Self-Care of Your Multiple Selves

As if self-care isn’t complicated enough, how does it work when you feel like your self is separated into multiple selves? We’ve talked about the ways self-care can be challenging for trauma survivors.  I think it is worth revisiting this topic to address the special challenges for those with dissociative identity disorder, dissociative disorder NOS or anyone with multiple, separate parts of themselves.

Though you may feel like you have many selves, from my trauma therapist point of view I feel the need to clarify terminology. Dissociative disorders are now seen as a fragmented identity rather than completely different personalities (hence the move from MPD to DID).  I like the way Sidran speaks to this issue:

Other terms often used by therapists and survivors to describe these entities are: “alternate personalities,” “alters,” “parts,” “states of consciousness,” “ego states,” and “identities.” It is important to keep in mind that although these alternate states may feel or appear to be very different, they are all manifestations of a single, whole person.

Here are some things that come to mind when I think about applying self-care to all of you. Are these part of your self-care repertoire?

  • Awareness and Acceptance: you need to accept and be aware of other parts of you before you can take good care of all of you. This seems obvious but it is worth specifying. I know many dissociative trauma survivors go through phases regarding acceptance of their others. It makes sense that this is a work in progress. It may seem to fly in the face of your old familiar coping strategy of not knowing (aka dissociation). That helped your survive but will not help you heal and thrive.
  • Internal communication: you cannot take care of each other if you cannot communicate with each other!  Are you open to hearing what other parts of you feel and need? Keep in mind that it is best to start the conversation with neutral topics. Communicating about trauma memories or really loaded issues will work better once you establish  a good working relationship with yourselves. If some form of internal communication is already in place, terrific. If not, this is a very important goal for phase one of complex trauma treatment. In time you may be able to hear each other as you go about your daily life, but that can take time to develop. Some find journaling or using guided imagery as good ways to begin to get in touch with other parts of you. Some prefer to start this process while in therapy sessions. Some like to work on it privately. Do whatever works for you!
  • Be mindful of different ages and issues. You may have parts of you that experience themselves as much younger than your chronological age. This can be challenging for survivors who feel very disconnected from the child they were, or worse, who harbor very negative feelings about their child self. This is such a big topic I think it needs its own post! For now, let’s acknowledge it is important to learn how to protect, nurture and in a sense parent your younger selves while maintaining as much adult functioning as possible. In addition, some parts of you may hold specific trauma experiences and/or intense feelings. Knowing this can help you tailor self-care activities to address these issues. Ignoring them really tends to back fire eventually.
  • Sharing one body: I know not everyone agrees with this all the time, but work on accepting that you all share one body. This has very practical ramifications that can improve your life. Accepting that no matter how separate you feel, you share one body that requires a certain amount of sleep, nutrition, physical activity and medical attention is a crucial self-care basic.
  • Internal conflict: sometimes people with dissociative disorders blame other parts of them for the abuse they experienced, for the fact that they are separate, for many things. Remember that no part of you is responsible for the abuse or neglect that you experienced. Likewise, no part of you deserved it. Period. Learn not to direct the blame and anger at each other that actually belongs elsewhere. Blaming other parts of you is the multiple version of internalizing the self-blame that is so common for trauma survivors. Replacing anger and blame with compassion for all parts of you will be a huge step in your healing process.
  • I am also thinking about the need for trauma survivors to engage in self-care around online activities such as participating in survivor forums, blogs or social media. How do you balance and remain mindful of the needs of all parts of you? But more about that in a later post!

Overall, keep in mind that the very heart of dissociating into separate selves is about self-care and protection. You did what you needed to do to live through atrocities no one should have to face. That is quite the accomplishment indeed!

This is of course just an overview and a beginning of a complex topic. If you think I have left out something, I’d love to hear about it! Others may benefit from reading about how you are learning to care for all of you!

Kathleen Young, Psy.D.

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11 Responses to Self-Care of Your Multiple Selves

  1. Jeanette says:

    Whew, indeed! Not easy at all. And it takes loads of time to find your way through this. I’ve only been coming to understand my internal system over the last year and I still don’t think I have a handle on it. But I find that journaling has been imperative to this process, allowing each alter to have expression and eventually most alters are learning of each other and about each other in this way. But it is not without a lot of confusion still. It’s very hard. Hardest thing I have CONSCIOUSLY done, ever. Seems like the self care is a slow moving process of awareness, as each part is able to feel some compassion for the other parts. And it isn’t a stable awareness, and the compassion ebbs and flows. Just trying to find a consensus on what to wear each and every day can take the energy out of me before I even get to the day at hand. Choosing meals! Ha! What an ordeal. There is nothing easy about this, nothing. Keeping my ‘wilder’ parts under control is a huge issue, especially during trigger times of the year, which I’m just now starting to become aware of. Very stressful. A lot of parts that have a need to act out and a lot of trying to maintain some semblance of self control.

    I guess I am just reiterating what you have already said, but from a real D.I.D. person’s perspective. It is all true. And it is not an easy fix. But it’s better than it was a year ago, so I am happy that progress is being made. The holidays seem to be a particularly bad time for all of this, much more upheaval internally. Just an added seasonal stress. Lots of sleeping going on when I can to try to compensate for the loss of energy. Very difficult to hold down a full time job and get the rest I feel I need with all of this. And try to keep it all under wraps, that is hard in and of itself, trying not to be obvious so the whole world knows what I’m dealing with. A very lonely endeavor, even with all the ‘company’ inside.

    • Hi Jeanette-

      I am so glad to have you chime in from a D.I.D. person’s perspective! Yes indeed, the stuff other people can take for granted becomes complicated when learning to negotiate with multiple others within!

      Coping with “wilder” or acting out parts sounds like a good topic for a future post!

  2. tai0316 says:

    I’m glad someone I know suggested this post. I have DID and bipolar disorder and I’m always being told by my wonderful, amazing therpaist to take care of myself, but no matter what she says, I have no idea how to take care of myself or my parts. I have at least 8 or more alters and I don’t know how to take care of them or me or *us*. It’s very confusing to have no concept of self-care. I still don’t undrestand it but I’m going to print this out and read it over a few times. Thank you for posting about this.

  3. Bee says:

    It has taken me quite a few years to get to know my alters well and to figure out how my internal system works. Communication is KEY! It took me a long time to understand that you MUST have good communication within your system or else things will always fall apart or turn out bad/wrong. Everyday I am working with my alters to find better ways of communicating with each other to help things go more smoothly. Journaling really helps in this department. We have a journal that all of us write in, and then each of us also have our own personal journals that we can choose to share with one another or not. But journaling everyday in the journal we share has helped tremendously. Weekly meetings are also key. We tried having daily meetings but there is not always time for this. Setting up a time block once a week to have a meeting with everyone in the system really does wonders. Everyone is given the chance to share their thoughts, feelings, concerns, positive and negative’s, and things we need to work on.

    Something I would like to see in a future article is Grounding Techniques.

    Thank you for sharing this.

    • Thanks for sharing your work on inner communication, Bee! It sounds like you are doing a great job with it.

      Have you seen the post I wrote about grounding previously? I am certainly willing to write about it again. Let me know if there is something in particular you’d like to see addressed.

  4. Pingback: Self-Care and Child Parts | Dr. Kathleen Young: Treating Trauma in Chicago

  5. This is a very good summary of what self-care is all about. Thank you Kathleen.

  6. Pingback: Good article, but … « Our life with MPD/DID

  7. Pingback: 2011 Intentions | Dr. Kathleen Young: Treating Trauma in Chicago

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