Coping Strategy: Internal Multitasking Part 1

Today is the last day of the new year.  For some it’s a cause to celebrate.  For others it’s a cause to do anything and everything possible to distract from internal storms.

My alters and I prefer to be home in the quiet and safety of our apartment with books and cooking and our bed nearby.  By the last day in December, we’re exhausted from coping with the unique challenges that come from living in the same state as our perpetrators.

5 times in the past 4 weeks, we have encountered people from the past while shopping and doing errands.  Each of those individuals verbally abused and harassed or stalked us until we left the store or wherever we were at the time.  And each one brought on backlash and other consequences that required creative coping strategies and help from external resources.

And what I discovered was that a multitasking approach to coping helped a lot more than trying to have all alters use the same coping strategy.  Different coping strategies for different alters to use at the same time.  Here is the example:

Situation: everyone is triggered into flashbacks and overwhelming feelings because an individual tried to publicly humiliate us in a store and then bait us into acting like the raging crazy person (as happened in the past with parents and sibling).

Resolution: Swtiching alternate personalities so that the alter with the most useful skills was in charge of the body,voice, mind, etc. and interacted with the perpetrator in a polite, civil, assertive manner.  Used DBT skills here.

Aftermath: Child parts got triggered into feeling one way.  Adolescent parts got triggered into feeling another way.  Adult parts got triggered into feeling something or nothing at all (maybe in between?).  Different memories and emotions are brought back to consciousness for each alter.  Each of us reacts to the memories and feelings in a different way.

Coping Challenge: One coping strategy does not work for all alters.  They/we resist being told to use the same one together to cope because that strategy is not universally helpful.  Child alters feel suspicious and hypervigilant; watching everyone else for signs of stress or anxiety and aggresssively refusing to calm down or relax.  Adolescent parts feel unsafe and confused.  They are frozen and unsure how to react or who to trust; fight or flight is next.  Adults are numb.  And then comes the explosion of anger and shame; it is directed internally and externally scaring all of us into a state of confusion.

Resolution: Call hotline and ask for help figuring out different coping techniques that work for different age groups.  3 to 5 ideas get chosen from everything discussed.  One that the child parts are comfortable using.  One for the adolescents to try.  One for the adults.  One they can all use together if they feel like it.  And one that is a safety plan for anyone to use if he or she needs extra help.  A strategy made up of techniques tailored for them to use alone or in groups.

Child coping technique: imagine an adult and a child sitting together quietly.  Both love each other and feel safe together.  The adult slowly brushes a hand against the child’s forehead, stroking down past the temple as if brushing hair away.  Both sit and breathe quietly with the adult continuing this motion until the child relaxes.  Thanks to the BARCC hotline counselor for this visualization

Adolescent coping technique: The adolsecents are trapped in a dark, windowless room.  Black inside.  The walls are made of brick.  Only sounds are like those from a wind storm.  Every once in a while, a bright colorful light bursts in only to fade away.  On the other side of the wall are all of the memories, feelings, thoughts, experiences they need to help them understand the howling sounds in the room.  So they each take a brick and remove it from the wall.  Holding the brick, he or she says: “Thank you for keeping me safe when I needed you.  It’s time to go home.  Good bye” and repeats this until the brick dissolves.  Then the alters take another brick and repeat until the walls are gone.  The lights and sounds mix together, swirling around the room until they integrate and leave behind the stuff that doesn’t belong.  The integrated parts go back to being memories.  The stuff that doesn’t belong gets sucked out by a black hole.

Adult coping technique: Visualizing a safe place to sit with emotions and observe our own feelings.  Our place is a forest near a cliff that looks down to the ocean.  Between the forest and the cliff is a grassy meadow with some shrubs and tall rocks perfect for sitting.  There are birds and animals up there.  A path leads down the cliff to the beach and the ocean.  On the beach are large boulders for climbing and sitting too.  The air smells like salt from the ocean, ozone from a recent rain storm, and living plants/flowers.  I can hear the breeze, the waves crashing against each other, dogs splashing and barking in the distance.  The sun is just rising turning the skies multiple colors.  And the adults sit there or walk or practice martial arts/yoga/etc. alone or in groups until we feel calm and safe again.

All the while, our physical body is sitting or lying down in a comfortable position.  Our eyes are closed.  We appear sleeping or meditating to the outside world.  When instead, all 88 of us are actively working on different versions of the techniques listed above at the same time.

We hope this strategy can be adapted to help others and are grateful for all of the wonderful counselors on the hotline and for support from our regular therapist who taught us the basic lessons to help us create strategies like this.

Happy New Year from all of us here.