Language, Boundaries and Friction

| By Paul | | Comments (17)

In my last post, I wrote about the language of dissociation, specifically focusing on the issue of names in dissociative identity disorder. That discussion leads me to the issue of language while maintaining healthy personal and public boundaries.

Many years ago, I decided that therapy and the hospital would be the places where I would trust and talk freely about all of myself using whatever language and techniques worked best for me. I decided, and a lot of this was a decision driven by instinct, that when I write publicly and interact with people in my life—including most family and friends—I would be extremely careful about the language I chose to use.

I try to write and communicate with others in such a way that broadly makes sense. I find one important way to destigmatize trauma recovery is to not use language that makes the issue esoteric or unique. I avoid altogether talking publicly, except here and with family, about dissociation. I find it makes me feel safer and less exposed. I have come to terms with the reality that dissociative identity disorder will probably never be understood or accepted without judgment by significant numbers. It will never be seen like cancer and probably never be seen like depression. It will be so strongly stereotyped because so few have direct contact with it. I have no problem with that.

One of the reasons why I started this blog was that I came out publicly when a child sex abuse scandal in our town came to light. I spoke out in the newspaper and as a parent in the community about the issue and came forward as a survivor myself. I did that in a subtle way to lend some credibility to my argument, saying that we all needed to make sure that we appreciate and attend to the plight of the victims. I am now appreciative of the fact that my coming forward changed my path to healing positively. I was careful about what I said, but it helped me to come out of the darkness and changed the dynamic internally. So it taught me a lesson that I could be effective without telling all the details.

I am mostly comfortable with being able to talk in a public language that sounds mostly "generic," but I do it while knowing inside that the reality is often quite a bit more complicated. Nowadays, I often talk with friends and family about "not being connected" or "feeling depressed." I know it sounds like the stuff of life that everyone has to deal with. Of course, on some level it is. And here, while I do often use a more "technical" language, I still am extremely careful about the words I use and what I share.

But, like everything in life, some people's experiences can be more in the extremes. I find that there are safe and not safe—or appropriate and not appropriate—places to talk about some of my more extreme experiences. I do not find it helpful to try to educate everyone in my life about what it is like to have struggle with massive shifts of self or self-harm because people are so affected by stereotypes. And here I am careful, for example, not to delve into details about traumatic memories. For me, that stance is not invalidating. Rather it is a personal stance aimed at helping me feel safe and having boundaries around what I disclose. Perhaps it can be seen as my playing it safe. But, even though it is totally different kettle of fish, I would also not talk to a public audience about the intricate mathematical details of the Lennard-Jones potential in molecular modeling (which is what I do for work).

So, I have these boundaries in place and one may wonder if I am only creating an irreconcilable conflict by having such acceptance in therapy and being so careful about how I present myself outside of therapy. I could imagine these questions of me: If I am able to keep my "outside life" appear relatively normal, then am I only creating imaginary issues in therapy? If I just cut out all that uncomfortable stuff from therapy will my life just be so much easier? Is therapy creating my problems?

Those are all valid questions, and all are questions I have asked myself, over and over, in different ways for two decades. To be honest, this has often been a source of internal conflict and I have addressed some of these conflicts here and in my comments on others' blogs, even very recently. In September, I wrote The Uncertainty Principle. In that post, I wrote about the pitfalls associated with definitive answers to complicated issues. I wrote about how many psychiatric "authorities" can see the same person and draw very different conclusions. I wrote that we must challenge ourselves to ask tough questions, struggle with doubt, and find a way to live with friction.

In some ways, how I work in therapy and how I conduct myself publicly is a measure of this necessary friction. But, as I have said before, it is how we use friction that is important. We can let it become an insurmountable barrier and lead us down a path of a false set of beliefs that, on the surface, feels more comfortable. But I have never found denial to be a long-term solution.

Like I said in the last post, I believe when I talk in a specific language about parts of myself openly in therapy, in the hospital, and in my private journal, and am careful about what I say publicly, I find that is actually an approach helps me to heal.


barbi said:


First of all, thank you so much for these last 2 posts (and your blog in general). You have completely articulated so much of what I struggle with and the complexities of living with PTSD/DID.

I am only now beginning to realize the need to accept the idea that almost no one will be able to grasp this disorder. So I am more and more appreciative of the few who do. Language is such a foundational aspect of who we are as people and being able to describe in words some of the feelings and difficulties that I experience seems to be the beginning of understanding myself.

I have noticed within myself that sharing some details with certain safe people helps me accept not only the other parts of myself, but also my history.

Thanks for your insight Paul... and especially for sharing it!

Paul Author Profile Page replied to barbi:

Barbi, You are too kind! I am glad you found it helpful. I am glad that your ability to share with safe people helps you validate yourself. This is so important. Thanks for writing!

wantstorun said:


I keep very firm barriers in place between my therapy (individual and group) from other aspects of my life. Very few people outside of my therapy circle know that I am many; however, quite a few know that I am in counseling for traumatic past. 'The general public' is accepting of the PTSD diagnosis, so I am willing to share and discuss that part of my dx/healing when appropriate. I don't trust how DID has been portrayed in media or books and feel that it would be much more difficult in my healing process if I were having to try to explain DID to folks.

