Thoughts on Self-Harm

Trigger Warning: Self-Harm

Therapy continues…we’re still seeing K. once a week and going to group once per month.  Yesterday, we couldn’t shake some intense feelings.  We did DID symptom management skills like grounding and a couple “past vs. present” ‘s for different parts.  But, we just couldn’t control the intensity and dissociation.  So, we called K., and she had us come in for an emergency session.

We talked about some things I’ve told her before, and we talked about some things I’ve never told her before.

As a result, I’m having a ton of increase in urges to self-harm.  Most of it has been impulses to harm and thoughts/plans, but not actions.

So, let me talk about Alex.  Alex is a teen part, who was mostly present during the body’s ages of 15-18.  During that time, she often engaged in self-harm.  Most she cut the skin but she also sometimes hit/bruised the body.

Why does Alex self harm?  Alex had to do a lot of talking in counseling with our then-counselor, Andrea, but she eventually learned why. This was huge not just for her, but for us as a system to better understand Alex and what she went through.  At the time the body was ages 15-18, we had no escape from the trauma and re-traumatization of not being believed by family, school teachers, and child protective workers.  Feelings of loneliness and and depression were so severe that cutting became one of the few outlets that worked to relieve some of the intensity.

As Alex began to trust Andrea, self-injury took on a new meaning.  It became one of the few ways she could communicate to Andrea tha inner turmoils she was constantly surviving.  It also became a way of communicating she needed help.

I think this is important to note, because although the behavior of cutting remained the same, the why evolved over time.

Next, we have a child part (unsure of who exactly), but this part will sometimes intentionally bang their head, pick/scratch cuticles until they bleed and bite nails until they bleed.

For this child, we are still learning the why.  This seems to have to do with impulsivity and an obsessive need to hurt the body.  There is definitely focus for this part on the creation of physical pain.  Once the pain has been created (or the bleeding started), she then can hyperfocus on that physical response instead of the (unknown) emotion that triggered the impulsivity.

I’m starting to realize that we (several adult parts) also engage in self harm indirectly. What we mean by this is we do things that aren’t intentionally self harming (like Alex and the unnamed child part). Unfortunately the actions do end up causing harm to the body.  For example, Carrie and Beth engage in substance use.  Vickie gets into risky sexual situations with men.  Nel doesn’t eat enough food or sometimes eats too much of a food that is worth little to no nutrition (e.g. chocolate for breakfast–for 5 days straight).

Lastly, I’m beginning to understand that there is programming associated with some of my tendencies of self harm.  This is a very overwhelming and scary thing to realize.  I’m not sure what to make of it.  Every time I seem to realize this (or remember I have realized this before), I blank out, lose the memory, or lose a couple hours.  See, even me trying to put it into words now seems difficult to do.

Until next time…

“Each falling apart eventually brings a coming together.” -Mina (co-fronter part)

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Recorder Parts

I’ve long suspected I have parts whose job it is to report back to our abusers, but I’ve never had internal communication with them. Clara hinted that she couldn’t talk to our therapist, K., as freely anymore now that she knows there are others listening.

I didn’t write about this, but our session last week was abruptly halted when another part came forward to stop Clara from sharing with K. This part was not cooperative with K. and would not say much else.

K. asked for more clarification, like what does Clara mean others are listening, who, etc. Clara took K.’s clipboard and a blank sheet of paper and started “pretend writing” like someone is recording notes. “Like this, when people write for a long time and write down everything that happens.”

“That’s why I have to be careful because I know things even they don’t know.” Clara said proudly.

“Oh, you know things they don’t? So that’s why you don’t want to say them out loud because you don’t want them to write it down?” K. repeats.

“Yes.” Clara nods. “But I think…” Clara believes the recording parts can see too, and she really wants to tell K. something but keep it a secret from those other parts. She starts to draw on the paper on the clipboard. It’s a drawing of what looks like a girl sitting alone somewhere indoors. She is frowning/sad and looks up at a Pac-Man ghost floating above her in the center of the drawing. Clara gives the drawing to K.

It is clear K. wants to ask questions but is unsure how to do so given Clara’s concerns. It was nearing the end of the session anyway, so she thanked Clara and promised nobody else would see the drawing. That she would keep it safe.

Fast forward today, I’m surprised I can even remember this happening. I have zero emotion attached to Clara’s session with K. I’m not really sure what Pac-Man means or why parts would be writing things down except to maybe scare us.

They always used to threaten that the government gave them supplies to monitor us at all times like tape recorders. I guess it would make sense that I have parts that literally record things.

