The Third Person

Spoiler Alert: This discussion will reveal details of the memoir and will contain spoilers.

So before I get into the actual discussion, let me talk about what drew me to this book.

When I used to moderate r/DID (yes, I have stepped down as a moderator; no, I will not be talking about this, with the exception of what I have written in previous blog posts). So, when we used to mod, we often discussed amongst ourselves as moderators any similar support requests we saw repeatedly. Patterns were enlightening to us and helped us stay engaged with what the community’s needs were. One such support request that often came up was trans folks with DID looking for advice and support while seeking therapeutic approval to transition.

The Third Person is a memoir written by Emma Grove, who is a person with DID and began seeing a therapist in order to receive approval for hormone replacement therapy. When I came across this memoir, I was elated that this very topic which many in the community struggled with had been written about. In addition to this, it is presented in the graphic novel format which is a double-win for someone like myself, who is a super Marvel and manga nerd.

Some of the book does depict living with DID and separately the discrimination faced as a transgender person. DID-related struggles like becoming aware of parts, establishing internal communication, amnesia, initial lack of cooperation—were all very relatable. However, most of the memoir catalogs Emma’s therapy sessions with her therapist, Toby, who she is seeing as a requirement in order to be approved for hormone replacement therapy to begin the transition from male-to-female.

Therapy sessions start off well. A female “party girl” part named Katina (who is clearly a protector), mostly presents to therapy on behalf of Ed. Initially the reader is led to believe Ed is the host personality (though that term is never used) and Katina just comes out to have fun. One thing I really liked about this story is you really feel like you are understanding the system naturally as Ed/Katina/Emma increase awareness of each other and practice more fluid internal communication. We learn right away that Toby has no experience treating DID and recommends Ed and Katina to a specialist. However, since the specialist is extraordinarily expensive, Katina decides to continue working with Toby.

Therapy with Toby is bad. Really bad. Yet Edgar, who prefers to go by Emma, feels safe enough to present herself as another part in the system during a session. I think this is really important here. You have someone with early childhood trauma, tons of amnesia for that trauma, and a terrible therapist. Despite all the unknowns and bad therapy, Ed, Katina, and Emma were increasing awarenes of one another. Cooperation improved , and they made great progress accepting all parts along with daily communication.

So back to the bad therapy. Like I said earlier, the sessions start off okay. Then, some ethical no-no’s start cropping up like Toby agreeing with Katina that they are friends and shaking hands. This is a boundary issue.

I mean, don’t get me wrong, I would love to be able to call our therapist, K., our friend. I often admit to her that I wish she could have been my mom! Buuuut she is my therapist, my doctor. She is not my friend and she is not my mom. There has to be that boundary so she can help me. One thing I like about her best is she often reminds me she cares. For me, like many people with DID, our boundaries weren’t just violated our whole childhood. We were treated like we never had them in the first place. So having those healthy boundaries modeled and in place in therapy is so incredibly important.

Toby’s issues with boundaries don’t stop there. His relationship with Emma never extends outside the office, but he takes their work personally. He misunderstands her attempts at putting words to her inner experiences, twisting the meaning in his mind, and continually accuses her of faking DID.

I felt terrible for Emma. In the book, Coping With Trauma-Related Dissociation, there is a whole chapter devoted to the fear we have as persons with DID at acknowledging our inner experiences. Here she was not just acknowledging them to herself, but attempting to put them into words and share with another human being! In response, one of our worst fears imagined (and a common abuser’s tactic): to accuse us of lying.

The therapy sessions continue in this bizarre whirlwind. Toby and Emma continually make-up and break-up, like an unhealthy romantic relationship, without the romance. Finally, Katina executes her protection skill and forbids Emma from going to therapy in fear she will just continually get hurt. One of Toby’s last emotional explosions is in regards to not wanting to work with any parts except Emma.

Oof, cue flashbacks to our old bad therapy. I’ve had several say they won’t talk to anyone except the [body’s name].

Emma spends some time without a therapist, reading the Dissociative Identity Disorder Sourcebook. Great book, btw. She does some exercises like system mapping. Again, I am really impressed and happy at the insight she is able to gain even without a therapist.

However, without the guidance of a therapist, she does latch on to the outdated theories of DID such as there must be a core self that the parts are protecting and parts “go away” in order to integrate. She actually concludes the memoir recounting another attempt at therapy with a new therapist. This therapist is way better. She seems professional but is also not a DID specialist. As such Emma lies to Katina to make her hurt and sends Katina away forever. The reader is led to believe this is a good thing because now it’s ”just” Emma (Ed has kind if disappeared).

Again I feel bad for Emma. Her parts are not gone. Katina clearly went dormant and Ed may be as well, or he may at least not be ”as forward” as he was in the beginning of the book.

In the final pages, Emma’s new therapist makes a statement that truly troubled me. She says she is not seeing any indication that Emma has DID and that ”some transsexuals use DID to survive being trans.”

The memoir ends with Emma outside of therapy, in several social situations where she ends up being rejected and alone.

Overall, I found the memoir very interesting. I enjoyed Emma’s illustrative style. She shines an important light on how destructive bad therapy can be. She also shines a light on the fact that it is possible to do some DID work without a therapist. On the flip side of that, you can tell things are left internally chaotic for her with parts going dormant and her life outside of therapy being so lonely.


1 Comment

  1. We’re sorry that you went through this. And thanks for mentioning Emma Grove. We’ll look her up when we’re able.

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