Sunday, December 28, 2008

Parts Psychology and Trauma Therapy

"Parts Psychology" is the label I use for psychotherapy with the part-selves that underlie all psychological functioning. The moods, attitudes, beliefs, and tendencies that characterize a person's "personality" are based in these normally unconscious parts of the mind. These parts were called "sides" by Morton Prince, founder of the Journal of Abnormal Psychology. Prince discovered these internal parts of normal people through hypnosis nearly a century ago, but his observations were soon replaced on the larger stage by the rise of Freudian psychoanalysis. The concepts of parts, sides, or subpersonalities were rarely utilized in American psychology for half a century. Then, John and Helen Watkins developed their theory of "Ego States" beginning in the early 1970s, and Richard C. Schwartz developed his "Internal Family Systems" model of internal parts during the 1980s. The Watkinses emphasized hypnosis as the means for becoming acquainted with internal parts, but Schwartz showed us that hypnosis is unnecessary. In my own work I rarely use hypnosis.

"Parts Psychology" is also the name of my book on the subject and should be in press in 2009. I have so far written 11 of the 15 chapters. In the book I write about the treatment of a large variety of problems experienced by fairly normal people, including issues of jealousy, rage, sexual swinging, binge eating, panic, low sexual drive, body image distortion, pornography addiction, and grief. These and other issues are carried by internal part-selves and expressed in the external world by normal people. In order to sidestep potential criticism alleging that the people I write about are "multiples," I used tests of dissociation to rule out persons for the book unless their scores were in the "normal" range. Dissociation in the extreme range is characteristic of multiple personality disorder. The book demonstrates that treatment of the above problems moves quickly and results in healing rather than mere coping with the problems.

Parts Psychology emphasizes trauma therapy for the healing of emotional issues. More and more research shows significant trauma in the histories of people suffering from depression, anxiety disorders, and compulsive problems of many kinds. One implication of these findings is that trauma therapy rather than drug therapy may be the most helpful treatment. Advertisments by the drug industry that suggest that the problem is a "chemical imbalance" treatable simply by taking a pill are seriously misleading. Instead, true healing may require the neutralization of the psychological trauma that underlies the mental problem.

Trauma therapy is a different kind of psychotherapy from the usual supportive therapy which focuses on the here and now in the therapy office. Trauma therapy might focus on the here and now if the trauma is recent. But most mental health problems have their roots years or decades in the past. Trauma includes the obvious such as rape or exposure to near death as a victim or a witness. But it also includes childhood experiences that are less obviously traumatic, such as watching your parents scream at each other and threaten divorce, losing a best friend as the result of moving to another city, and attending the funeral of a close relative. Probably the childhood experiences that are most damaging are those of physical, sexual or emotional abuse. Many adult problems are due to these childhood traumas.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Normal and Abnormal Dissociation

This weeks blog might border on being too technical for some readers. If so, and you just want to connect to last week, then skip to the final paragraph. I will get away from definitions and experts next week.

I think most experts in dissociation studies would accept a definition something like this: dissociation is the abnormal separation of psychic processes or contents where these processes or contents would normally be integrated. Thus, memory should be integrated with action so that we remember putting a note on the table, deleting phone numbers from a cell phone, or ruining dinner if we did these things. Or, we should have sufficient control over our self states such that we can refrain from actions that our self states might tempt us to take if we choose to do so. Self states should be integrated into a cohesive whole such that they do not represent semi-independent or autonomous entities capable of taking action on their own. Otherwise they represent the alter personalities of multiple personality disorder.

Using this definition people who behave in starkly different ways depending upon the context, such as work versus home, or the athletic field versus a barbeque, are not dissociating unless they *feel* like they are different people in those differing contexts. This conclusion would seem to follow from the standard definition of dissociation. However, I want to suggest that this definition needs revision so as to account for "normal dissociation."

