Kerry Dawkins, 2017
I think that there has been some progress in how medical models of plurality conceptualise identity formation. I don’t see nearly as much Fusion Evangelism as I have done in the past and most therapeutic approaches are focussed on getting the system to work together rather than trying to smash everybody together. They’re starting to recognise that system-members are separate people – or at the very least are distinct from the ‘host’, ‘core’ or ‘apparently normal part’ and have individual traits. They are, however, still convinced that proper systems must fit neatly into the medicalised DID or OSDD-1 model in order to be valid. Whilst there are groups who do fit into the model and benefit from treatment that focusses on improving the disordered aspects of their experiences, that’s not universal. There are three specific problems with this line of thinking.
- Firstly, people who agree with the structural dissociation interpretation of DID think that people are born without an integrated sense of self. A solidified unitary sense of self occurs later in childhood. For people who have experienced severe trauma at a young age, the self never integrates as it does with non-plurals. Are there other factors that may allow people to continue to have separate senses of self? I think there needs to be more research, especially cross-cultural research, on how self-concepts change over the lifespan. It actually feels a bit premature to claim that these interpretations of multiplicity, whether trauma-based or not, are the final word.
- Secondly, everyone experiences trauma differently. What may be traumatising to one person may not be to somebody else. Verbal abuse may prevent the creation of an integrated self in one case, but not in another. There is often a misconception that there are only a few traumatising events that qualify: rape and sexual assault, major accidents, murder, natural disasters, severe physical abuse. We used to see ourselves as entirely non-trauma-based in part because we didn’t think our traumatic experiences – verbal abuse, emotional neglect, early physical neglect, bullying – were significant enough. We’ve changed our views over time; many of us now think that trauma has played a role in our existence.
- Thirdly, as a proponent of models of disability and mental health that don’t always entirely match medicalised interpretations, I object to the idea that plurality itself is intrinsically pathological. It’s the trauma and difficulties with co-operation, memory and communication that are the problems, not the plurality itself. In order for DID to be diagnosable it has to meet Criterion C and cause significant distress in someone’s life. If it’s not distressing it’s not a disorder. Of course you’ll see difficulties when the systems who present themselves for therapy are looking for help anyway. The emphasis on an idealised singular self, the treatment of newly formed system-members as ‘alters’ or ‘parts’ of a self that never existed in the first place, and the emphasis on fusion therapy are further reasons why we initially avoided connecting our plurality with past traumas. The idea of being a mere ‘dissociated part’ rather than being a proper person with opinions, feelings, values, philosophies and preferences was and is a bit insulting. There needs to be ways to help trauma-based systems work with triggers and achieve co-operation without setting off harmful existential crises. We exist. We just want to exist better.