Dissociative identity disorder (DID) used to be known as multiple personality disorder. The National Alliance on Mental Illness reports that the integration of all personalities is the goal of treatment for DID, but not all people with DID want to integrate. Even those that do hope to integrate some day must learn to live with their alters until integration occurs. Most people with DID have some child alters and dealing with child alters can be particularly challenging. I’ve been living with DID for years now, and here are a few things I’ve found to be helpful with dealing with children in my internal system.
Set Some Rules
Kids need rules, and child alters are no exception. Some of the rules I have for the kids in my system include rules about when they are not permitted to come out, rules about who they can talk to, a rule that kids aren’t allowed to drive the car and a rule that prescribed medication must be taken regularly. Rules need to be reasonable and it helps to have some flexibility, but when everyone knows what the expectations are, things run more smoothly.
Teach Life Skills
Child alters may be lacking some basic skills. For instance, I had a child alter that did not know how to use the telephone. She needed to know how to call 911 in an emergency and how to call my therapist in times of crisis. This same child alter did not know how to tell time and in fact, had no real concept of time. Because of this, she did not understand that the bad things that happened in the past happened a long time ago, so she was constantly worried it would happen again. When I started teaching her about time, she began to understand that those things happened a long time ago and her fear lessened.
All kids get scared and sad sometimes, but when you’re dealing with child alters, you’re often dealing with traumatized children. I have a child alter that gets absolutely terrified at night because a lot of bad things happened at night when I was little. It’s important to provide comfort to child alters, and it’s important to remember that in the past they may not have received comfort when they needed it. Different people find different things comforting, but some things that have helped me and my child alters include a night light at bedtime, stuffed animals, a special blanket and soothing music. It can also help just to talk to child alters in a comforting way, telling them you understand that they are scared but that they are safe now, or that you understand that they are sad and that’s it’s OK to cry.
Make Time for Fun
Everyone needs time for fun, children and adults alike. I found that when I did not make time for the kids to have fun, they were more likely to come out at inappropriate times. For instance, if they didn’t get any time to come out and play during the day, they would sometimes come out at night and then I would end up exhausted the next day. Getting the kids to follow rules about when they could come out was easier, too, when I made sure there were times when they could come out and have fun. Providing a little time in the evenings when they could color or watch a kids’ video or just play with the cats made the rest of the day go much more smoothly.
National Alliance on Mental Illness. http://www.nami.org/Content/ContentGroups/Helpline1/Dissociative_Identity_Disorder_%28formerly_Multiple_Personality_Disorder%29.htm. Dissociative Identity Disorder.
Alderman, Tracy and Karen Marshall. Amongst Ourselves: A Self-Help Guide to Living with Dissociative Identity Disorder. 1998.