Normal dissociation in the sense I want to use the term would include the differing ways we experience ourselves in the many different contexts where we participate. I want to suggest that it is in these varying contexts that we see the influence of our normal internal parts (self states) on our thinking and behavior. Generally speaking our parts do not compel us to act in particular ways; rather they influence us without controlling us. We have a degree of choice. With Parts Psychology we work in the therapy room to differentiate these parts and engage them in therapeutic conversations. We work to heal them of the painful life experiences that lead them to influence us in ways that are not helpful. We work with them in ways not unlike work with alter personalities, except that normal parts have much less autonomy and a much better understanding that they are not independent entities, but parts of the whole person.

Last week's blog referred to cases of abnormal behavior by, apparently, dissociatively normal people. The man who did not remember slipping a note from his lover underneath his wife's keys was victimized by an internal part who wanted his wife to find out about his affair and divorce him. The woman who deleted numbers from her fiancé's cell phone was momentarily controlled by a jealous part of herself who wanted to protect her from competition with other women. The woman who ruined dinner for a guest was temporarily dominated by a part who wanted to discourage a guest with a "shady character" from associating with her husband. All of these actions were abnormal because none of the people remembered the actions taken by the internal parts. If they remembered then we might say they were conniving or deceitful people, but their actions would not be considered as dissociative according to the standard definition. I believe, however, that our definition of dissociation should be expanded so as to include cases of strong influence, but short of control, by internal parts.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Pathological Dissociation in Normal People

The question of what is normal and abnormal is always a tricky subject in psychology. Here are some examples of abnormal dissociation. A woman who experiences herself as if she were standing outside herself. A man who experiences the world around him as if he were watching a movie. A man who is so overcome by rage that when he returns to a normal state he doesn't remember what he said or did. A woman who is caught up in the binge-purge cycle and who doesn't remember parts of her binging or her purging. Failing to remember what you said or did during an altered state of consciousness is a defining feature of Dissociative Identity Disorder. In this condition, characteristically, internal self states referred to as alter personalities take executive control of a person, and then the person later has no memories for what happened during the takeovers. Few would disagree that this pattern of takeover plus amnesia is abnormal.

Normal people—that is, people without a dissociative disorder—sometimes have these experiences of amnesia for actions taken while in an altered state. Here are some case examples of such phenomena. In couples therapy a man said his wife cursed him in the parking lot of a grocery store the previous evening. The wife said it didn't happen, but all she remembered was their arrival in the parking lot and then a discussion about what brand of toilet paper to buy after they were inside the store. In individual therapy a man struggled with what to do with his adult life now that his kids were almost grown. He was having an affair but not ready to divorce his wife. One morning the wife discovered a note addressed to the man from his lover. The note was lying underneath the wife's keys on the kitchen counter. The man had no idea how the note, which he had been carrying in his personal notebook, got under his wife's keys. In couples therapy a man was angry with his fiancĂ© and threatening to cancel the planned wedding because three important phone numbers of women disappeared from his cell phone directory. The woman swore she didn't delete the numbers. In individual therapy a woman talked about a "horrible" dinner she had made a couple of years previously. Although she was a good cook she had somehow ruined the meat sauce, the mashed potatoes, and the dessert of a dinner she had prepared for her husband and a new friend of his. She didn't like the new friend and suspected he was a drug addict, but she had no memory of doing anything differently in her preparation of the meal. In each one of these cases work with each patient's inner world of subpersonalities revealed that usually normal internal parts took brief executive control of the person and then left the person with no memory for the actions taken.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Normal Parts, Normal Self States

Looking back over the last few blog entries I see that I have had some unusual topics. However, my aim with this blog is to explain and develop ideas about normal parts of self. We all have internal parts, or self states. Also called subpersonalities, ego states, and a host of other things. In trying to show how having such states is normal the greatest obstacle is convincing the reader that it is possible to have internal conversations with such states. It is fairly easy to show that we act differently in different situations, and that our access to our memories is dependent to some extent upon the situation. For example, if we are enjoying a sporting event and someone asks us a question about problems we or our children are having in school, it may be difficult to recall the details of the school problems. That is because our memories are to some extent state-dependent, meaning that memory is partly dependent upon the self state we are experiencing at the moment. Another example: if we have been drinking and put something away while in an inebriated state, we may not remember where we put the object once we have sobered up. However, if we have a drink or two we may then remember where we put it. This is state dependent memory.

