Dissociative Identity Disorder and Self-Sabotage
You really want to lose weight but you keep stocking your pantry with junk food, "for the kids." This is self-sabotage, the frustrating outcome of conflicting conscious and subconscious desires. If you have Dissociative Identity Disorder, self-sabotage is more complex. Alters have the ability to A) assume control of the mind and body, and B) exert enough influence to impact the thoughts, feelings, and behaviors of other system members. Add to that the fact that Dissociative Identity Disorder exists in part to compartmentalize conflicting perceptions and it's not surprising that many people with DID experience particularly pervasive and disruptive forms of self-sabotage.
When I was sorting out plans to enter an inpatient trauma recovery program, I ran into self-sabotage at nearly every turn. The hospital I was going to knows Dissociative Identity Disorder well, and that was both reassuring and terrifying. I felt uncomfortably ambivalent but ultimately decided to go. Following through wasn't easy, partly because some alters had made the opposite decision.
But not everything that goes wrong is the result of self-sabotage. When I took my son to the first day of school on what was actually the second day, it wasn't because an alter deliberately interfered. I was packing to move, had just started a new job, and, ironically, was feeling a fair amount of anxiety about ensuring my son's smooth transition to middle school. In other words, stress amplified my Dissociative Identity Disorder symptoms, including dissociative amnesia.
For me, identifying self-sabotage boils down to one question: does the behavior benefit me? Taking my son to the wrong first day of school does nothing for me. Canceling my trip to the hospital, however, would have saved me a whole lot of anxiety and painful therapeutic work.
I use the term self-sabotage simply because that's how it feels. When I discover that someone in my system has taken action that directly impedes my own intentions it's enormously frustrating and absolutely feels like sabotage. But whether you have Dissociative Identity Disorder or not, I believe managing self-sabotaging behaviors requires self-empathy, without which we cannot achieve:
- Acceptance. Some part of you doesn't want to diet, or stay sober, or go to the hospital; whatever the case may be. Getting into a power struggle won't change that. The first step in dealing with self-sabotage for me is accepting that we have a legitimate disagreement based on valid, though conflicting points of view.
- Communication. Dialoguing with alter personalities, honestly and respectfully, is paramount if I want to understand problems and solve them. I write letters, communicate via art, and converse in my head when possible.
- Compromise. The most life changing negotiation with an alter I've experienced to date culminated in a contract in which we both agreed to certain conditions that required us each to step out of our comfort zones a bit.
None of that is easy, but with help, it's possible. Living with the self-sabotage that sometimes goes along with Dissociative Identity Disorder can be maddening. But though it may feel like it, you aren't powerless.
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Gray, H. (2011, January 24). Dissociative Identity Disorder and Self-Sabotage, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2020, April 3 from https://www.healthyplace.com/blogs/dissociativeliving/2011/01/dissociative-identity-disorder-and-self-sabotage
Author: Holly Gray
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"One of the reasons it’s so hard is that parts know how to hide it in the midst of things that make sense. Like an event that will lead to self-harm can be framed as “well, we have to go here because A, B, C.” all of which might be true."
Paul, I would never have been able to put that into words, but it is so true! My therapist and I discuss this frequently. When I self-sabotage, I have one very dominant part of my system who explains ...very logically...exactly why it had to happen. I will actually believe that what I did was genius as a result. That is until my therapist convinces me otherwise, of course.
I don't know if this is something you can relate to, or how common it is....but I sometimes dissociate during my therapy sessions. I see this as a form of self-sabotage. I will finish my session, drive home, and I will have no earthly clue what was discussed. An hour of therapy....wasted.
I know this does not benefit me as a whole in any way, but I'm thinking that there is a part of my system who doesn't like the discussion, and is sabotaging it by keeping it from me....if that makes any sense? I literally will have no recollection of the session at all. After much embarassment, I told my therapist this was happening. I'm trying to notice when I feel myself slipping away, and I try to tell her immediately so that we can change the subject for awhile. I don't always notice it until it is too late. Anyway, I view this as a form of self-sabotage.
"I don’t know if this is something you can relate to, or how common it is….but I sometimes dissociate during my therapy sessions."
Not only is it exceedingly common but it's expected and just part of therapy for Dissociative Identity Disorder. Because you are a system of severely fragmented parts of self, it makes perfect sense that you wouldn't remember every session. In fact, if someone in treatment for DID told me remembered every therapy session I would wonder why other parts of their system weren't getting the chance to get their needs and issues addressed. So dissociating during therapy isn't necessarily self-sabotage, I don't think. If parts of your system are getting the benefit of that time, it's not wasted, not by a long shot. I would argue that that's very healthy.
Having said that, I do know that it's possible to dissociate in non-productive ways during therapy. If parts of self are blocking the process, for instance, by coming out and refusing to participate, or by creating a fog that doesn't allow you or anyone else to be fully present, then those are examples of sabotaging forms of dissociation.
"I know this does not benefit me as a whole in any way, but I’m thinking that there is a part of my system who doesn’t like the discussion, and is sabotaging it by keeping it from me….if that makes any sense?"
It does make sense, but it's also not necessarily unhealthy. Becoming more aware of your system, increasing communication ... these take time. It's reasonable for parts of your system to need time with your therapist without you being privy to the conversation. It would be unhealthy, for example, for parts to overwhelm you or your system with traumatic material you aren't prepared to deal with right now. Over time, that will likely change.
I want to reassure you that not remembering therapy sessions is just par for the course early in DID therapy. It's not necessarily a bad thing.
Thanks for bringing that up, Mareeya. It's an important topic. I too used to feel like I shouldn't dissociate. Now I understand that's not a possibility for me, and in fact I can use dissociation to my benefit in therapy.