Education Matters: Denial in Dissociation (Svali Blog Post)
Jul 3, 2002 – © Diane W. Hawkins, M.A.
“…when denial is no longer needed, neither is dissociation.”
Once considered merely an annoying appendage to the diagnosis of Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID), denial is now being recognized as the glue that holds the dissociation in place. The fact is that DID would not exist without the mind’s need for denial. In other words, when denial is no longer needed, neither is dissociation.
DID originates when severe, repeated childhood trauma produces intolerable conflicts which the young psyche, under extreme duress, resolves by splitting itself into separate identities. This enables part of the person to encapsulate the unbearable event so that other parts can live as if it had never occurred.
Intolerable conflicts arise whenever seemingly vital beliefs are threatened. These beliefs may involve survival, safety, functionality, identity, morality, religious commitments, or any other issue that is viewed as unable to be compromised.
For instance, most young children, because of their extreme vulnerability, believe that they cannot survive without a protective parent or caretaker. Therefore, if Daddy violently hurts the children, this creates an intolerable conflict with the child’s belief concerning what is necessary for survival. The child resolves the conflict by creating a dissociative split in its own mind, which allows part of him/her to “not know” about the event and thus continue believing he/she has a protective caretaker and therefore the means to survive.
The same kind of intolerable conflict arises when a person is faced with an absolute need to function and yet is too overwhelmed by the impact of the trauma to do so or a person committed to high moral standards is forced to participate in “unthinkable” activities. Again dissociation provides the means by which part of the person can be separated from knowledge of the trauma and thus be able to do such crucial things as function normally or maintain its moral identity.
Perpetrators who understand the mechanism of dissociation may deliberately create such conflicts fo their victims whenever their agenda calls for another split-off part or extreme secrecy. They can readily do this by subjecting the victims to trauma which seems unsurvivable or evokes intolerable emotions, such as life-threatening terror, humiliating shame, or unbearable guilt, or by forcing them to participate in activities which drastically conflict with their own moral or religious beliefs.
Each of these situations will generate an intense need to deny that the event ever occurred, which will invariably create the dissociative wall the perpetrators desire. They can usually rest assured that the person will also be deeply invested in never taking it down as that would mean confronting the unbearable reality or emotions.
When the key role which denial plays in both the origin and maintenance of dissociation is recognized, it creates a profound shift n therapeutic focus. No longer is it sufficient to precess traumatic memories with the parts that experienced them. Instead the need for the dissociative barriers between the trauma-bearing an denial-maintaining parts must be addressed if true healing is to occur. This entails identifying and resolving the intolerable conflicts which seemingly demand their existence. This can be a very threatening process, but it will bring the focus of therapy to the true issues maintaining the dissociation.
Giving up denial can be a process for the survivor, passing through progressive stages. Often in the beginning the whole idea of being multiple may be denied. When the reality of the split-off parts is finally accepted, the reality of some, or all, of the trauma may be denied. Perhaps abuse by one perpetrator is accepted but not by another, or the memories of sexual abuse are finally accepted but not those involving anything Satanic.
Eventually the reality of the trauma in its entirety may be accepted, but “owning” it may be resisted. In other words, the primary denial-bearing identity accepts that all the horrible things happened but wants to continue to remain separated from them. Only when this key identity is willing to identify personally with the events and their implications can the dissociative barriers come down.
Since this involves a major change for the denying Core/Host rather than the trauma-bearing parts, the therapeutic focus belongs much more heavily on these identities than previously recognized. Somehow their threshold of tolerance must be raised at a deep psychological level. What was once considered absolutely unacceptable must be embraced as “ownable”.
Changing this perspective will involve identifying, challenging, and correcting many false beliefs. It will also mean coming face to face with horrendous emotions and deep-seated identity issues. The truth is that becoming whole requires tremendous motivation, ego strength, and courage on the part of the survivor. When God is your partner, however, He promised to supply the grace and strengt to enable you to do “all things.”
Article originally printed in ‘Restoration Matters’, Fall 2001, vol. 7,
- 1, online at http:www.rcm-usa.org . © Diane W. Hawkins, M.A. ,
reprinted with the permission of the author.