What also came to my mind when you stated that DID is likely not ever to be as understood or accepted as cancer (or depression) is that folks who have cancer/depression and who talk about it usually don't have the underlying shame that comes along with our trauma and the resulting DID - so, at the moment I'm not in a place to be a good person to educate others about DID because I've not overcome the shame component in my healing.

I need the distinct and very clear boundary in place between my therapy/healing time versus my professional/social/family time. I know that I am going to have that 1.5 hours twice a week to address matters from my past, and I work hard on them in therapy; I set aside some outside time for my healing, as well. Then, I put it away and I work very hard at doing my profession well (I have a 'work crew'), and my other obligations. Boundaries were obviously non-existent during childhood, so having them in place now in this area is critical for me.

Again, thanks for the post. It helped me to be able to articulate on this topic.


Paul Author Profile Page replied to wantstorun:

Wantstorun, Yes of course the shame piece is huge! I should have mentioned that. This is why it's much easier to come out (as I did) as a child abuse victim, because I do not have much shame around that (or at least less).

tai0316 said:

Hi Paul,

I was wondering if something precipitated this post? I'm not trying to pry and you don't need to answer me, I was just wondering if someone questioned how you choose to blog. I'm sorry, I just didn't like the idea but knowing me, nothing happened. :)

So, I guess getting back to actually commenting and minding my own business, I think everyone has boundaries and they have right to express themselves in whatever way is safe for them.

Therapy is a safe place for me and I have chosen to share a lot on my blog because that's my personal choice and a lot of time, actually most of the time, I'm looking for advice or feedback or help becuase I don't understand a lot of what happens to me and I look to other people who have more experience than me.

Even with that, there are things that I haven't gone into detail about because I choose not to and I feel the need to be careful about what I say when I know others will be reading it. That doesn't make anyone dishonest or imply that anyone is hiding anything or presenting a front or whatever.

I'm agree with you, people aren't really going to get DID. I don't tell people in my life, friends etc. that I have any type dissociative disorder especially DID. I don't feel the need to talk about it publically and honestly it's much safer for me to keep some things private. No one needs to know all of my personal business and it's none of theirs. Hmmm...that came off a little aggressive sorry. I should wrap this up and if I missed a point of what you were saying let me know. I tend to transfer sometimes and it may make me miss a point being made.

Paul Author Profile Page replied to tai0316:

Tai, No it really was that I saw that last post related to this one about boundaries. If it's colored by any other dialog, it's only a little bit. It's really something I've wanted to say for a while.

castorgirl said:

While reading this post, I thought of when I first started working at the university, and I was watching a fellow librarian teach... I'd never taught to a large group, so was meant to be learning from her. The thing this taught me was how not to teach! The big thing was that she used jargon... so she went into detail about Boolean operators, command line searching, etc. I could see the student turn off and fall asleep. She was telling them all the right theory, with all the correct words, but it wasn't appropriate for that audience. When you've got a jaded group of students in front of you, you don't talk cold theory; you tell them what they need to know, in a way that they will understand.

I find that I do this with the language surrounding my mental health as well. Where I currently work is not tolerant of mental health issues of any kind, so I don't talk about it at all there, except in the most general of terms. I talk about being stressed, not sleeping etc. These are all true statements, but they're not the words I would necessarily use in a therapy session. So it's not only about protecting ourselves, but communicating in an appropriate way for the audience.

I can see where that would raise questions about our ability to be able to "turn off" the dissociation everywhere... but we're not turning it off anywhere, we're still experiencing the dissociation elsewhere, we're just using words to describe it which describe the experiences in such a way that those around us can understand the problem.

I find that I also need to do with the various mental health and medical professionals that I encounter. The dissociative disorders are not well understood or recognised here, so I find that I use very generic terminology to explain what is going on. I had to go up to A&E the other week, and when a nurse rubbed my back to comfort me, I still freaked inside, but I asked her not to do that as I have issues which mean that I don't like to be touched. I assured her that it was nothing she had done wrong, it was just the way I reacted. I could have said that I have a dissociative and anxiety reaction due to childhood trauma... but that language would have been conjured up a different image in the nurses mind of who I was. I find it's easier to keep things simple and generic as possible.

Sorry, this has turned into a bit of an essay... I agree with what you're saying here Paul. I don't think it lessens our experiences to alter our language and live with that friction. Everyone does this - as the most obvious example, how people act at work, isn't how they act at home.

Take care,

Paul Author Profile Page replied to castorgirl:

Wow CG. Really quite the essay for sure! Thank you. Yes, I agree with you. The dissociative coping does not really go away when you are able to make it look like it is not there. The issues are there. Sometimes less so than other times. Sometimes I feel quite well and whole. But, other times the dissociation is so present, just that I mask it. So, I get what you are saying here and thank you for prompting me to look at it from a different angle.

castorgirl replied to Paul:

Well now that it's officially an essay... I'll keep going.

