Friday, October 29, 2010

The Cycle of the Parts

This was the first really complicated piece of art therapy that I managed to complete.  It's a map of how some of my parts work.  If you haven't already done so, for the sake of clarity you may want to go back and read my posts about the sad one, angry one, the empty part, and the happy part. 

This diagram really helped me clear up who was doing what and why.  The name of my boyfriend is blurred, but that is who the diagram is primarily about.  This system of alters has been around for a long time.  As far back as I can remember (which is only age 12) all of these parts were present and participating in this system, which is set off by insecurities and feelings of being lonely, unloved, unwanted, etc.  It takes surprisingly little to set this cycle into motion sometimes.

It starts with the happy part getting her feelings hurt.  This is something that is very easy to do as this part is extremely sensitive (thus why the other parts keep her hidden so much of the time).  Once this part gets sad (note that the happy part feeling sad is not the same as the sad part), the angry part comes out to defend her. 

If the argument is bad enough, the empty part decides that it's best if I don't remember and takes the argument into the back where it fades away.  If it's not bad enough, the sad part comes out and blames herself for the hurt feelings or the hurt feelings she perceives even if my boyfriend endlessly reassures her that this is not so.

This diagram is a little confusing, but what it primarily shows is that a cycle or loop starts forming until the happy part feels loved and secure.  If the parts believe that the happy part is hurt than the empty part takes the eperience away and then the happy part can come back out again, realizing that my boyfriend still loves me sometimes, but not always, brings the sad and guilty part back out.  If my boyfriend doesn't reinforce that he still loves me and everything is fine than the happy part gets upset and the mad part comes back again. 

This is a very exhausting cycle that takes a lot out of all of us.  Luckily, it is not something that happens to this extent very frequently.  The angry part rarely makes it completely out.  What this part wants to say and what actually gets said is usually heavily filtered by the logical defender part or the suspicious and questioning part that I often call "snoop" (I haven't written about either of those parts yet).  This allows me to very rarely raise my voice or handle a situation rudely. 

Another interesting thing about this system is the recovery time.  More severe arguments are actually easier to recover from because the empty one comes out and takes the majority of the experience to the back.  This is probably also why I have a handful of memories of more minor abuses/traumas, but no memories of the "major" ones.

A lot of my work has been with this system.  With acknowledging when this group of parts are cycling through and understanding their motivation so that I can address their needs without hurting myself or my boyfriend.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

The Front and the Back

This is a depiction of how I felt on one particular day, but I think it illustrates the front and the back feeling I have in my brain really well.  The confused part is in this one and like I explained previously, I'm not sure if this is truly a "part" or maybe two or more parts or maybe all the parts, trying to make sense of everything.  The verdict is still out on this one, right now I just can't figure it out.

The scared one may also not be a true part, but rather an emotional state of some of the parts.  It is definitely not the state of all of them, but I couldn't quite tell where the feeling was coming from.  As you can see from the drawing, this part or emotion wants to be blind and deaf to the abuse and anxiety.  It's sort of a "La, la, la, I can't hear you" kind of attitude to avoid the bad stuff.

The front and back are labeled on this one.  I look at it as the front and back of my brain, but you could also look at it like a big mask.  The parts and emotions near the front are the ones looking through the mask and the stuff in the back are too far away to be thought about or remembered.

I'm not aware of it, but there must also be some sort of retreat in the back where parts can go when they don't feel safe, based on the fact that there are definitely some parts back there that I'm not fully aware of and other parts have to be going somewhere when they're not "out".

Dream: A Former Therapist

(For: sexual abuse)

I had this dream on the 26th: 

I was a child in the dream and I was in a room that was mostly empty except for a leather couch.  There were other people around outside of the room, both kids and adults.  A man came into the room and asked if he could talk to me.  I said that he could and he started asking me gentle questions about myself.  I thought he was trying to make me feel better, because I felt sad and abused in the dream, but I felt a little awkward about him being there.

I asked him if he was a therapist and he said he used to be.  Somehow my legs ended up over one of his knees so that I was mostly sitting on his lap.  After a few moments of talking I realized that he had his hands on my panties and his fingers were just barely touching my genital area.  I grabbed two of his fingers in my fist and pulled them to the side.  He didn't resist, so I started wondering if he had done it on purpose or not. I thought that maybe I was just being paranoid.

The Happy Part

The happy part is like a radiant 3-8 year old child.  When she is around I am bright eyed and energetic.  This picture was something I made while she was "out" about all the things that she likes. The name of my boyfriend is blurred out, but that is who she likes spending time with.  The happy part seems to be brought out by a lot of things, including caffeine, jungle gyms, animals, praise/attention, toys, movies with children, etc.  I'm not sure what it is about caffeine that brings her out, maybe because it's like a treat? If I drink a soda, she comes out and starts bouncing off the walls.