We can understand that our memories are state dependent and still not accept that we have partially independent internal self states. So here are a couple of pointers to help readers understand how to discover their internal parts. Suppose you have just been jilted by a lover. You will likely be experiencing a lot of rejection pain. One way to reduce that pain temporarily is to pretend the pain is a person and say to it something like, "Step back, please." Or you could try to bargain, as in, "If you will step back from me and let me go to work, I will give your pain full attention for an hour tonight after I get home." You can try the same technique with any strong emotion: anger, anxiety, embarrassment, etc. Most of the time the part of self that carries the emotion will temporarily respond to your request, although it will not likely respond to a demand. Especially if you get a positive response to your request that an emotion step back, you could then address the part that carries the pain and try to develop a dialog with it. for example, you might address the emotion and ask "How old are you?" or, Do you have a name?" or, "Do you know who I am?" If you get an answer you could expand the conversation from there.

Another means of establishing a dialog with internal parts is available to those who have vivid dreams and who can recall the characters in the dream the next day. In such a case you could isolate on a prominent dream character as you recall the dream and ask questions such as "What do you want me to know?" Or, you could ask about the meaning of particular actions in the dream, such as "Why are you chasing me? or, "Is hurting me what you want or don't want?" You could attempt to develop a continuing dialog with this dream character just as you might want to develop a continuing friendship with an outside person.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

More Parts Psychology and Transgendered Parts

Several interesting aspects of Mario's case emerge from the transcript posted in the previous blog. The first is that the stereotypical power positions between men and women are not repeated in this case. Rather than females representing relative weakness and social worth with respect to males in American society, for Mario the reverse is the case. Women represent power, positive value, and significance, while men are viewed as weak and insignificant. Mario's case makes it pretty clear that a person's life situation can be experienced in a way that is just the opposite of our cultural or political expectations.

In work with half a dozen men who enjoy wearing women's clothing I have found that in every case these men have at least one female subpersonality who drives the impulse to cross-dress. In four of the cases the men did not even consider surgery for change into a female body. In the two cases where surgery was discussed, both men decided against it. It was sufficient for them to be able to experience some activities that gave expression to their femininity. They chose not to take the drastic action of surgical transformation; an action that they felt would submerge and disenfranchise their male characteristics. I should also note that in two additional cases I worked briefly with biological males who indicated that they were definitely going to do the male-to-female surgery. I did not include them in the group of six transvestites above because they had been dressing as, and passing as, women for more than ten years at the time I saw them.

Finally, I want to point out that the switching into executive control of the body, as we see Maria do in the transcript, is probably not typical of most men who cross-dress. More likely there is a temporary blending, something similar to what Mario feels earlier in the transcript when he talks about feeling "powerful" and "equal," but is still in executive control of the body. When an internal self state takes executive control of the body, most clinicians would consider that to be pathological, and quite similar to what happens with Dissociative Identity Disorder. However, unlike what happens with full replacement by an alter personality in DID, Mario is not amnesic for what Maria says or does when she is in control.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Parts Psychology and Transexuality

Parts Psychology is the study of the natural division of the mind into the structural units I call subpersonalities, but which can more easily just be called parts of the mind. These parts appear in our lives as we face novel situations, especially those that are challenging or even traumatic. It is the way our minds are genetically determined to behave. Our parts enable us to adapt to the countless variations life presents to us. Our parts of the self are there when we blend into the ordinary, and they are there when we act in ways that are not ordinary. Our parts also provide us with an understanding of the very unusual ways some of us experience life.

