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confused -- "feeling" questions

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I'm just confused and don't know if I'll be able to explain well because I'm not even sure what I'm confused about.

I just started with a new therapist - I recently left an unhealthy therapy relationship because of counter-transference on the part of the the therapist and no experience in working with my diagnosis -- Dissociative Identity Disorder -- formally known as Multiple Personality Disorder -- (I'm not some kind of Jekyll/Hyde Wacko -- I guess I am a bit defensive about the diagnosis because of the media portrayal and general misunderstanding of it).

Anyway, I'm confused about something with therapy now. I feel like I'm on ground zero -- really just beginning therapy for the first time. I don't understand things I thought I did. I feel like don't understand feelings at all. She says the kids hold the feelings -- and it's true that their experiences of fear and sadness are much stronger and they can express it "better". -- But what does that mean "I" am -- some sort of dullard robot? I don't think I am that. I do tend to live my life on a pretty even keel and in fact, that's something that people appreciate about me. To them I have a sense of calm and it helps them as well. I can be anxious and sometimes feel great anxiety underneath and there can be sadness/fear/anger though perhaps not to the intensity of the insiders. I tend to think though, that the calm person is me inherently, even if there is a range of feelings that I could be experiencing to a greater degree.

I'm not sure what I'm asking here. what should be my goal here -- to feel their feelings? and to know their stories? What's the advantage to that? what am I not doing/experiencing?

Do people understand their feelings more than I?

I'm sorry if this doesn't make sense -- Maybe since I don't understand something here, maybe I don't even know the right questions to ask...


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Guest ASchwartz

Hi Appleby,

I am not sure what your therapist means about children being more aware of their feelings and better able to express them. Actually, at young ages, children cannot put feellings into words and are often unaware of what they feel. Instead, they will have temper tantrums, nightmares at night, etc. So, I am not sure what your therapist is getting at.

However, what I can tell you is that the disorder that you have means that you probably experienced terrible repeated traumas when you were growing up. To cope with the trauma, some children escape into another identity and develop a kind of amnesia about that identity. The idea of the therapy, depending on the type of therapy, is to become aware of the original trauma, make it conscious or remembered and pull the personalities together. That takes time. Perhaps that is what you therapist is getting at?


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First of all, I think you may have misinterpreted your therapist. It is not that children feel emotions stronger, it is that they have yet to develope the necessary coping skills that adults have to properly cope with strong emotions. Your therapist could have suggested this for one of two reasons. Either they are trying locate the cause root of your Dissociative Identitive Disorder (DID), or they are attempting to force you to let yourself let go of your emotions.

Speaking on the first hand, DID is typically caused by repeated and consistent childhood trauma, forcing the children into a dissociative state, in which they make a series of alter egos to combat the trauma. (The monster is a common one, in which the child creates a monster alternate personality to feel safe.) Identifying the cause root of any problem is one of the essential steps to recovery. She may be trying to force you to look back and figure out what happened in your past that may indicate why you have developed these alternate personalities.

On the other hand she may be asking you to safely, and in a secure place, let go of your coping mechanism, and feel your emotions like a child would. Maybe lock yourself in a room and and stomp around and cry for a while. You had mentioned that you are a calm and complacent individual. This to me suggests that you will more often than not suppress your emotions. I understand, I am a stoic individual who suppresses his emotions (Because of this I seem very calm, collected, logical, and reasonable at most times). And speaking from experience this can be dangerous. Suppressing your emotions is like cooking in an old pressure cooker. When not properly ventilated, it will explode. And when it explodes the intensity of emotion can cause an otherwise sane person, to act erratic, and, for lack of a better word, insane.

Giving this example, I suppress my emotions, and last time they got the better of me, I told the love of my life that the only way that I could have fun is with out her. This was possibly the meanest thing I have ever said to her. And when she promptly locked the door to our room on me. Instead of sleeping on the couch and apologizing in the morning, what did I do? Well I took a screwdriver set, and manually unlocked the room of course! These actions were certainly not those of calm reasonable man.

Now it is too late for me. Since my grandmother died when I was young I have suppressed my emotions. Because of that it has integrated into an essential part of my personality, and letting go of emotions willingly is very difficult for me. To change this is to fundamentally change myself, and my personality. I am not ready to do that. But if you feel that you are suppressing your emotions, please try to change this before it is too late.

On a final note, it is completely natural to be nervous and feel like you have accomplished nothing in therapy when you are seeing a new therapist. This is like developing any sort of relationship, it will take some time to become comfortable with this individual. Especially considering your past experience. As a person who has been in therapy a lot of his life, and has a lot of experience with changing therapists, I can assure you, that is will get better, and very quickly, you just have to allow it to. I, a person who is very adverse to change took only a few sessions to become comfortable with his therapist. You will to. Don't be nervous. Just remember that your therapist is there to help.