The happy part is not always happy, but she is by far the most genuinely happy of all the parts I am aware of and she rarely feels negative emotions.  This is largely due to the trio I explained in the previous post.  They will usually step up to protect her if she starts to feel sad or unloved. I'll explain more about this in another post.

The happy part's biggest concern is being unloved or neglected.  If she perceives any threat whatsoever she quickly disappears and other parts (usually the angry part) take over.  I would equate this with how a very small child needs their parents to praise and love them unconditionally and if the picture they drew doesn't go on the refrigerator, they are crushed.  Her issues usually are no more than hurt feelings, whereas the other parts have much deeper and darker pains.

I think she exists to ask for the attention, love, and praise that I never got as a child.  My father was silent and almost entirely absent in my life and my mother was extremely critical and quick to chastise me over any little error.  She was also volatile.  I had no way of knowing what would make her mad and sometimes what bothered her contradicted things that had bothered her the month, week, or even day before.

I think the happy part was set aside with all the good parts of childhood.  She's brave, affectionate, outgoing, and giggly, which were things I never was as a child.

The Experience Eraser - The Empty One

I already explained in a previous post about the sad one and the angry one.  The empty one (who I sometimes call invisible or the eraser) is a sort of blank part that absorbs pain and negative experiences.  The empty part doesn't necessary experience the bad things, but rather takes them away into the back of my mind where the other parts don't have to think about or worry about them.  The empty one sort of wipes the slate clean.

I do not call this part the empty one because she is devoid of emotion, but rather because she embodies the greatest feelings of defeat and exhaustion I can possibly imagine.  It's a feeling of being abused to the point that nothing matters anymore, that you'd rather just go away and feel nothing.  Unfortunately, it's not possible to feel nothing and the empty one is the one who got (and still gets) all the pain.  This part is so destroyed that it doesn't even matter to her if she takes all the pain and sadness and abuse.  It's just her job. 

I can remember what the empty one takes away, but not in extensive clarity.  If the empty one takes it than what remains is just a few snippets of memory, like a mental pictures of what happened.  I might remember that an argument happened, but I will struggle to recall what it was about and probably won't remember anything specific that was said or done.

I believe there is a sort of filtering that occurs so that I get the pieces of information that are vital.  If something bad happens and it needs to be addressed later, I will have enough information to do so.  For example, if there is an argument that needs to be picked up at a later date, I will know the subject matter and the other person's argument, although no memories of what was actually said.  If there's a car accident, I will remember factually what happened, but probably won't be able to see it or describe it in detail.  This creates the illusion of a lack of emotion about certain events because the "me" that re-engages with a situation is not the "me" that experienced it initially.  I just got the information from another part.

Some things that go to the back can be recalled if I am prompted to do so.  Usually the recall is very delayed and the person doing the prompting has to be very determined to get me to remember.  There are some things that go to the back of my mind and never come back.  I'm not sure what all is back there, but sometimes there is minor bleed through, like strange thoughts, images, or reactions.  Sometimes I read old journals or diaries and have no recollection of the negative experiences that are described.  These things I know were taken to "the back" - the part of my brain/memories that I can't access.  This is where all the memories of my abuse reside.

The empty part exists as a sort of trio with the sad and angry parts.  The angry one usually comes first, then the sad one, and finally the empty one.  Sometimes the sad and angry one come simultaneously or very close together.  The empty one rarely, if ever, comes out unless the sad one has been out.  Perhaps the empty one is a type of protector?  Maybe the angry one is too?

Dream: A Man Called Johnny

I had this dream on the 22nd:

I was a child and I was in some house or apartment with some adults that were not my parents.  There was a youngish man there who said his name was Johnny, but he went by another name too that I can’t remember.  I really liked him.  I thought he was really cool.  I was a kid and I looked up to him.  I thought he was super nice to me.  He had long tannish brown hair that was cut off under the chin and some facial hair.

The other adults sort of made fun of me for liking him, because they thought he wasn’t a very good person, like manipulative maybe, I’m not sure.  He had a book collection that had some kind of porn or naked people in it.  I saw the covers, but he didn’t show them to me. 

He wasn’t always around.  He was gone for a while, but he would come back at other times.  He brought me a present at some point and I think, but I’m not sure, that it was some kind of food item.  We watched movies together and sat on a couch most of the time.