For this blog I am going to talk about transgendered, transexual and transvestite experiences. The topic is complex and controversial, even political. I am going to try to avoid the political aspects of the matter by limiting what I have to say to just the particular case I am discussing. The reader can decide if there might be broader applicability. My client was a middle-aged successful businessman who came to me with marital difficulties that were related to his desire to wear women's clothes, particularly women's underwear. Because he did not want anyone to know he was seeing a psychotherapist he drove 200 miles to see me for our Saturday sessions. At one time his wife was tolerant of his cross-dressing, but she was now no longer willing to accept it. He needed help in stopping this behavior, or he needed help in accepting a divorce by his wife. He was also considering a male-to-female transsexual operation. In the course of our work we discovered that he had several female subpersonalities who had important effects on his life. Most of his inner parts, male and female, influenced him from within. However, one of his female parts had the ability to take executive control of his body for various periods of time, generally when he was wearing women's clothing. I include part of a treatment transcript below to illustrate the complexity of the problem.

The transcript relates to the man's first voluntary experience of wearing an article of women's underwear. He was a preadolescent boy and it was the first time he put on his mother's bra. The female subpersonality was created several years previous to this event at age five when his grandfather punished him for acting "too feminine" by forcing him to wear his female cousin's perfumed panties to school. We were processing the female part's history through the use of a variation of EMDR, which involves stimulating alternately left and right hemispheres of the brain.

Processing the experience involves telling his story as it spontaneously emerges, beginning with a focus on the most powerful moment of the experience. This moment is the man's memory of putting on his mother's bra for the first time on a day he stayed home from school while feigning illness.The processing begins with the question "What do you notice now?" as the man focuses on the internal picture of the experience. As he processes the experience there is a shifting back and forth between his male identity as Mario and his female identity as Maria. The double stars (**) represent short pauses in the processing as the patient describes his inner experience.

["What do you notice now?"] A lot of pain ** For her [Maria] it's a complete takeover of the situation—it's the opposite of what Mario feels—for Mario its extreme pain, sadness, anxiety and retreat from day to day life. ** Maria is kind of like a savior in that she literally takes over mind and body. ** The bra itself is almost like the source of Maria's power. ** Although there is no sexual thought at that time, there is the thought of wishing to be a girl and be treated equally, get equal attention and equal discipline. ** The adrenaline I get is not like anything else I've ever experienced. ** I feel equal to myself—I don't feel subjugated and beaten down. ** I can feel myself gaining strength—confidence, confidence—I'm legitimate and I have a voice. ** It's sad that I have to resort to this means to survive the daily pressure I experience. ** As I grow up, initially I'm not there, but in the background. ** The clothes trigger a reaction that makes me want to go to them to get a blast of energy. ** My cousin brought back a batch of clothes from Denver in a plastic bag and that's where I got a lot of my [female] clothes.** As I got older and began to like girls I was too terrified to ask them out. ** At 14 I went on a date and at the end I gave her a kiss, but I was so shy I didn't ask her out again. ** I retreated and although I tried to hang out with the guys, I never went out on Friday night with a girl.

[Refocus on the internal picture] It was great. ** It feels liberating, it feels right, it feels confidence building, essential, necessary. ** I like the way it feels on me—the way the straps go around me and bind me. ** It looks good and feels good. ** Because I can't be beaten; I can't be put down. ** I am as strong as my mother; maybe I'm even stronger now; I can rise up and tell people what to do. ** I can be like my mother and the nuns in the school. ** I'm tired of crying and being pushed around and told I'm no good. ** And I won't give it up, because it puts me in a place I've never been before, and I like it. ** I like the way it feels, the way it takes over me. ** I put on the bra and I act out my mother: "You shouldn't do this or that," and I act out the nuns punishing kids at school. ** I am nothing like Mario.** Mario is always in trouble—he teases his sister a lot—his pain is in his retaliation on his sister—I hated her, made up names and songs about her, insulting and cruel, and whenever she cried the first reaction of my mother was "Why are you picking on your sister?" ** A lot of torment I regret today. ** My mother dumped on me and I dumped on her [the sister]. ** I wanted the special treatment she gave my sister. ** Being her son didn't work out well for me. ** I loved wearing my mother's clothes; it made me feel close to her. ** And in some ways I hated my mother—a lot of pain in my chest, a lot of sorrow. ** Somehow I've evolved into this woman who secretly wants a woman as a partner. ** As Mario I've made love to so many women. ** I keep looking for something, searching for a way to be Maria, being made love to in the female position. ** As Mario I'm so tired.

