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.