationships based on similarities in age, interests, or mutual responsibilities. One or more alters may even be of opposite sex from the sufferer.
DID patients can be stabilized somewhat through closely-supervised management of psychotropic medications and crisis hospitalizations, but the primary hope for their healing lies in loving long-term relationships with “substitute family”, who can introduce the other personalities to Jesus’ transforming presence in the context of unconditional acceptance and necessary boundaries.
Those with DID sometimes lose time when different personalities are “out” (i.e. they notice that hours or even days have passed for which they have no memory). They may flit from place to place and situation to situation, with no apparent inner cohesiveness. Sometimes they are not co-conscious: neither the core self nor the alters are aware of what the others are doing.
These injured people spend their lives tormented and anxious, because they never knew the safety of a stable childhood, and thus have no sense of ongoing security today. Personality fragments are in varying degrees uninformed about the host’s current life situation, and live frozen in time, continually re-experiencing the feelings of the past as if they were happening now.
Though the core or essence personality usually represents the multiple to the outside world, the family within always contains abusive constructs that threaten and may self-abuse the DID sufferer in an effort to control the inner system, ostensibly for its own protection. Abusive others dominate and “discipline” through behaviors such as cutting, promiscuity, and binge eating or drinking.
The angry parts, the scared parts, the self-mutilating parts, and all the rest were originally created for survival in the wounded child. Of course, their philosophies and understandings are irrational and incomplete, made from the raw material of a horrible home life, in the mind and heart of an immature youngster.
As well as abusive others, there is virtually always a degree of demonic presence in some parts of a DID victim. Often, too, there can be internalized imaginative personifications of the original perpetrators.
Sufferers have been taught a code of absolute silence with the threat of great harm if anything is revealed. Therefore, the system places highest priority on not exposing truth to an outside source, even a therapist or friend. Bonding and trust have been so violently broken the individual is unable even to connect with and accept parts inside, let alone open up to someone else.
To become real is to come out of hiding and have feelings. This means visibility, and to the multiple, visibility equals vulnerability, which can be extremely threatening and terrifying.
In addition, when damaged parts of the DID individual start to have faith in a therapist or counselor, anxiety is invariably triggered in the abusive “protecting” alters, signaling to them that the system is threatened. As a consequence, these hurtful personality components may escalate their intimidation and punishment, causing further physical damage and victimization in the multiple.
At the same time, for the core or essence person to heal she must start to experience (abreact) memories, which have been hidden in amnesia for many years. Remembering brings with it all the attendant pain and grief, never felt then but experienced in overwhelming agony now. It is enormously complicated and extremely difficult for the DID victim repeatedly to face her pain and surrender it to Her higher power.
Anger was never a safe feeling for multiples. In fact, they are usually so detached from all emotions they can neither identify them, nor connect them with experience, nor express them in a significant way. Much work must be done educating these individuals about emotional awareness, and helping them break through to heart communication. To this end play therapy, art therapy, dream analysis, and journaling are often used during and between sessions.
Each alter needs to be approached initially in an age-appropriate manner, as a damaged individual with specific needs. For example, a seven-year-old tomboy who hates other kids will not be reached in the same way as a 16-year-old drug-using promiscuous girl who thinks she must give sex to men in order to make them like her, though both personalities inhabit the same body. All must be addressed and accepted as Christ would, with great love, compassion, and non-judgment. (“If any one of you is without sin, let him be the first to throw a stone at her” -John 8: 7, BIBLE.)
We look for the positive intent behind the behavior of alters, encouraging them to tell their stories, and working to gently lead them closer to God’s healing presence, giving clear boundaries and providing explanations when needed. The process is long and arduous, as trust and vulnerability can only be discovered through time in genuine transparent relationships, with Christ as the Head. Knowing the true Lord Jesus Christ in His family is never more real than when a spiritual community commits to the course of reaching out for connection with parts of a DID system.
Co-consciousness (ongoing awareness) and integration (unification of personality) can start to be accomplished when the core or essence of the individual begins accepting her other parts, with their imperfections, hurts, painful memories, and abusive or self-defeating behaviors. This is extremely difficult, because the core consciousness, like all the alters, has been motivated by the desire to cope at all costs, and this has meant not facing agonizing reality.
