We all have unlimited inner parts to explore and bring into consciousness that will expand our life. We can go deeper and begin to notice our passions and our pain; our triggers and our trials, what makes us feel alive, and what numbs us; our night dreams and our waking dreams.
In my work as a professional counselor I have occasionally worked with clients suffering with Dissociative Identity Disorder. The critical feature of DID is the presence of two or more distinct identities or personality states that recurrently take control of the person’s behavior. There is an inability to recall important personal information that is too extensive to be explained by ordinary forgetfulness. The person’s psyche is split off from the other personalities, and has no memory when one of them takes over consciousness. The disorder reflects a failure to integrate various aspects of identity, memory, and consciousness. It is often brought on a childhood scarred by severe physical and sexual abuse. It is an enormously creative way the “self” survives.
A young college student, suffering from DID found her way to my office. Although responsible and determined, the disorder was causing havoc in her life. She had long blank spaces of accounted time where “she” was gone. She missed classes and didn’t recognize people who seemed to know her. Shopping bags of items she had no memory of purchasing showed up in her house, some with receipts, some not. Occasionally she would discover a fresh batch of raisin bread cooling on her counter that she had no memory of making. She hated raisin bread.
As she became comfortable with me, the other personalities started coming to therapy — each talking, gesturing, and dressing differently than her or the other personalities. But it was always evident, that really they were just “disowned” parts of her. As we worked to integrate all the parts, I became increasingly aware of the many rooms of self I possessed–the difference was they were not separate entities. But I could be blind to them, especially if they held a part of me I didn’t want to see. I realized the healing methods we were using for her could be beneficial to anyone in accessing valuable parts of ourselves of which we are unaware, are in denial about, or have disowned.
Putting a paint brush in the hands of the different parts and asking them to paint their inner experience helped us access feelings and memories that had been buried. Using a journal to write to the other personalities, inviting them to write back (which they did) helped her to reconnect with these lost parts. Traits she had disowned that another personality embodied were identified. She discovered what tasks they carried out for her. One paid the bills. One shouted at the landlord. One shoplifted. And, they all had their reasons which led to a deeper understanding of what she needed to own and why. She learned that SHE could be assertive with her landlord, take more responsibility in areas of life she neglected; and find legal ways to get a thrill!
The task was to bring all of these parts of herself into the light of day by laying out the welcome mat and throwing open the door of consciousness with curiosity and compassion. We used play therapy with a closet full of Fisher Price Little People and their accoutrements to tell all the stories that needed to be told. We used inner body awareness to identify stored pockets of grief, fear, and rage. Over time she got to know each personality and herself better – their needs, their passions, their sorrows, their joys, their idiosyncrasies. We utilized these pathways to visit and integrate the many rooms of self.
The miracle of integration did occur. She quit splitting off– something that had previously felt entirely outside of her own control. The memory of her sitting in my office as an integrated self still brings tears to my eyes for this reason: All of the personalities were still there, but now they were present. Her true essence shined brighter than ever and now joining that was a new found strength from the part of her that had carried the pain, the lively sass of the teenager, a new wonder for life from the young self. Her work was courageous and tenacious. The word that describes what I felt at the honor of witnessing both her journey and “their” joining: Reverence.
We each have numerous doors we have not opened. The key that opens them is curiosity, inquiry, and a willingness to see that which we may resist. A door is thrown open when we mindfully explore our judgments of others and the possibility that our reactions are pointing to disowned aspects of ourselves. Behind that door is a mirror, waiting to show us what we have projected onto another. The expansion of self continues when we notice and pursue an unexpressed desire – to learn how to make artisan cheese; explore fabric art; learn Kundalini yoga; try our hand at photography or filmmaking; or get married in a fairytale castle on our grandparent’s anniversary.
Another door is thrown open when we notice what upsets us in life and explore it to find the closeted emotion behind the agitation. That can lead to insight about ourselves: a need to stand up for ourselves, create more down time, forgive ourselves, quit blaming, or resign from shame.
Instead we may hide, ignore, over-eat, under-eat, and over-spend. It takes courage to tend to the rooms of self that are hidden in the shadow. As we do we allow their stories, secrets, and insight to come into the light. And then we can create a space to allow those disowned and hidden parts of self to be consciously integrated into our lives. As we throw back the drapes and open the doors to our inner experience, life responds in liberating and exhilarating ways.
We leave the shack behind and allow ourselves to fully inhabit the mansion of self.
Copyright 2012 Tamera Smith Allred. All rights reserved.
Photos by Maria Allred