I was somewhere and all the sudden this little hole popped out of this dirt wall.  The dirt just sort of popped out very strangely.  I looked into the hole and for a long time I didn’t see anything there and then I realized that there was a weird long worm curled up in the hole.


This picture sums up the confusion that I feel pretty well.  I'm not sure if there is a part that is the confusion or if the confusion is actually two or more parts fighting to be heard at the same time.  The questioning about goodness and badness usually comes from "the sad part", but perhaps there is another part that is sad and confused?

Regardless, the emotions expressed in this drawing are with me a lot.  I have trouble addressing these questions and knowing for sure how I feel about myself and who I am.   I know that I don't do bad things and yet I frequently find myself questioning whether or not I'm "bad".

Perfectionism is another huge issue for me and all of the parts, especially for the parts that are more protective.  I'll get more into this at a later time, but the protective parts try to shelter the sensitive parts from having their feelings hurt or being bullied because they said or did something "wrong", which can be as simple as tripping on the stairs or using the wrong word in a sentence.  There are protective parts who do this more negatively by causing self blame, doubt, and humiliation when it isn't necessary.

Dream: Time Traveling to Childhood

I had this dream on the 18th:

Me and my boyfriend were in my childhood home and I went upstairs and my sister was an infant, lying in just a diaper in her crib.  She was sleeping and I rubbed her back.  She rolled over and looked up at me, smiling.  She looked so happy to see me.

I went downstairs and we were doing something when I realised that my parents were pulling into the driveway.  I panicked, realising that we had gone back in time and that they wouldn’t understand who we were and we would get in trouble.  I ran to all the windows and tried to figure out if we could fit through, but they were all too small.  Eventually I could see my parents at the front door and I called to my boyfriend to get over to where I was and we pushed past them and ran towards our car in the driveway.

My dad grabbed me and held me down.  When he saw my face somehow he realized that it was me from the future.  He looked confused for a moment and then said, “I’d like to think you came back to take measurements, because you were so happy”.

(For: sexual abuse)


I was a child in the dream.  I was lying on my back in the kitchen of my childhood home.  I was covered with a blanket, but I wasn’t in a bed.  I might have been on the counter.  A woman (maybe my mom) turned out the light and left me there.

A man entered the room and climbed on top of me.  He lowered himself over my face and used his hand to stuff his testicles into my mouth.  I was scared and couldn’t breath.  I was thrashing as much as I could.  I think something must have hurt me, because even though I don’t remember feeling any pain I was groaning and crying.

Writing this dream down is so embarrassing.  I don't want to dream these things. 


I was explaining to my boyfriend that I had a whole group of cousins growing up and one of them had a bat that he’d always hit me with and I spent a lot of time hiding from him in my childhood.  We were in my childhood kitchen when I was explaining this.  He said he knew this because I had already told him and had just forgotten.

I actually don't have any cousins like this in real life.

The Angry Part and The Sad Part

I drew this picture when the angry part was near the surface.  The angry part is always followed by or comes out alongside the sad part.  The angry part causes a lot of issues and basically suffers from intense misdirected anger.  The black stuff on the angry part's head is not a hat.  It's the pressure that I get in my head when the angry part is close to the surface.  This part almost always comes with an intense headache and the pressured feeling I talked about in the previous post.

The sad part usually comes out after the angry part is finished expressing herself.  The sad part is scared that she won't be loved based on the behavior of the angry part, which is why she apologizes profusely and hopes that she will be cared about anyway.  She tries to sort of make up for the behavior of the angry part.  She also wonders whether or not she is "bad" far more than any of the other parts.

Dream: My Childhood Home Burning Down

I had this dream earlier in the month:

I was walking in my childhood hometown with a whole bunch of people, including my parents and some children.  We were across the street from my childhood home and I saw that the whole front of it had been torn away and was charred.  My bedroom was visible and there was a man in it.  He was crazed and he was shuffling around, threatening to burn down the house.

I ran across the street, because I could see some of my family’s old things in the bedroom.  I climbed a ladder to my bedroom where the front of the house was missing and grabbed a huge stack of long and wide papers, like from a child’s drawing pad.

The man was angry that I had taken the papers, but mostly he was just crazed.  He said he had to burn the house down.  I got the papers out of the house and returned to the group.  All of the papers were little doodles and artworks my sister had made in school when she was very small (my sister is 5.5 years younger than me and has referred to me as her "first mom".  I took care of her when our mother couldn't or wouldn't.) 


The group was across the street at my childhood school and there was a huge statue of a man in the middle of the playground/parking lot.  His jaw opened and he looked angry.  He started pounding his fists on the ground.  The area around the statue had a tiled floor.  One of the tiles flipped with a girl on top of it, pulling her under the ground and killing her.