In the case of Satanic Ritual Abuse, victims have an especially difficult time surrendering to Jesus because of contaminating counterfeit religious covenants and lies, as well as demonic programming inflicted on them. Demonized alters will often sabotage heart-healing work; a demon also may falsely represent itself as an alter. Evil spirits may intimidate the person to switch consciousness when truth is coming close, but can be effectively forbidden by the counselor from playing that trick.
Satanic presences have hierarchical importance in the system, and may influence or otherwise communicate with one another when you are trying to connect with them separately. And it is important to be aware that trying to exorcise an alter, thinking it to be a demon, can cause a prayer recipient to feel that her carefully gained trust has been seriously violated. Since it is impossible to “cast out” part of the person, this just may cause the alternate personality to hide more deeply and pervasively, preventing the exposure necessary for heart healing to take place.
All dissociative behavior is adaptive and habitual. The choice to dissociate as an attempt to avoid experiencing an overwhelming feeling may be made entirely below the level of awareness. It is a temporary fix that often creates further stress later.
DID victims repeatedly move through denial to memory to grief and abreaction, then back into denial again during the long process of healing. The tendency to switch personalities for the purpose of escaping even the fear of pain may be very difficult to change.
By consciously focusing on the dissociative behavior, it is possible to progressively change it. Unfortunately, when there has been severe trauma this can be extremely difficult and requires great courage. Because of the complexity and instability in the DID condition, it is generally not wise for a helper to tackle healing work without much experience and training.
Putting the Pieces Together
If dealing with a victim of DID sounds daunting and exhausting, it definitely can be. Trying to help a multiple will likely challenge you in a therapeutic relationship far beyond any limits you have set for yourself. However, we know God specializes in what seems impossible to us, and seeing Him in any way touch such a fragmented, shattered person is a joy beyond words.
If you are not comfortable working long-term with individuals who have a condition with such deep and intricate roots, we suggest a few ways you may still significantly impact the hearts of DID victims:
1. Believe them, believe them, believe them! More than anything else, this provides a “security net” so they can start to come out of hiding. These individuals crave understanding and respect for all they have endured. Above all, they need to tell their stories in a safe place, in an atmosphere of nonjudgmental love.
2. Accept them in their brokenness, without pressure to change. Remember that moving through the stages of healing in God’s timing is essential.
3. In the early stages of healing, let them relate to you in whatever alter state is necessary for them at any given time, respecting their dignity by not exposing them in public and never making light of their condition, no matter how bizarre it seems to you.
4. Model acceptance and love to the alters, as if you were reaching out to re-parent a whole group of severely emotionally disturbed children, because in a significant way you are.
5. Treat the core and adult personalities respectfully as the mature individuals they are, always honoring and protecting their right to make choices, while their primary life goal moves from survival to expanding self-acceptance. If the multiple perceives you are trying to dominate or manage her, she will again feel objectified and confused. Going back into hiding, she may withdraw from relationship or conceal her preferences behind a compulsively compliant and pleasing exterior, which hides her heart from authentic relationship with you.
6. Gently help them face the truth that the abuse was not their fault, at the same time as they gradually start to come present to their own feelings, vows, and self-defeating judgments and reactions.
7. Let them go through the process of experiencing memories, grieving losses, venting their emotions, and letting go of their pain again and again, for as long and as many times as needed. This may mean revisiting memories from different perspectives and in different alters, while you listen empathically, reframing self-judgment as self-protection. Many alters may be compelled to tell their stories; retelling can bring gradual desensitization.
8. Affirm their right to feel all the pain and anger of the abuse now in a safe place, without overtly or covertly trying to get them to shut down their expression of emotions. Accept that reactions may seem excessive or inappropriate at times, as they “become the pain” or experience a memory in almost every way as if it were happening now (abreaction).
9. Know that DID victims must learn in their necessary timing to:
a. See self in their parts, without at first being able to control those parts, however negative they may appear to be.
b. Reach out in loving relationship to other parts of self .
c. Educate the alters in healthy alternative behaviors, all the while accepting that change may be agonizingly slow, painful, and uneven.
d. Set healthy boundaries for alternate personalities, knowing that the only boundaries they may have known as children were double-bind inconsistencies and violent abuse.