- Anonymous

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Hi Allan and Anonymous --

Thanks for writing back. I do continue wonder what exactly she meant...

She said something about as she is getting to know us, she sees the splits - it seemed like she was thinking about the adult parts as being intellectual/rational and the kids as holding the emotions. particulraly the anger and sadness and along with that, the early trauma. I think the adults genrally are pretty rational/intellectual, but we know how to be playful and laugh too. We don't get very angry and we barely ever cry (ironic since we do a lot of grief counseling). I don't worry about "exploding" -- I may hold things in to some degree, but I will speak up if things are getting ridiculous. So I'm not sure -- I think there is something I am just not getting? Something about awareness of the trauma and emotions the kids hold which could make me a a bit more "multifaceted" in terms of emotions?? Do I really want to feel the pain of the kids and get "multifaceted" in that way???

Anonymous, I appreciate the reassurance about starting with a new therapist. I guess i had some fantasy that I might have a only a few more months of work to do -- but now I see that there is more work than that. And some of it is "basic" work in terms of of DID -- internal communication stuff -- i really don't know so much about how my system works -- even though I do know that we work well with each other and are well-aligned to acheive our outside goals. Our problems are more with inner turmoil surrounding early trauma -- flashbacks, body memories, and "mean ones", yelling at the kids to stop talking and that they are brats etc.

I hope this isn't sounding too weird...


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Hi appleby,

I really do understand your confusion and the questions that therapy brings. I have just started to work on asking more questions about my therapists comments. Quiet often though he will ask me what meaning I am making from either what has happened or what he has said. From there he sometimes clarifies what he meant. But the focus is always on what I think it means and exploring that through more questioning.

Sometimes I feel like I am getting no where, but after a few weeks (actually a couple of months) some things make real sense. Last week, I said to my therapist why didn't you just tell me what was going on, as he understood it clearly weeks ago. It had taken me 3 months to work it out. I guess this is what therapy is about (self discovery). I think of it like when children grow up we allow them to make mistakes along the way so they can learn for themselves rather than saying no all the time and protecting them, what do they learn from that?

Unlike you I do feel a little robotic and do not associate/understand with my feelings. I interact with others but never have pure enjoyment or grief when others around me do. When I look back I notice my childhood was interfered with through several traumas and strict parenting. I haven't developed the skills to just explode (an fear it after seeing others) with anger, crying (was weak character) but more of my time was focused on how to act, react and read other people emotions (like a robot) so I could prepare myself for the range of outcomes (feeling nothing, so I could get through).

So emotionally I feel like a controlled 5 year old (often not able to speak though).

I am not diagnosed with DID but do dissociate often. I do understand how people feel 'split' (if that is the right term to use). So when the therapist says something I can often think of several different things it could mean depending on the different experiences of the past and which memory it has evoked in my 'compartmental' brain. This increases the inner conflict I have with emotions and thoughts = confusion.

So appleby in no way do I think you sound 'weird' at all but rather trying to make sense of your experiences. Therapy is hard work and at time confusing but I am finding it all works out. I have also realised that it is going to take much longer than I first thought but at this stage I am thinking the confusion is an ok thing. By being confused it is allowing me to explore the more deeper me. Something I have never done before.

I hope I haven't been to confusing appleby but though I would add in some of my experience as you were unsure if that's what you were looking for.

Good luck with your therapy, hang in there.


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To my experience, sometimes the most helpful parts of therapy are the parts that you don't want to do, or does not make sense. My first Psychology teacher actually told me that if at some point you don't feel like firing your therapist, they're probably not very effective.

The term she used strikes an interesting chord for me: multifaceted. Literally meaning of many distinguishing traits. She could be referring to who you are now. And the reference to children could be referring to who you were. The very fact of what you went through most certainly could have been the cause of your position now. I do not pretend to know what your therapist is meaning, I say that the best course of action is to consult her. She would know better than anyone on what she meant.

However, that is not my primary concern. You referred a lot to "the kids." Most of the time a person would not use the pronoun "the" unless referring to something specific. Is there a personality of yours that is a child, or multiple of them? because this could indicate something different.

Lastly, I noticed that you would seamlessly switch from the the first person, I, into the plural second person, we. Why I point this out is because if this is not intentional, than that could indicate a relapse in your condition. I would suggest consulting your therapist about this. I know that is not what this thread is about, but I was making a simple observation that may help you sometime down the line. If this was intentional, and you were just referring to all of your personalities than that is less of a cause for concern, but still, mention it in your next therapy session.

