This will not be an in-depth post. Goal here is to explain that not all alters experience all of the same symptoms at the same time or ever with examples from our system. The adults and teens are searching the memory banks, but no one can remember exactly which book or news article or blog post we read that explains this phenomenon in layman’s terms. Finding and confirming the source may take a while.
This is a very big topic with multiple layers.
It will probably be explored as part of different DID posts, PTSD posts, Alter Posts, and Life Changing Moments posts. If you are ever in doubt about POV or tone, you are welcome to leave a comment and ask for clarification. Writing with alters can be tricky to navigate and consistently use the correct tone of voice, grammar, point-of-view, etc. for the guests without getting confused or awkward in the flow of writing. It’s also a pain to organize multiple POVs in 1,500 words (Maximum of 2,000) or less.
Why is this important to understand?
To the outside world, I am one person with a set of symptoms and co-curring disorders that make up the complex PTSD diagnosis. As such, I (the whole person) experience all of the symptoms below.
In truth, I am 1 person made up of 88 alternate personalities. About 20 of these personalities maintain control of our system (aka parenting, basic wellness care, interacting with the outside world, ensuring basic needs are met). Not all of us experience the same kind or severity of symptoms even though all of us feel body pain and physical symptoms to different degrees. This is because not every one of us alternate personalities has every symptom and disorder on the list.
Confusing and scary, yes? Or no?
A List of Symptoms and Co-Curring Disorders related to the Complex PTSD and DID:
- Panic Attacks
- Body Memories
- Anorexia Nervosa
- Obsessive Compulsive Disorder
- Fear related to crowds and feeling trapped
- Body dysmorphia
- Phobias – spiders; agoraphobia; bathrooms, pools/oceans/swimming; slugs/caterpillars/flies and other insects that leave trails of slime, silk, sound in the environment; the dark; falling down
- Fainting/passing out
- Severe body pain
- Insomnia, restless sleep, disordered sleeping, nightmares, night sweats, night terrors, sleep walking
- Flashbacks, deja vu, and related fugues
- Shame/guilt/anger/self-harm/emotional overload
Some examples:My child alters experienced the most abuse and have all of the symptoms above. But they struggle with utilizing coping strategies because the shame is embedded so deep in them. The disordered eating started young with neglect, got worse with diets, and became full-blown anorexia by 6 or 7 years old. But they don’t understand body pain or menstruation – any kind of physical pain scares them and reminds them of abuse.
My teen alters experienced less physical abuse (thank you for the martial arts training), but more physical and non-physical sexual abuse in the form of inappropriate visuals/touching/talk and body shaming. Many of them have the worst body image issues and eating problems. They have a hard time accepting our body. The physical pain is acknowledged, but hard to cope with – triggers self-harm, starvation/restriction, suicidal thoughts, etc. to numb it out.
The adult alters experienced mostly verbal and emotional abuse, neglect, shaming, isolation, public humiliation, silent treatment/shunning, emotional blackmail, bullying (all alters experienced this, but not like adults), and stalking to isolate and remove opportunities to move forward. They experience the most body pain and have the best resources to cope with it. But their ways of coping are not always useful or helpful because they do not address the needs of teens and children to learn how to acknowledge, accept, and cope with physical pain or the accompanying triggers and flashbacks.
Female alters have trouble coping with the pain related to menstruation because of memories related to specific punishments for any talk or overt physical changes that took place during puberty.
Male alters have trouble with body image and sexuality because of the sexual abuse and gender misdirection during childhood. Females and males sexually abused our body/self. They also liked to physically abuse our body during the sexual encounters. Mom kept trying to convince daughter she was a boy and adopted throughout childhood. Many non-incestuous sexual and physical abuse experiences also happened in a quasi-religious/cult environment with drugs and alcohol involved.
And the non-human alters hold most of the negative feelings like aggression, anger, guilt, sorrow, and of course shame. Their first response is: a) fold up and disappear; and b) lash out and hurt/defend/protect with violence. They also hold the internalized messages from abusers and struggle with hearing the voices, obeying compulsions, obsessive thoughts, and reality testing.
When I and my alters get triggered, we all experience a range of flashbacks, anxiety, and symptoms. One strategy does not work for everything – not even grounding or self-soothing or meditation. Sometimes one strategy can help take the edge off of the worst of the symptoms for everyone in the short-term. But that strategy will not work in the long-term or even feel helpful sometimes.
As alters learn to trust and communicate with self and each other, they find ways to “tell” what kinds of coping strategies will help, what kinds will make the symptoms worse, and what ones they are unsure about. Having one body with so many different needs to address can be difficult. That is why many of the strategies and techniques here are mental and emotional based instead of physical.
With imagination and creativity, many alters can learn to use, utilize, and/or adapt the coping strategies and techniques on their own or in groups on the inside while the ones “in charge” and maintaining life on the “outside” are working, walking, shopping, interacting with others, etc. That’s what we do, and it allows us to function better in the outside world.
I hope maybe some of this can help others struggling to understand and cope with the internal confusion that sometimes comes with unexpected and expected triggers/anniversaries/symptoms.
Thank you for reading.