Maybe that’s why I am struggling so much building internal communication. Everyone is too scared to talk and have their conversations written down.

Finding Tranquility Amidst Distress

Recovery isn’t perfect.  You can be going along, doing well, and even feel like you’re making awesome progress.  Then, a trigger seemingly hits out of nowhere, or a switch happens with no warning, throwing internal harmony out the window.

Last night, one of my child parts, C., who our therapist, K., has been spending several consecutive sessions working with, was experiencing severe panic as we were trying to fall asleep.  C. often tends to be compelled to focus on the perception of danger, even when there is no danger present.  She is always looking for things to prove we are still in trauma time.

C. also appears to be impacted by RA-related traumas (we’re not yet sure exactly how).  Therefore, our internal communication with each other is inconsistent.  Mina and I try to talk to her often. I can count on one hand how many times we seem to reach C.

As the night wore on, both Mina and I became less and less capable of practicing grounding skills and staying forward.  As C. became more forward, she acted just like someone would in an emergency.  Fear and terror kicked in along with a lot of freeze, flight, and collapse behaviors.  

This continued on into the morning.  It was significant.  We hadn’t been in such an extended, overwhelming crisis since being inpatient.

“Do you need to call K?” [The Fiance] asked this morning.

C., who does not yet trust K., of course shook her head. “No. no. no.” She was crying hysterically, hiccupping, and didn’t want to accept any of his help, even going so far as pushing away tissues he offered.

Fortunately, [The Fiance] remained calm.  He respected her wishes for boundaries, but stayed attentive and listened to her.  Empathy was key here.  There was a moment when he said, “I know you’re upset, but remember that it’s all in your mind. It’s all in the past.”

As you can imagine, that made absolutely no sense to a part stuck in trauma time.  It only made her cry more and insist that this was all real.

Eventually, he started to understand how what he said had been offensive.  He acknowledged, “Ok, I’m sorry.  I didn’t mean for it to come out like that.  Yes, what you are feeling and what happened is real.  But what is equally real is I am not going to hurt you.  I believe you.”

Eventually, his empathy and cooperation allowed for Mina and I to be more forward.  He did exactly what we could not do for C.  We’re all feeling much more secure now, and it has made us stop and reflect tonight.

Internal communication, empathy, and internal cooperation are always the main goals.  But what can we do as a system when internal communication isn’t up to speed yet with new parts, and symptoms are off the scale?

Here is what we learned…

  1. A basic attitude of mutual empathy is #1 in understanding other parts and helping them make effective decisions (e.g. grounding instead of compelled to to focus on danger).  Listen to parts and try to reassure or comfort.  Even a little bit goes a long way.
  2. Once C. felt heard and respected, she was able to calm down.  This allowed us to move in and begin grounding and self-soothing skills to help the whole system move forward from this event safely.
  3. Once grounding is established and parts are in their safe spaces, we can fall back on the skills we learned inpatient like…
  4. Orientation Messages – There are several ways to orient parts to the present.  In therapy, K. often verbalizes to them where they are and the current year. She provides examples, like the name of the President, or shows them around her office.  Orientation Cards are Index Cards we keep with us (taped to the front a of journal, or kept inside our Grounding Kit.  They contain a quick message about the current place and time and explain we are safe.  They explain that the person we live with is safe and share [The Fiance’s] name.  This is all done in bright colors which are appealing to children.  Sometimes, if we know which part is struggling, we re-create the Orientation Card with quotes they like or messages they think are helpful.  All parts are not helped by the same Orientation technique, so it’s important we have them help us.  If we don’t have internal communication yet, we have discovered using imagery with present-day technology (not around during the abuse) helps us bypass programming to get safety messages to subsystems.  For example, we may use a drone which is capable of providing a safe audio message about the place and time and can fly over traps.
  5. Distraction Techniques – Conscious, voluntary distraction can give our parts a “reset” button on feeling overwhelmed.  Today, we took some time to focus on a video game which a lot of the kids enjoy.  This allowed us to take some deep breaths and enjoy the music in the game.
  6. Containment – Tonight, we will be carving out some time in our internal meeting to focus on containment.  Just in case C. is listening, we will remind everyone containment is not ignoring anyone’s feelings, but acknowledging it, putting it in a safe place, and promising to review it tomorrow in therapy with K.

Lastly, we will be enacting a BDA (Before-During-After) Plan.  Tomorrow is Monday, which means we have to report to our Full Time job.  It is likely we will be sensitive to triggers right now, and in order to be grounded and present at work, it is imperative to create a plan ahead of time.  Hopefully, work is smooth sailing tomorrow and nothing happens, but it’s always good to go in with a plan.

