LinkedinTwitterThe DetailsConnectBlog Facebook Meet the TherapistHome For Writers

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Treatment Tuesday - Dissociative Identity Disorder

Today’s Assessment comes once again from Chas. Since he’s having an angelic therapist come to earth to do therapy with former angels and demons-turned-human, he thought it would be helpful to have a therapist’s perspective on what these heavenly counselors might tackle in session. I was happy to help.

Patty* was a demon (formerly named Poisonous) sentenced to be human. Her past as a demon haunted her before and after she accepted the Lord. Seeing people angry or hateful makes her feel even guiltier, because that was her way of life as a demon and she despises it. She is capable of loving others, even to the point of heartbreak. It is helpful to think of Patty as a child of parents who belong to a hate group, like the Neo-Nazis. She has grown up now, and has walked away from the hatred her parents instilled in her all her life. In fact, just like an ex-smoker, she hates the evil she once practiced more than ever, but the healing process takes time.

Now that last characterization brings Patty’s story to a level other writers besides Chas (and his angelic counselors) might benefit from.

Here’s an aside: some of the most difficult and disturbing people I’ve ever encountered in the mental health field were victims of cult abuse. Hearing about the lives they were subjected to (many at a young age) was hard. I had to remember to school my features against the shock. These are the kind of stories you almost can’t believe.

So if Patty had any kind of upbringing in demonhood that was remotely similar, let’s just say it is very realistic for her to have major issues in adulthood. I’m not sure if you’re going to have some repressed memories surface, but that would be very feasible, as well, so I’m including it in case it may be helpful for your plot development.

There are several diagnostic possibilities for her. The people I’ve worked with from similar situations have had Dissociative Identity Disorder (formerly known as Multiple Personality Disorder), Schizophrenia, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (almost most definitely), and anxiety disorders that could range from Panic Disorder to Generalized Anxiety Disorder.

Here was a case when I needed a little more information to be of more assistance to the author. So I emailed Chas to find out some particulars. He wrote that Patty has a hard time reconciling who she is today (a born again human Believer) with who she was (former demon Poisonous). She feels “like she’s two different people,” which is very much a dissociative identity disorder type symptom. She’s oppressed by her former life in her present life.

This even affects her sexual life (which really is remarkable how much she sounds like one patient I worked with at a mental hospital). While a demon (or in the cult), Patty took a very natural and beautiful thing—sex—and twisted it into lust and debauchery by inciting lustful thoughts and playing up the outside gloss of this sin. [Many cults are defined by their use of terms used in mainstream religions, but they have been altered to mean something else.] So now Patty is faced with the real deal—marital intercourse between her and her husband—and has a hard time reconciling the very act as something God intended from the corrupt and perverted thing demons made it.

Chas also wrote that Patty is deathly afraid her children will inherit some of her demonic traits, and as such, she essentially wants to strive to protect them from aspects of herself. This further “fractures” her, as she’s trying to be the best mom she can be, but she’s got to accept this other part of her—integrate it, if you will—to really be effective in her parenting or in her role as a wife.

So let’s focus on Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID), even though Patty may or may not fit all these characteristics. You decide, Chas. I’ll include all the symptoms and you can take or leave what you want. ☺

First of all, DID clients have the presence of two or more distinct identities or personality states that recurrently take control of the person’s behavior. Sometimes the person is unable to remember personal details of one identity while presenting as the other identity. This one might not apply…because when I say distinct personalities (or alters, which is short for alternate personalities), the identity will have different speech patterns, vocabulary, handwriting, age, gender, name…you name it, it’s game. And this can happen right before your eyes when they alter.

But the aspect of DID that definitely applies to Patty is a failure to integrate various aspects of identity, memory, and consciousness. Each personality (her former demon self and her present human self) may be experienced as if having its own personal history, self-image, identity and name. The primary identity would be passive, dependent, guilty and depressed. Sounds a bit like Patty! (And I took this straight out of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual.)

Individuals with this disorder experience gaps in memory sometimes for their personal history, both remote and present (as a result of other identities coming to the fore and making the primary identity “lose time.”

One thing to remember about cult members (esp. young children) is the abuse they suffered at the hands of their parents and cult officials/members. And as research shows, people who are abused are more likely to grow up into abusers themselves. In a way, Satan essentially abused Patty when she was a demon…and she grew to “abuse” others (in inciting lustful thoughts, etc., as a demon). Make sense?

Also, something to be aware of is that the guilt and pain of childhood (or demonhood) can cause these individuals to self-mutilate, be aggressive or suicidal. It’s very common for self-harm behaviors to accompany someone with DID.

Now, for treatment goals. The first—and perhaps most obvious—is integration. You want Patty to be a whole person, feeling whole and complete, not fragmented. The idea behind integration is that you use fusion rituals (can be anything deemed appropriate…I actually had one therapist I worked with who had her DID clients have a session to decide to “kill” off various personalities within them…this John Cusack in Identity…whoa) to make the other alters lose their functioning or purpose. So what function does Poisonous serve in Patty’s new life? I can’t answer this question…and Patty might not be able, too, either, but this is the bottom-line question you’ll have to have your therapist get to in the book. An example of the functionality of one alter in someone who was abused could be that the alter served to protect the person from actually experiencing the abuse. The mind split to preserve itself…and the alter took the brunt of the trauma and pain. (Often, this alter has anger issues at the other alters/primary identity, as you can imagine.) But that’ll give you an idea.

Well, hopefully this helps some. Problem with diagnostic assessments is that sometimes a character doesn’t always fit into one diagnosis completely. In the therapeutic world, we have ways around this, and it’s called “Not Otherwise Specified.” So Patty might fit into the category Dissociative Disorder Not Otherwise Specified. In the fictional world, it could work much the same, I suppose. Take the qualities you want; don’t take the others you (or your character) don’t want to tackle. ☺

Thanks for writing in.

This service is for fictional characters only, so any resemblance to real life examples is entirely coincidental. Any other fictional assessment questions can be directed to

Wordle: signature


Jen said...

This is so fascinating! What a way to add real emotional depth to a character.

MeganRebekah said...

I love reading your character posts - so insightful!

Katie Ganshert said...

Wow...I agree with JSTantonChandler - very fascinating. I can imagine occult issues would be incredibly disturbing.

LOVE the new blog! How do you do the fun image things you do? You'll have to teach me!

Eileen Astels Watson said...

Wow, this demon stuff scares me, but I've heard horror stories of cult effects too and totally get this even if I don't want to.

Anonymous said...

Great stuff for character development. I've saved you site to my favorites. I'll definately have to check in more often. Thanks.

Stephen Tremp

Tara McClendon said...

This isn't pretty, but what a complex layer to add.

Jessica Nelson said...

Fascinating and very sad.

I like the look of the new blog. :-)

Post a Comment

Both comments and questions are welcome. I hope you enjoyed your time on the couch today.