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Reading your question, I am struck by the language of conflict that is woven through it and the sense that you and your alters are working at cross purposes and without respect for each other. You state you are “all they have in the way of spirituality,” and that you hoped you were “getting through to them,” and that you want them “changed for the better.” Clearly, you have agendas to change them and believe it is your responsibility to change them. From the other side of this internal conflict, you describe a “hostile” part of the greater totality of your self “attacking” you. This sounds like an extremely painful state of being, and progress toward healing will require internal negotiations toward some way of working together as a team (which may take a lot of doing) and recognition that you are all in this together, like it or not.
There are various reasons for the type of inner conflict you describe. One common type occurs toward the beginning of a person/system’s efforts to deal with the effects of trauma and dissociation. A person first becoming aware of their dissociation (in ways such as lost time) and the existence of alters may experience the alters as interlopers in “their” life, taking away “their” time, and may seek treatment to “get rid of” their alters. This cannot work, since you and your alters are all part of a greater whole. And it does make the alters anxious about you and your intentions toward them. In my practice, I have been asked your question much more frequently by alters than by the “primary” or “host” personality: “can she get rid of us?” One of the many scary things for a person to realize as they begin to deal with dissociation and the presence of alters, is that the alters know more about you and about themselves as a group than you know about them. They have been present and aware of you long before you become aware of them. Later, even if alters are recognized and accepted, this may evolve into conflicts about available time to be out, if one or more alter wants to be “out” a significant amount of time.
Other sources of conflict I have seen in my patients include sex, money, religion/spirituality, and self-injury. This is by no means an exhaustive list!
Sexuality can be a conflictual issue in several ways. Some parts or alters may tolerate or enjoy sexuality whereas other may be appalled by it and can’t imagine why a person who has been abused would want to engage in sexual behavior. Sometimes, there is a part who emerged in sexual situations with the intention of taking control of those situations by being seductive and controlling the situation through sexuality (perhaps with a goal of minimizing damage or injury). Sometimes there is a wish to re-own one’s sense of physical presence in situations similar to those in which one dissociated in the past. All of these seemingly different attitudes have initial intentions of establishing safety or working toward healing in some way, but they will require internal dialogue and discussion.
Money, like time, is a resource, and can be a source of conflict if there is more demand on it than there is money to go around, or because of different attitudes about earning money, disability, entitlement, and spending. Competition for resources is a source of conflict in all families and groups, even internal ones!
Conflict over religion/spirituality may occur if different parts of a system develop very different spiritual orientations. I have known several people for whom religion was important for one or more parts, but other parts argued that their own abuse proved the non-existence of a diety, or expressed that they were very angry at the diety for letting them be abused. Dealing with this type of internal conflict requires that a person and their parts learn to tolerate differences in belief
Self-injury may be an issue causing conflict because it can seem to be a perfectly acceptable means of dealing with intense emotion for some parts of a person, but not to other parts. There can even be conflict about whether the injuries inflicted by a self-injurious part affect other parts, because there may not (yet) be agreement that there is one shared body.
My reason to mention these sources of conflict is to suggest that healing requires that these and other conflicts need to be addressed by an internal “family” through respectful dialogue and negotiations, which also takes into consideration the roles and “jobs” of members of the internal “family.” This is no easy task, and is made more complicated by that fact that most survivors come from dysfunctional families and do not have good internal models of how a healthy family is supposed to work. But survivors often have a remarkable capacity to recognize what was missing and try to create it (which also enables them to be effective parents, but that is another story). What is needed here is a mechanism to address conflicts. Therapy often involves the teaching of conflict resolution strategies, and may be useful in addressing conflicts between members of an “inner family.”
To return to the situation described above, healing will require a process of dialogue with your “split-off” parts. You have to accept that they experience themselves (at least for now) as separate, even though you are all connected in many profound and important ways. They may have different agendas with regard to several issues, such as spirituality, that require negotiation based upon mutual respect. I find respect to often be a better starting point than “liking” each other, because “liking” may be more difficult to attain quickly. But each part in a system has unique abilities and responsibilities, or else it would not have come to be. Each part has endured a great deal and has contributed to the survival of the total system. These attributes provide a basis for respect. Sometimes, considerable work in therapy is required to get parts to respect and value each other, so that there are grounds for negotiation and cooperation. This can then set the stage for agreed-upon rules of getting along with each other.
I would also like to address your comments that you feel helpless and that you feel like you are “literally dying little by little.” Despite working hard and taking risks in your therapy (such as trusting a therapist to hypnotize you), you still sound quite depressed. Even though your efforts have not yet achieved the results you seek, they have provided you with important information about how your system works, including how “you” work. I believe it is important for you to take that information forward into your future therapy work. Healing the after-effects of abuse is a long and difficult path, but information about yourself (such as your response to different therapy interventions) contributes to the map of that path, and is therefore very valuable. You may benefit from therapy at this point to address the thought patterns connected to your feeling of “slowly drowning,” and learn the mindfulness skills that will enable you to “swim” in your churning internal waters.
I hope that upon reading this your inner “family of parts” will also acknowledge your efforts to heal and to bring comfort inside to all in your system. Further, I hope they can better recognize that you are all in this life together and need to work together more as a team in order for all of you to feel better. I will wish you good luck on your journey of healing, and thank you for sharing your question.
Do you have a question relating to a mental health issue? Do you have a question relating to abuse or multiplicity? Do you have a question about medication? Once a month a new question will be answered and posted on this column. A special thanks to Dr. Yank for donating his time to answer the questions.
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