Having a BDA not only helps improve internal communication in our system, but it gives us a sense of a “safety measure” and we have control over a situation where C. feels largely powerless.

Note: Part of the “Before” and “After” parts of the plan, I have written elsewhere which I call the “Morning Routine” and “Night Routine.”  As they sound, they are set routines incorporating skills to assist parts have a good morning and fall asleep easily at night.

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Endogenic Systems, Tulpas, and their place in DID Communities

Endogenic Systems is a non-clinical term which seems to have originated on Tumblr.  It refers to people without trauma-based dissociation who claim to have alternate personalities that were consciously created.  These individuals acknowledge their personalities were willfully created, and describe them as having their own likes, dislikes, personality, and lives.  The key difference is there there is no amnesia between parts, since there is no clinical dissociation happening.

Tulpas are also included when discussing Endogenic Systems, but they are somewhat different.  The creation of a Tulpa is a spiritual experience, and the relationship the person has with his/her Tulpa can be quite impactful.

As you can imagine, this concept ruffles the feathers of many with trauma-based dissociation.  Many of us have faced a lifetime of invalidation of our abuse, and similarly our diagnosis.  The mental health community is woefully undereducated on trauma disorders, and sometimes our initial experiences with therapists does even more harm.  Our diagnosis is further vilified in media and fiction movies like Identity (2003) and Split (2016). This makes it difficult for us to fully trust in our interpersonal relationships, because other people’s only awareness of the diagnosis are from these extreme fiction examples.

And then, there’s those of us with DID and Ritual Abuse.  It’s not uncommon for us to have parts that aren’t fully formed identities.  We may have a part “in control” of creating fake or temporary parts for a programming purpose.  These temporary parts are sometimes referred to as spirits, demons, shadows, etc.

Our system refers to them as shadows.  Shadows exist to fulfill an order, and when that is completed, they collapse back into the elements they were created from.  The part who controls their development and demise, then collects these elements and stores them away the next time they are needed to create.

I often witness discussions in online DID communities, and I see the vitriol and hatred towards Endogenics and Tulpas.  I understand where this is coming from, but at the same time, my heart hurts because I know I surely would be attacked for siding with the less-than-popular opinion that parts can consciously be created, destroyed, etc. at will in some systems.   Attacks by the survivors we would be able to relate to.

This can trigger other programming as well.  Programming designed to make us believe that we will never be believed if we try to tell about the ritual abuse.  And when we witness such hurtful responses from the DID community, it only reinforces our abusers’ messages.

It can get destabilized and confusing in our head very quickly with multiple programs being fired off like this.  I only wish the DID community could be more open-minded and accepting, instead of impulsively reacting and unknowingly hurting others.

 

Worry and Fear: My constant companions

This morning, I was reading a daily affirmation about excessive worrying.  In a nutshell, the affirmation said excessive worrying is a common trait of survivors.  That it’s okay to feel worry–but that we can work towards being grounded and present in the moment and feel positive about ourselves.

Meg, one of my teen parts, snorted, slammed the book shut, and shoved it to the side of our kitchen table. What a bunch of crap. She folded her arms across her chest. Like it’s that easy.

I could see where she was coming from.  In working with many of my child parts, it’s super hard to decrease their anxiety.  Some of my parts are so firmly locked in “trauma time” that they’re in a perpetual state of terror. Even those parts that are grounded in the present balk at K., our therapist, and her attempt to ground us: “It’s 2018. You’re safe.” What happened to us is real. It happened many times. It could happen again!

To be clear, we aren’t in any danger of being abused. It’s just so hard for my parts and I sometimes–even when we know we’re okay–to truly feel safe.

Within the ritually abused parts, there are some who still throw out programming and flood us with terror on purpose (for talking in therapy). I haven’t the slightest idea how to even begin with those parts.

I have this baseline of anxiety all the time, and I guess we have a lot to be anxious about. Besides going about being a “normal” adult with a full time job, a fiance, a family, friends…I’ve got a second full time job and family inside that constantly needs redirecting that we are safe. We are nowhere near perpetrators. Then the backlash comes when parts who want to be near perpetrators trigger off programming.

In my last session, I was crying to K. (which I rarely do–actually cry in front of her). “I haven’t been in my body in months.” I sobbed. “I hate this feeling. I hate only being half-present. The last time I felt in my body was at Sheppard Pratt.  What do I have to do? Go inpatient every time I want to feel grounded again? I can’t keep going inpatient.”

“What do you do?” K. paused. She waited until I looked up at her again. “Internal communication.”