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Dismissing Alters and Their Jobs in DID

November 20, 2019 Becca Hargis

An alter in dissociative identity disorder (DID) is always assigned a role or a job. For example, an alter might be a host, protector, persecutor, rescuer, gatekeeper, etc., and the alter usually has his or her job from the time he or she is created. As a result, it is an important question to ask if it is ever appropriate to assign an alter a different job. What if the role for which the alter is responsible puts the DID system in harm's way? What should you do then? Should you tell the headmates they are not needed anymore, that you can perform their jobs and take care of yourself?

These questions came up recently during a session I had with my interim therapist. When discussing some of my headmates that try to protect by the use of an eating disorder and self-harm, she told me I was capable of protecting and caring for myself and that I did not need my headmates anymore to assume that role for me. She told me I no longer needed those alters who protect us from undesirable feelings by using destructive actions to carry out their job of protection.

Rejecting a Headmate Feels Worse than Assigning an Alter a New Job

First all, I do not agree that it is ever acceptable to tell a headmate that he or she is no longer needed. What is the difference in telling that alter he or she isn't needed and telling that alter to kill him or herself or to just go away? 

It is our headmates, our parts, who stepped in when we were undergoing unspeakable trauma. They rescued us from the torment. I find that for me to tell any member of my system that he or she is no longer needed after he or she has rescued me is rude, ungrateful, and unappreciative. Should that alter not be given the opportunity for a better life, too?   

I cannot with good conscious tell a headmate, even if they are hurting me, that he or she isn't wanted. That headmate has a right to exist and be here as I do. That headmate has a right to be helped to explore other ways to exist. I'm not the original. I am a headmate, too. I am only a member of a larger system, so who am I to tell others to go away? We operate as a team, and everyone has a right to give input on how the system runs.

To look at it from another perspective, imagine if one of your closest friends or family members told you that he or she no longer needed you in his or her life. How might you respond? You might feel unwanted, expendable, or worthless. Your headmates might have the same reaction. They have carried you to safety when you couldn't do it yourself. It is never acceptable to treat them as unnecessary.

If Your Headmates Were in the Workplace

While I understand that some headmates do not necessarily protect me in the best possible ways, they try to perform their jobs as best as they know. My system has progressed to the point where the headmates responsible for the eating disorder and self-harm still want to protect us but in ways that are more productive and healthy. With this in mind, we have begun showing them other ways to protect the system.

I view my headmates' jobs and roles the same as someone who has a full-time job in the workplace. Employees perform better at their jobs if they are cross-trained with other staff jobs. When everyone knows each other's duties, employees become more valuable and essential to the company. 

The same is true of our system. We run better and more efficiently when we learn each other's roles and take them on to help out the system.

Our Headmates Take on New Jobs

I have several headmates whose roles in our system needed fine-tuning. For example, one of our headmates loves to shop to distract us from what we are feeling, but, as you can imagine, her shopping can put us into debt. So, while her job is still to distract us from negative feelings until we are able to cope with them, she took on a new role of reading books and working on craft projects with our littles.

We also have a headmate that has historically held a great amount of anger towards people. Her angry outbursts and mean expressions would chase away potential friends, and this would cause us to feel hopelessly alone. It was very difficult for us to have relationships because of her.

However, even though her role of driving off friendships protected the system from being vulnerable to others, she realized this was not what was good for the system, so she took on the job of helping us establish and maintain friendships by setting appropriate boundaries to maintain safety. Her new job of establishing appropriate and helpful boundaries ensured we were protected by keeping the wrong relationships out of our lives and keeping the right ones in our lives.

What Your System Deserves: Alters with Appropriate Jobs

Your system was there to help you the moment you needed it. Is it fair to your headmates to say you can get by without them now after they saved you? If their job is counterproductive to the system's safety and happiness, then life for the whole system will be more harmonious if you work with each other to give another headmate a new and fulfilling role.

Ultimately, it is up to your system to decide what is appropriate and what will be tolerated from a headmate. For my system, if a headmate is not helping and serving the whole, then we step in and agree upon different roles and jobs so that everyone has a responsibility with which they feel happy and productive.

To deny a headmate of an existence or even intimate he or she is not needed is thankless and inconsiderate. Our headmates deserve a sense of gratitude, a desire to work with them, and so much more than being discarded, dismissed, and outcast.

APA Reference
Hargis, B. (2019, November 20). Dismissing Alters and Their Jobs in DID, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2020, August 9 from https://www.healthyplace.com/blogs/dissociativeliving/2019/11/dismissing-alters-and-their-jobs-in-did



Author: Becca Hargis

Becca is a mental health advocate who is passionate about ending the stigma against mental illness. She is currently writing a book on her experiences with dissociative identity disorder. You can connect with her on her personal blog, TwitterFacebook and on Instagram.

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