[Refocus on the internal picture] The happiest day of my life [when I put on the bra]. ** I've overcome the pain. ** The answer to my problems. ** It takes away my cowardice, my shame and fear. ** It feels so good, it feels so safe. ** I love lying in bed with my pajamas on top. ** I love fooling my mother and sister—they don't know I have it on. ** There was a song, "I am woman!" ** It made me feel powerful when I dressed in my mother's clothes; it made me feel I was a woman—I listened to the song.

[Refocus on the internal picture] I told my mother I was sick and didn't want to go to school [that day]—I was afraid of my teacher and I wasn't prepared in schoolwork. ** Right now I feel my head is pounding—I have to get out! ** All the pressure and there's the pressure of Maria wanting to get out.

[It is near the end of the session and Maria is in control of the body. I asked her to allow Mario to return]. It's hard to let go. You and other people don't give me enough time; I don't mind that Mario has thrown away the clothes [i.e., women's underwear]—I'm too powerful.

[Again, the therapist requests that Mario resume executive control of the body, and over the course of about 10 minutes of centering and grounding exercises, he does.] End.

I may write more about this case, later. There is a lot of complexity in it.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Demon Parts and Alter Personalities

Today's blog is about "devil," "demon," and "Satan" parts. These parts are found at all positions on the dissociative continuum. They can be found among those with Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID) and among very normal persons as well. I once worked with another psychotherapist who came to do some work on her marital relationship. When we did the internal work to differentiate and talk with her internal self states, she discovered that one of them presented itself as a demon. It was a delightful child part, a mischievous part who brought a lot of joy to her life and to those who were close to her. It was the part of her who was willing to be silly, to tease, and play simple practical jokes. Its costume was that of a four foot tall, bald, red, round demon with stubby legs, hardly any neck, and a pointed tail. It is important to remember that the visual image a part presents of itself is just a metaphor. Although the woman was a religious person, she did not view her demon part as a religious figure, merely a mischievous child.

Demon parts are especially prevalent among persons who had early childhood experiences with religious belief systems that emphasize Satan or the devil as a real force in our lives. Another client had a devil part which she visualized as a voluptuous female, with horns, and a pointed tail. However, she did not view this part as a religious part of herself. She did not see the part as "not-self." She acknowledged this part as her sexual self with the costume having its origin in the conservative religious teachings of her childhood. As an adult she understood this part as a healthy aspect of who she was, but she also understood that she could only accept her normal sexuality by accepting in a symbolic way that the Church of her childhood, and her parents, viewed sexuality as "devilish."

Demon parts often present themselves as adversaries of the Self, as parts whose function it is to provide punishment to the Self because of presumed evil acts in childhood. A demon part can even be unaware that it is a part of the Self. It can believe that it comes from outside the Self and that it will leave the Self once its job of punishment is finished. It may double as a suicidal part, urging the person to kill himself or herself. Over the years I have probably worked with 25 or 30 demon parts. They have always proven to be just alternate parts of the Self who need to be unburdened of their pain the same as other parts. Most often these parts changed their appearance to that of children once they were unburdened of their intense negative emotional load. They never required any sort of exorcism. In fact, exorcism is almost always harmful to the person mistakenly believed to be possessed. Satan, devils, and demons do not possess people. They are creations of our unconscious minds that represent aspects of problems we struggled with as we grew up. Even when apparently evil, they are just confused aspects of the self that need to be healed.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Pornography and Parts Psychology

