Questioning ‘Types of Alters’

Lilly Ghia-Wilberforce, 2013

In a lot of classic multiplicity literature, there are descriptions of ‘types of alters’, like the ‘inner self-helper’, the ‘sex alter’/‘Fifi the Slut’, the ‘evil demon’, the ‘scared lil’ and the ‘protector alter’. These ‘types of alters’ come from the idea that everyone in a system was created to fulfil a specific role after someone split due to trauma or abuse. People more familiar with that form of multiplicity sometimes apply the stereotype to members of all sorts of systems, whether they fit the MPD/DID model or not. These descriptions can be pretty terrible regardless of a system’s origins. It turns everyone into one-dimensional caricatures regardless of how complex someone in a system might be. I know there are some systems that have fragments and aspects, but even in those cases, I don’t think it’s always as theatrical as the ‘types of alters’ portrayals are. And I think a lot of systems are also pressured to have these ‘types of alters’ by therapists or by stereotypical portrayals they’ve seen in the media, even if system members formed through splitting aren’t actually that one-dimensional. ‘This person can remember a lot of things that happened to the system, so they must be the memory keeper.’ ‘This one gives advice, so they must be the inner self-helper!’ ‘This one is a kid, so they must be the scared little!’

I feel pretty uncomfortable with these stereotypes; I find them limiting and frankly offensive. In our system, we weren’t ‘created’ to serve any specific function in the first place. We’re just…people. Each of us has their own skills and ways of viewing the world, but we consider those simply individual traits, not tasks that we absolutely must perform in order to fulfil the ‘types of alters’ stereotypes. Yes, some of us are calmer than others; that doesn’t make them ‘inner self-helpers’. When I was younger, I wasn’t a ‘skard lil’. Even if we did ultimately arise from trauma (I don’t personally believe that, but there are people who consider it a possibility), that still doesn’t mean that we have to have such circumscribed ‘jobs’. Like, each of us still has their own interests and capabilities, and we use those in a holistic way, not stuff like ‘Noël is the inner self-helper! Richard is the keeper of all the memories! Kerry is the COOKING ALTER!’ Plurality doesn’t have to be about meeting every single stereotypical criterion for being a ‘real system’. We can simply have our own existences that have intrinsic meaning, rather than just being a bunch of cardboard characters that can be shoved into rigid categories.

I mean, even in a trauma-based system where system members did originally have specific functions, can’t someone grow beyond their initial purpose? Someone who may have begun their existence as a protector could ultimately discover their own interests and driving motivations that exist beyond their original need to protect the ‘host’ and other vulnerable system members. They can still find their own meaning. I know a few systems where that’s the case. I mean, they recognise their roots in trauma, but they’ve come to pick up some of their own interests and goals and it adds an extra texture to their life out here.