Sunday, April 26, 2009

Sex and Romance in Parts Psychology

From a Parts Psychology perspective sexual and romantic interests are distributed within internal self states (subpersonalities) just as are attitudes and emotions such as anger, sadness, fear, aggressiveness, passivity, etc. The following is a case example illustrating a fairly typical organization of these states.

Sylvia is 40 and in a successful second marriage. In her first marriage romantic love and sexuality were combined in Tanya, the dominant subpersonality who was so powerfully blended with the Self that other parts of Sylvia also believed Sylvia and Tanya were the same. However, when things became difficult in the first marriage and the husband began to show signs that he would leave, other parts of the Self began to assert themselves. Ursula became the internal manager. Her additional characteristic was that she simply liked sex, even with the husband, although she didn’t like him and wouldn’t have chosen him if she had been in a position to choose. Velma was the teenage part who read romance novels. Her sense of romantic love, consistent with that found in the romance novels she read, had never been tempered with actual experiences of sex. She didn’t like the husband. Wanda was the system’s worker part, the part who drove Sylvia to be successful in her career. She handled all the difficult and unpleasant tasks. It was Wanda who stepped in and handled “duty sex” with the husband when Sylvia was uninterested—i.e., when Tanya or Ursula were unblended with her for whatever reason.

This example illustrates the most common types of sexual and romantic parts. There was Velma, the untouched romantic part; Ursula, the sexual part who doesn’t have to love to enjoy sex; Tanya, who both loved and enjoyed sex with the husband; and Wanda, who handled things when sex was a chore. Sylvia’s story is long and complex, and there isn’t space to tell it here. But when I last talked with Sylvia, sex and love were different with her second husband. All of these parts and others loved the second husband. Wanda gave up duty sex and, like the other parts, only had sex if she wanted to do so. The teenage romantic part, Velma, found a focus for her storybook yearnings and managed to be aware only of the positive characteristics in the second husband. Two other parts, child parts, related to the second husband with child love, and didn’t really understand sex. They were not present when the adults had sex.

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Sunday, April 12, 2009

The Problem with Sybil

The following is a passage from the book, “Sybil,” by Flora Schreiber, describing the treatment of Sybil’s multiple personality disorder by her psychiatrist, Cornelia Wilbur.

“Through hypnotic age progression, Dr. Wilbur had metamorphosed what had been fixations in the past into viable parts of the present The hope was that this would become the bedrock on which to erect the superstructure of integration, a way to open the pathways to the original Sybil—and to restore her” (1973, p. 410).

There are several problems revealed in this passage. They are (1) hypnotic age progression; (2) the notion of parts being fixated in the past; (3) the idea of integration; and (4) the idea of an “original” Sybil. The problems are interrelated. Wilbur used age progression to advance all younger parts to the same 37 years of age as Sybil. My criticism has to do with the fact that with normal multiplicity as found in virtually all persons who are not pathologically dissociative, there are internal parts who present with a variety of ages, even occasionally as older than the outside person. If it is normal to have subpersonalities of various ages then why would the therapist want to make all inside parts the same? The second problem is related to the first. Wilbur made the assumption that just because a part presented as younger, it was “fixated” in the past. It is clearly possible that parts can be so fixated, and thus unaware of what is happening in a person’s present time. A close reading of “Sybil,” however, makes it clear that parts were generally aware of present events, even though they presented as younger than Sybil. This is consistent with the multiple internal parts of dissociatively normal people.

The third problem, the idea of integration, is taken by most people to mean that all the internal parts of a dissociatively disordered person should be fused into an entity such that no evidence of internal division into parts can be discerned. Yet, we know from the study of dissociatively normal persons that such internal division into internal parts is normal. This suggests to me that fusion creates a condition that does not occur in the normal population. No doubt fused unity is an improvement over multiple personality disorder, but it does not appear to me to be the achievement of true normality.

The fourth problem, the idea of an original Sybil, is now fairly well recognized to be a misconception. Most students of dissociation would now say that Sybil never had the experience of unity because of the horrible abuse she suffered. She was dissociatively abnormal from a very early age. She never had the chance to achieve an “original” state in the sense that her psychiatrist meant it.

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Sunday, April 5, 2009

Trauma Processing through Unburdening

Unburdening” is a technique developed by Richard C. Schwartz for the release of the burdens carried by his psychotherapy patients as the result of painful life experiences. (See “Internal Family Systems Therapy,” 1995). I have taken Schwartz's concept and intervention and made it a linchpin in the trauma processing approach I take to psychotherapy. This technique should not be confused with hypnotherapeutic techniques that similarly aim to alleviate psychic pain through visualization. Schwartz’s technique must be understood in the context of his theory of normal multiplicity of the mind. In this theory every person is viewed as having a personality consisting of a Self and a number of parts, or subpersonalities. It is the parts and not the Self that carry trauma burdens. Consequently, unburdening is aimed at the specific part which carries a trauma burden or which carries a toxic belief, such as “I’m a failure.” Using an unburdening intervention on the whole person can have a temporary positive effect, but a lasting unburdening is achieved only through work on the relevant subpersonality.

Here is a simple example of how unburdening can work. Tom had a speaking phobia in the present as the result of an embarrassing incident in the second grade. The second grader was called upon to read aloud in front of his class. Unfortunately, during the recess before class he had had an accident in the restroom, resulting in the wetting of the front of his pants. When he stood to read aloud in class some of his classmates laughed and made fun of him for peeing his pants. The incident was so intensely embarrassing that a new subpersonality developed to carry the burden of embarrassment. After this incident Tom found that he could not speak in front of groups without experiencing tremendous anxiety. He developed a public speaking phobia. Eliminating the phobia required healing the child part who carried the embarrassment. His therapist helped him find the child part who experienced the original trauma, and then guided Tom (speaking as the Self) in unburdening the child part. He used a wind metaphor. Coached by his therapist, Tom visualized a powerful wind blowing over the child part and carrying away the original burden of embarrassment. This simple intervention healed about 75% of Tom’s speaking phobia.

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