Addiction to pornography is a frequent issue in psychotherapy. Like other addictions it differs from most other problems in psychotherapy because of the pleasure, the positive energy, that is attached to the activity. It often leads to serious issues in committed relationships. Pornography addictions are overwhelmingly a problem with males. In a minority of cases a female partner can join her male partner in viewing pornography and the experience can enhance their sex life. In most cases, however, a man's compulsion to view pornography is a problem for the female partner, if not at the beginning of the relationship, then once the relationship is established and ongoing. Healing the problem requires neutralization of the energy invested in the activity. Twelve-step programs are not necessary for success. Like work with jealousy and rage, healing of a pornography addiction requires work with the memories that are the foundation for the problem. The problem memories are frequently laid down in early adolescence, and sometimes in preadolescence. Once the energy of the problem memories is neutalized there is no longer a pornography addiction. A man may choose to involve himself with pornography, and will continue to have the ability to enjoy it, but it is a choice rather than a compulsion.

Through the method I call Parts Psychology the treatment of pornography addiction is straightforward and directly related to the memories that serve as the foundation for the addiction. Treatment can be quite rapid with almost immediate success. Sometimes, depending upon how complex is the case, and depending upon how powerful is the addiction, treatment can take a significantly longer period of time. I have worked for as long as nine months with once-a-week sessions to achieve successs in breaking the power of the pornography addiction. In the case I am going to briefly describe here treatment took only three sessions. It was a mild case.

Larry was married, 27 years old, and a successful businessman living in an upscale gated community.Because of his addiction his wife hardly spoke to him and refused to be physically intimate with him.This is what brought him to therapy. He said that he only viewed pornography once or twice a week for an hour or two at time. My guess is that this was an underestimate but that is not important to the success of the work. Treatment consisted of interviewing Larry is such a way that all of his most powerful pornographic experiences were recalled. Then, one by one, we neutralized each of them. By neutralized I mean that the sexual energy attached to each of these memories was detached from the memories so that Larry could think about each of them and feel no emotional or sexual arousal. There were a total of only six memories significant enough to retain powerful sexual energy over time. The first was the memory of discovering someone's stash of pornographic magazines at age 13. Larry and his best friend would look at the magazines in their hideout in the woods for a year, until Larry's family moved to another city. A second memory was that of visiting a pornographic video store in high school and indulging himself in one of the video booths.. A third was dating a girl after high school and finding that her father had a large pornographic video collection which Larry could secretly access. The last three memories were of particularly powerful sexual images Larry found on the internet after his young married family bought their first computer. All of these memories provided sexually exciting memories which Larry could recall and use to enhance his pleasure with masturbation. After each of these memories was neutralized Larry no longer found them of sexual interest, and his visitation of internet porn sites ceased.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Jealousy and Rage

Another emotion which, like anger, can overwhelm people to the point that they act in irrational ways is jealousy. It is frequently linked with anger so that a jealous person can be consumed with rage over real or imagined threats to a relationship.We often think of jealousy in relation to sexuality. But jealousy is not really about sexuality; it is about fear of loss. Every case of extreme jealousy with which I have worked can be linked to one or more of three foundation events: loss of a close relationship during childhood, infidelity issues between one's parents while growing up, or a history of infidelity by a person's own romantic partners. Surprisingly, the first of these sources is probably the most common among my patients. Examples include loss of a parent or sibling to death during childhood, loss of a parent due to abandonment after divorce, and moving to a new city or neighborhood with a new school while leaving behind old friends and familiar faces. All of these are traumatic for the persons who experience them at a critical age.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Dissociative Rage

Dissociative rage occurs when a person in the grip of rage doesn't remember what he/she does once the rage is over. In such cases what is happening is that a part of the self who is not usually in control replaces the normal self and carries out the rageful behavior. When the court system is involved because of assault or destruction of property, and if a person gets probation rather than prison, then the judge will probably require the person to go to anger management classes. In the case of dissociative rage anger management classes are pretty much a waste of time. That's because anger management classes only reach the normal rational self. They do not reach the deeper levels of the mind where rage is generated. Healing dissociative rage requires that the traumatic experiences that created the rage be desensitized.