10. Be available as often as you can to listen when they are suffering through a newly remembered abuse. At the same time, don’t allow yourself to feel used or taken advantage of by their intense neediness, and set necessary boundaries to maintain your own self-care. Otherwise, you will jeopardize your healing relationship with the multiple, which is so vital to her recovery.
11. Have enough awareness of your own wounds and heart issues not to become enmeshed in theirs. They need you to be “Jesus with skin on”; the prerequisite for that is willingness to face your own pain as it surfaces, and bring it to God.
Here is an example of the type of statement we share with DID victims: “You have a right to be angry, hate, and even desire revenge for what those evil people did to you. However, if you choose to continue exerting that right, you will ultimately become enslaved to those feelings. Besides, you could probably never adequately pay back the perpetrators for what they have done. Forgiveness is for your benefit, so you can finally be cut loose from their abuses. When you are willing to do that, God can set you free.”
Not everyone has the spiritual maturity or clinical knowledge necessary for treating DID. Still an ongoing friendship with a multiple can be highly beneficial to the affected one and enriching to the contact, whether or not accompanied by professional oversight.
Dissociative Identity Disorder is really an extremely powerful advanced form of denial. Recovery from this condition involves a highly complex process of self-acceptance. We use all the tools of Christian inner healing in assisting these individuals to integrate and move toward wholeness. Over time disconnected and rejected parts tend to merge naturally with the core self as the person’s memories and feelings are restored to awareness and worked through.
Bringing severely damaged previously dissociated parts of a DID sufferer into the welcoming arms of a loving God is a great privilege. Through multiples God teaches us many lessons about His tender, long-suffering love. Jesus said, “Things that cause people to sin are bound to come, but woe to that person through whom they come. It would be better for him to be thrown into the sea with a millstone tied around his neck than for him to cause one of these little ones to sin” (Luke 17: 2–BIBLE).
Signs of Some Forms of Dissociation, Not Necessarily DID
When an individual in counseling exhibits any signs such as the following, avoidance related to dissociation is suspected:
~Body becomes stiff or very still
~Person is unresponsive or slow to respond
~Victim reports things are moving in slow motion or fast-forward
~Emotions become flat or numb; no feelings
~Expected pain is not felt
~Counselee appears out of touch with surroundings
~Person drifts away or stares blankly into space
~Individual stares down, eyes dart side to side or roll upward
~Person reports sudden onset of severe headache
~Patient is detached from the present, reports feeling like an observer of the scene rather than a participant.
How do we recognize our own dissociative behavior, whether healthy or unhealthy? We find ourselves to be:
~With memory lapses
~Fantasizing or daydreaming excessively
~Overactive or withdrawn
~On autopilot, feeling like a robot
~Falling asleep when not tired
~Disoriented for no apparent reason
~Missing or unable to follow conversation
~With derealization (world seems like a dream, veiled; people or environment do not seem real)
~Feeling like we are watching things from outside the body
~Twitching and grimacing
~Split in life between before and after (“I’m a different person since the trauma”)
~Having difficulty focusing, or our mind is going blank, or feeling foggy
~Engaging in unusual inexplicable behavior like crying inappropriately in public or disappearing from home for no apparent reason
~Engaging in repetitive grounding behaviors like stroking a chair, pulling our hair, or tapping rhythmically on a table
~Using self-soothing behaviors like rocking or biting nails
~Seeing or hearing things differently: colors are faded or brighter; vision is tunnel or wide angled; objects seem far away or unclear; sounds are louder or more muffled than expected.
Here is a prayer we sometimes ask Christian DID victims to read aloud at the beginning of sessions:
Lord Jesus, I thank You so much that You made a way for me to hide from the torture, confusion, molestation, neglect, and other abuse when I was young. Without Your providing a way of escape, I would not have survived.
Now that I know You as an adult and You live in my heart, I am learning to trust Your Presence in my memories. I know You created me to be one person, and that You have a plan for my coming to wholeness. I know that to come together I must be willing to face the pain of the past, with You. Help me face the wounding events and emotions, which have remained hidden for so many years.
I know I can’t become one without You, Lord Jesus. I ask You to help me trust You and trust myself to bring my parts to You, because I want You to be my hiding place now.