I was somewhere (maybe in a school) and I went into this little room and there was a huge bathroom with an arctic theme.  Lots of snow and ice were everywhere, but it was made out of concrete like old amusement park decorations.  Everything was open and there were a bunch of girls in there going to the bathroom and showering in front of each other.  They seemed happy, but I thought it was weird and I felt awkward. 

Under Pressure

I started art therapy on my own as a way to communicate with myself and as an emotional release.  My emotional vocabulary leaves a lot to be desired and I find using terms for emotions to be difficult when mine feel much more abstract.

The two drawings above were both attempts at capturing a common sensation that I experience.  It's a pressured feeling that seems to haunt me on a regular basis.  I'm not sure if it originated with a physical sensation, like the feeling of another person's body during sexual abuse, or from an emotional sensation, like feeling pressured to do or be a certain thing.  I still haven't quite figured that out.  The pictures seem to suggest both.

The squiggly lines at the top of both pictures are the feeling of isolation or separation from the rest of my consciousness.  The words are pretty self explinatory.  The first one in particular represents a lot of dissociation.  I believe this is why I have the sensation, but no memory to go along with it.

I'm not sure about the rest of the picture.  I did my best at capturing how I felt, but even down on paper it doesn't make total sense to me.

Dream: The Box of Kittens

(For: killing animals)

I'm including dreams in this blog because I believe that important subconscious information is relayed through dreams, especially for individuals with dissociative disorders who may not be consciously aware of their thoughts, feelings, fears, and memories.  If you don't want to read the posts about dreams, please click on the topics at the side of the page and choose "Art Therapy".

I had this dream sometime early this month:

Me and my boyfriend had a box of white kittens.  Someone was making us kill them.  If we didn’t kill them something bad was going to happen, but I can’t remember what.  We took the box of kittens to the roof of a building and my boyfriend pulled out a knife.

He grabbed one of the kittens and laid it down on the cement roof.  He pushed the knife down and sliced its head off while the other kittens were crawling around innocent and oblivious.  I was so so sad to kill a kitten.  He handed the head to me and I wrapped the neck where it had been cut off in a piece of gauze and sat it on the ground so that the neck was holding up the head.  Then he picked up the next kitten and continued.

I awoke from this dream feeling mournful and like a terrible person.  Why do I dream such terrible things?  Why did the blood and the knife and the life disappearing from the kittens feel so real?



I just wanted to introduce myself and let everyone know what I plan on doing with this blog.

I suffer from a dissociative disorder because I was abused as a child.  I do not know the exact nature of the abuse, but I have suspicions.  The dissociation has caused extreme amnesia.  I have nothing more than snippets from my grade school years, a few more memories of middle school, and still a bit more of high school, but nowhere near what is "normal".  My continuous memory does not start until about two years ago (I'm in college now) and it is still rather weak.

To those who don't have a dissociative disorder or who have one and don't relate, I'll elaborate on what I mean by extreme amnesia.  To outline all the areas I don't remember could fill a novel, so I'll just focus on one area of memory: school.  I have no memory of grade school.  I remember the building and that's about it.  I don't remember my teachers, the classrooms, whether or not I had friends, if I liked school, or what I learned.  I remember factually that I was taken out of school after third grade to home school with my mother, but the three years she taught me are completely blank.  I remember painting a picture, watching a movie, and that's about it.

I do not currently identify as having dissociative identity disorder (DID), because I'm not sure whether or not I fit the criteria, but what I have is definitely some sort of variant of the disorder.  I do know that I dissociated as a child and adult and that I have what I can best describe as self states or perhaps alters with which I have intense communication.  I am always me.  I will always answer to my name.  I'll always know that I live with my boyfriend, where I go to school, where I live, and how old I am, however my perception of the world at certain times is radically different than at others and these self states are both connected and isolated from each other.

I have been fortunate to meet a few other people online who have a dissociative disorder that presents in the same way that mine does.  Not fitting into the typical DID mold has been frustrating and isolating.

My objective in starting this blog is to post my thoughts and my struggles in a way that will allow me to track progress while reaching out to those who might share my feelings or experiences.  I will be posting my drawings, which I've been working on for the past couple months.  They help organize my thoughts and facilitate communication between my various states.  I will also be posting my dreams, which are often frightening, disturbing, and violent.  I will be using trigger warnings for posts with difficult content for abuse and trauma survivors.

I apologize for the length of my introduction.  I look forward to sharing and connecting with all of you!