- Anonymous.

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I've got a little experience working with DID - not claiming to be an expert at all, but I've done some work with DID patients. My impression is that DID folks differ in terms of how much the different 'alters' know about each other. In the case I worked on, my patient was aware of being one of many, but didn't have a lot of information about what the "others" knew. She functioned as a sort of social facade and was largely responsible - held down a job and parented a child. There were some other 'alters' that would come out from time to time however, who were angry/upset/furious; who would do self-destructive things. And there were some "kids" who were pretty much curled up in the corner shaking with fear when they'd come out. That is perhaps what Appleby's therapist is getting at.

I think the mistake that gets made by everyone again and again is to think about each alter as separate from the other alters. the alters perceive themselves as separate individuals but they aren't really. they aren't integrated into a unitary identity like most folks have either, but they aren't really separate people. They are aspects of one person who has used dissociation to not have to deal with very painful experiences (usually). My patient resisted this idea strongly, as did her "sisters" and "brothers", but I think it is the better way to think about what is happening. This is why the name of the problem changed from multiple personality disorder to dissociative identity disorder - becuase the old name was reifying (making real) the independent existence of each alter, when that is not properly the case.

So - in this light, Appleby, I would encourage you to think not so much that you are unfeeling while some other alter in your system holds the feelings, but rather that you have feelings that you aren't in touch with, and when you do get in touch with those feelings, you don't recognize yourself as the person who is having those feelings. You are a whole person, but not all the parts of you talk to each other.

In a person with a unitary self (most folks), there are also many times when there are painful memories that get conveniently "forgotten". The big difference is that when they come up, the person remembers experiencing the source of those feelings - the feeling reminds the person of him or herself, rather than provoking an experience of unrecognizableness.

The therapy for somenone like yourself is basically oriented towards 1) helping slow down or prevent self-destructive behavior, and then 2) helping to get the different parts to move towards understand their fundamental unity, and recognizing themselves as a unitary being in the experiences of each alter.

Does this help? I hope so. It is hard to explain.

Does this help?

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Thanks 1confused12 and Pseudonym --

1confused12 -- I appreciate your thoughtful response in sharing your experiences with me - Sounds like we have some similarities in terms of the "compartmentalization". I can have different perspectives, depending on what frame of mind I am in (ie 'who'' is more present at the time). I have what I consider "reality perspectives" along with those that might not be so realistic. Example - Some part might be saying that I am dirty and gross based on early messages related to trauma stuff and I allow for that one to express themself in therapy so that that perspective can be heard, but I also know that it's not really true.

Hi Pseudonym --

I have DID -- so I do have parts that distinguish themselves from each other. The little ones are some of the most recognizable in terms of being distinguishable -- They speak in more childlike language and have concerns that are more like children's concerns -- loving their stuffed animals, wanting to be liked, expressing fears etc. They are the ones that hold the trauma stories and have started telling our new therapist them. I know that all parts are me, but being DID there are ways that I don't have full awareness of them and what they say. What I do have is some sort of "team" approach, where anytime someone who might tell something scary or might "talk little" to someone else, an adult is watching and allowing for it so that it is at an appropriate time. ie the kids can talk "little" to the therapist and tell her things, but they won't come out at work. In terms of the "we"ness -- As parts together we sort of are a "we" and that's not a bad thing. It's parts working together/thinking together. I am careful with language and don't say "we" in public -- but in therapy and places like this, I will allow for speaking more like I think.


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Hi Mark -

So I think what was most helpful was:

I would encourage you to think not so much that you are unfeeling while some other alter in your system holds the feelings, but rather that you have feelings that you aren't in touch with, and when you do get in touch with those feelings, you don't recognize yourself as the person who is having those feelings. You are a whole person, but not all the parts of you talk to each other.

It was not really new information, though offered in this context, it was helpful. I do know that the parts are all me and the parts know it as well -- I think, though they/we/I do experience themselves more separately than I think most "singletons" when they are in different ego/feeling states.

I'll have to think a bit more on the difference between the way I "feel" or "leave the feelings" to other parts

What is true is that the kids hold the trauma, so for example when we are in therapy and they are "telling" something what happened, they can get very scared. I may be watching this exchange, and I'm not preventing them from talking, because as scary as it might be for them to tell, it really is a safe place to tell. Meanwhile, "I" am sort of removed from the whole thing and when the session is over, I might forget the details of what the kids said but am left with some sort of feelings of unease/anxiety and or some "spaciness" until I am engaged in my next activity of the day.

I don't know -- still confusing -- not sure if what I just wrote has to do with my original question...


Edited by appleby
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