There is another kind of dissociative rage, one that does not involve amnesia for actions taken during the rage. This sort of dissociative rage is probably the most common experience of rage. We see it in people who are said to have a "temper." They flash quickly into a state of anger where they snap at those around them with little provocation. They may remain in this state for hours after they reach the boiling point. They may curse their partners, threaten divorce, quit a job, cut off other drivers, even threaten to start a fight with a stranger, all in a momentary state of rage they cannot rationally explain. They may try to explain their rage, but an objective listener will find that their anger was way out of proportion to the trigger. Once they are over their momentary fit of anger they may quickly return to a normal emotional state, but they are just as likely to remain in some sort of altered state for hours or even days. Afterwards they may say things like "I don't know what got into me," or, "I couldn't help myself." It's time for them to do damage control and they may apologize and try to save their job or prevent a partner from leaving. They may promise it will never happen again. Like rage with amnesia, healing for rage without amnesia anger requires neutralizing the traumatic memories that are the foundation for the rage. Anger management classes have little affect on this type of dissociative rage, but these classes have a better chance of helping here than with rage plus amnesia. The healing of traumatic memories can be accomplished through Parts Psychology, which is the continuing topic of this blog.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Animal Parts, Normal Parts, Multiple Personalities

On the topic of knowing about your internal parts (self states) I have been asked if having animal parts is normal. The easy answer is yes, although one could argue that since most people do not have animal parts, it is not normal to have them. Both normally nondissociative people and those with a dissociative disorder, such as Multiple Personality Disorder (Dissociative Identity Disorder) (DID), can have animal parts, or alters. There is a case of an American Indian shaman with DID who had a variety of animal alters, including an eagle, a bear, and a wolf. Interestingly, the author of the study, which appeared in the journal, Dissociation, tested the man for visual acuity. Depending upon which animal alter was in control, the man scored quite differently on the vision tests. The eagle alter had the best vision, significantly better than 20/20.

I have worked with only a few DID persons who had animal parts, but I have seen quite a few dissociatively normal people with animal parts. They included lions, dogs, foxes, dragons, demons, animated cartoon characters, and a variety of monsters. It is important to remember that the body image displayed by a part is just a symbolic costume intended to communicate a feeling, an attitude, or a set of ideas. Every one of the monsters with whom I have worked turned out to have an alternative body image underneath its costume. The new body image appeared once the monster's traumas had been processed. Most often the alternative body image was that of a child. The body image of an internal subpersonality is a metaphor. At the same time what the metaphor represents is real in the same sense that our normal selves are real. In extraordinary circumstances even the internal parts of normally nondissociative persons can temporarily displace our usual selves. Traumas such as combat, rape, and horrific automobile accidents can lead to such temporary displacements. The body and the self in charge of it are not synonymous.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Parts, Subpersonalities, Alters

In talking about the internal self states that are the focus of work in Parts Psychology, I generally use the terms, "part" or "subpersonality." The terms, "alter" and "alter personality" I reserve for persons diagnosed with multiple personality disorder (dissociative identity disorder). There is a long historical tradition for using these latter terms for the internal self states that are the focus of attention in this disorder. However, the "parts" or "subpersonalities" of normal persons are not a lot different from "alters." The difference lies in the greater autonomy of the "parts" involved in multiple personality disorder. These parts can spontaneously take executive control of the person, pushing aside the observing self, and speak or otherwise act according to their own plans and purposes. When the observing self returns it will have little or no memory for the period of time the alter personality was in control.