I run into a brick wall with my experiences about dissociation, because I could be perceived as keeping it together while out of therapy, but am a total messes in therapy. It could be argued that all I needed to do is stop therapy, and the symptoms will magically disappear. I can see the logic of that, from an outsiders point of view... especially someone who interacts with me on a daily basis at work. But the reality is, that there are times that I'm very much grounded within therapy, and I can talk from a very adult place who is facing the challenges that life throws at me as well as anyone. There are times when I'm a dissociative mess at work, and have been triggered to the point where I can't ground, and am caught in a flashback state. Then, the more likely scenario, is that I'm somewhere in between these states. The only thing that changes, is how I communicate my state to those around me.

I'm glad that you got the validation from talking about your abuse after the scandal in your town. I was forced into a similar experience when I was separating from my husband, in that it became widely known that I was a survivor of domestic violence. However, I didn't get that validation. It was swept under the collective rug as being too uncomfortable to talk about. So again, it depends on the audience as to what is safe to reveal.

I'm finished now... honest :)

Paul Author Profile Page replied to castorgirl:

CG: Feel free to write away. Do you want your own blog post here? :) Yes, the way you write about this makes me realize that I don't often think of it like this. Your view is a broad perspective one, and that's good. I am sorry that you didn't get the validation you deserved after divorcing your husband. You did deserve that.

castorgirl replied to Paul:

Don't offer things you'll later regret :)

Take care

Paul Author Profile Page replied to castorgirl:

So true.

Ivory said:

"I could imagine that someone might think that if I am able to keep my 'outside life' appear relatively normal, then am I only creating imaginary issues in therapy?"

OMG! I read and re read this paragraph!! It is soooo true! I once walked into therapy, sat down, and announced that I was not DID. T smiled and I burst out bawling. I honestly tried to convince him that I was normal and just having a bit of stress. He stepped up to the plate and helped me figure it out, even helped me decide how to go about "being" normal. I even told him I no longer needed therapy - you see I thought that if I "cut out all the uncomfortable stuff from therapy... my life just be so much easier." Well, didn't work, but I'm glad T at least gave me the benefit of the doubt. I have come to realize that while, yes, I am DID, I am also 2 distinct people with 2 distinct personas: Ivory in therapy who needs to say it all out loud, and Ivory who works, pays the mortgage, goes shopping and appears to be normal. (the latter is more difficult)

Paul Author Profile Page replied to Ivory:

Ivory. I think I remember when you did this. If I'm not mistaken you wrote about it on your blog, right? Don't worry, I've done this many times and I know many others have too.

Kerri said:

Paul I love this post because it is so relevant to people with DID. It's always amazed me that people label those with DID as attention seekers. How little they know. I have learned in my own case, that people who are not personally related to me can be quite voyeuristically interested in my DID to a disconcerting level. They ask questions about switching and so on, never giving a thought to the fact that for me just having DID tells the world of my pain and my trauma. DID speaks to an incredible vulnerability I feel every day, and body memories that just won't quit. Because there is this disconnect in people's minds between the reality of DID, and the contrived Hollywood version, they don't get how personal an issue it is. Yet the same person would know better than to probe someone about their depression with the same zeal, and inadvertent insensitivity. Because of this, I've learned that if I don't want to be treated as a movie of the week, I'd better keep my DID strictly to myself. 

Then there is family, my family, a group of people who can't stand talking about feelings, and shut you down as soon as you say anything personal. In my case talking to them about my DID is a waste of breath. Basically they don't want to know. So in my life I walk through it constantly holding onto the real knowledge of how I experience it, never letting others see. It creates a great disconnect with others in some ways, but to operate differently would lead to a big load of trouble i.e., people voyeuristically bugging me, or others fearing me and taking a wide berth. At least if I don't divulge again I won't have to suffer through a well meaning talk on how I need spiritual cleansing to get rid of the Demons inside of me. Silence can have it's benefits.

Paul Author Profile Page replied to Kerri:

Kerri. Sorry it took me a bit to get to your comment. I have heard from others that they perceive interactions with others as their being voyeuristic. That's not been my experience probably mainly because I've been careful about who and what I've told since forever. I agree with what you say about DID speaking to our vulnerability and how big and personal it is. I try to relate that to other areas. Like, and maybe this is a poor example but I'm a big sports fan, do most people have any idea what the reality is of like how much effort and skill and mental and physical "flow" is required to play professional sports at such a high level? I think most people think it's not that hard to hit a homerun off a 100mph ball that's spinning and changing direction just a few milliseconds before it reaches the player. I have come to really appreciate that most people don't understand things that are complicated. That's how I think about it. DID is really a small cohort in consideration of other mental issues. It's not something many pay attention to even though it's something you and I pay a lot of attention to. Am I rambling enough?

OneSurvivor said:

What I will say in private is very different from what I will say in public...even in the "public" of my blog. Yes, I have anonymity there to some extent, but there are certain things that I just don't discuss there...yet. The reason for my boundary is slowly changing, so I will probably discuss more as time goes on.

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This page contains a single entry published on April 19, 2011 2:38 PM.

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