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Not Sure in Novi

  • Posted on November 1, 2015 at 10:58 pm

Dear Christine, 

I met someone new through Match and I have a question  I’m going really slow with her because on our second date, she told me about her childhood, which was horrific!  I don’t want to share the details of that but she told me she was diagnosed with multiple personality disorder.   I’m not sure I believe that really exists and fortunately, I’ve seen no sign of it in her.  I know she is damaged and that I do see.  I’m concerned about going forward in a relationship and considering steering us towards just friendship.  Is there any advice you can give me about dealing with someone who is still recovering from a horrible past… and does MPD really exist?   Thanks for your thoughts on this. 

Signed, Not Sure in Novi

Dear Not Sure,

It is wise to move slowly in this friendship or relationship or whatever it develops into.  All of us emerge from our childhoods and families with scars and wounds and part of our responsibility in adulthood is to work on healing from those traumas that befell us as children through no fault of our own.  Dating is a time to learn about each other and find out who each other is and if you are compatible, if you share the same values, needs, goals and approach to life.  It takes time to get to know each other well enough to find all this out.  Don’t rush it!

Multiple Personality Disorder diagnosis does exist, though it is currently called Dissociative Identity Disorder, (DID) which is one of several Dissociative Disorders.  DID involves the person experiencing two or more distinct personality states and gaps in recall that is more serious than could be attributed to ordinary forgetfulness and are not induced by medical issues or substances.

Everyone dissociates to some degree.  Marathon runners and other athletes will separate themselves from their physical pain to complete their goal, for example.  You might “get lost” in a book, or find that 3 hours have passed without notice while playing a game on the Internet.  Most people don’t feel like they are two or more distinct personality states, though most of us will talk of our “inner child” or “inner parent”.  We all wear different hats in our life, depending on whether we are at work, with family of origin or with friends, for example.  But most of us are completely aware of their personal history or feel a sense of self and of agency even as we switch one hat for another.

People with DID creatively figured out how to dissociate, even to the point of having different personalities, in order to survive great horror, chaos, trauma or abuse in the first 5 years of life. Try not to be skeptical  or judgmental, but instead have compassion.  You heard her story on the second date, and I’m sure that was pretty rough for you to hear, and for her to tell.  Perhaps she told you early on so if you couldn’t handle what she is about, neither of you would be too deeply invested.

I hope that she is in therapy and working on her own healing and integration of the fragments of her self.  I hope you can be honest with yourself, as well as her, to  supportive of her chosen path for healing.   Ask her questions in a non-judgmental way.  Find out if she has got a handle on her particular constellation of issues, personalities, needs and ways to cope with all of this.  Does she have a therapist and a supportive network of friends that she can call in a crisis?  You should not set yourself up to be her one and only support.

There’s several excellent books you could read for your own understanding.  Robert B. Oxnam wrote his autobiography:  A Fractured Mind.  My Life with Multiple Personality Disorder, 2006.  He was a successful man, scholar, world traveler and sought after expert on Asia appearing on television.  His story is of his treatment and recovery from MPD.

A couple of other helpful books are:
*The Stranger in the Mirror, Dissociation–The Hidden Epidemic, by Marlene Steinberg and Maxine Schnall, 2001.

*The Body Keeps the Score, Bessel Van Der Kolk,  2015.  Dr. Van Der Kolk is one of the leading experts in trauma and dissociation diagnosis and treatment since the 1970s.  This book is filled with neuroscientific research findings as well as stories of resilience of his patients.

*Amongst Ourselves:  A Self-Help Guide to Living with Dissociative Identity Disorder, by Tracy Alderman, Karen Marshall, 1998

*Coping with Trauma Related Dissociation, Skills Training for Patients and Therapists by Suzette Boon, Kathy Steel, Onno Van Der Hart. This is a manual for patients with trauma related dissociation disorders, including exercises and homework sheets.

Movies such as The Three Faces of Eve and Sybil are dramatic and not helpful to understanding what DID is or how to be in a relationship with someone with DID.

This is an opportunity for you to learn about yourself and what you can handle and where your limits are.  Take your time.  Enjoy this friendship and whatever else it might become.
Christine Cantrell, PhD,
christineccantrellphd@gmail.com