The parts of normal persons do not push the observing self out of the way and take full executive control when they influence the person's speech and actions. Thus it seems reasonable to avoid calling these parts, "alters," or "alter personalities." But like alter personalities, normal subpersonalities have a sense of self, a unique set of memories, continuity through time, and a desire to continue to exist. A great many of these normal parts have enduring self representations (self images) that existed prior to their differentiation in therapy. Other normal parts assume a self representation at the moment of differentiation. But that representation is not random. Whatever costume taken on by the part is often a symbolic expression of a theme, belief, or attitude developed by the person as the result of the unique set of memories encapsulated by the part. For example, one patient viewed the part of himself involved in sneaking into pornography stores as wearing a trench coat, a hat pulled low over his eyes, and possessing eyes that looked furtively left and right, ensuring that nobody he knew was in eyesight. He did not actually dress in this manner when entering these stores. Often, patients are surprised by the apparent "body image" possessed by a newly discovered internal part.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Normal and Abnormal Parts

When we feel strong emotions we are under the influence of the normal subpersonalities that provide us with multiple minds rather than the unitary minds we are taught to believe is the norm. Anger, fear, sadness are all normal emotions that reflect subpersonality influence when we feel these emotions. When we are angry, sad, or afraid we later remember having these feelings and we also generally remember what we said or did during their expression. One or two percent of us do not remember. These are persons who fit the diagnosis of Dissociative Identity Disorder (Multiple Personality Disorder). When these persons feel strong emotions a subpersonality takes executive control of mind and body and the person later does not remember what was said or done during the time of strong emotion. I am not writing about these persons. I am writing about normal persons who do not experience a discontinuity of memory for emotional arousal. An example is Tina, a bright, successful 28-year-old married mother of three. She came to see me because of her problem with anger. She was given to rages over things that did not warrant such powerful displays of anger. She later remembered everything she said and did during her rages, although she often wished that she had not done the things she said or did. Tina is like the vast majority (85-90 percent) of us who can easily connect to the usually unconscious sources of strong emotions. These unconscious sources are normal subpersonalities. In doing psychotherapy using the Parts Psychology approach we artificially separate the problem part (subpersonality) from the observing self and guide these different aspects of the complete personality in a conversation. Healing involves bringing about changes in the problem subpersonality. Connecting to a subpersonality is usually fairly simple. We begin with the feeling of strong emotion. I asked Tina if she could recall an experience which would lead her to feel some of her anger now. She easily connected to the anger she felt the previous evening after lovemaking with her husband, when he said, "You just lay there like a dead fish!" I asked Tina to continue to feel her anger and then to speak to it as if it were a person, asking it to provide a picture of itself in her mind. Tina quickly found herself visualizing herself as she remembered herself as a teenager, but with "messy hair, big eyes and looking enraged." I asked Tina to speak internally to this image of her teenage self. To her surprise the image responded to her questions. Yes, it knew who Tina was. Yes, its name was also Tina. Yes, it was the part who raged. No, it did not want to change. When Tina pointed out the negative consequences of raging, its response was stereotypically teenage: "Oh, well, whatever!" Tina is a normal person. She could not control the responses of the teenager during her conversation. This is normal in Parts Psychology. This is the first stage in bringing about the change in expression of her anger that Tina wants.

Multiplicity of Self

If we watch closely we can observe in action the subpersonalities, or parts, of the people with whom we live. With romantic partners we may note how they carry themselves differently when in the mood for sex. They may touch us differently, or look at us differently, or stand closer to us, or linger a bit in our presence before moving on to necessary chores. With those who are angry about something at work we may note that they hold themselves somewhat stiffly, their sentences are shorter, they move brusquely about the house. When people are feeling guilty we may notice that their eyes tend to be downcast, their mouths find it difficult to smile, their faces are tense, and they frequently "space out" from our presence. We all learn to recognize these parts in others at an early age and we unconsciously make adjustments in being around them. You might say these are just moods, and I would mostly agree. But they are more than moods. They are the expressions in moods directed by the actions and thoughts of internal self states (parts), self states with minds of their own. So an internal subpersonality has a submind which influences the larger mind as it expresses itself to other people. Each of these parts has a separate set of memories that is unique to itself. That is, the full set of memories is unique, although individual memories may be shared with other parts. Discovering the memory contents of a particular subpersonality is one of the important tasks in doing Parts Psychology.