Naming Parts of Our Dissociated Selves

| By Paul | | Comments (42)

One of the more difficult issues surrounding dissociative disorders is the so-called dissociative disorder language. Unfortunately, it is this language that is one of the reasons why dissociative disorders, including dissociative identity disorder, continue to be controversial. Perhaps the most difficult aspect of the language is naming of dissociated parts of self.

I know there are many times when my therapist asks the dreaded question "Are you feeling grounded as Paul?" In the hospital, I am sometimes asked the much more ingratiating question "Who am I talking to?" Either can go down in one of two ways. One frequent response is to be taken aback and roll my eyes. I often feel like I am "Paul" but maybe a very different shade of myself, and so the questions feel incredibly awkward. But then there are clearly times when I (or rather some aspect of me) readily answers to a different name. I suppose there is a middle way and that is that I am taken aback, but then realize that I am only acting as a barrier to some other part of me.

I believe, and this is based on my personal experiences, that the complexity of dissociation and how it manifests drives this type of necessary communication. My level of dissociation varies enormously over time. On one side, I can often be relatively whole with access to many aspects of me, experienced mostly as "shades of myself." But, on another, I can also often be extremely fragmented with little awareness of anything beyond what some narrow segment of me knows. As a result, there is no "perfect" (or probably even easy) way in therapy to interact with me, and while sometimes these questions feel uncomfortable, there needs to be space to ask them. If we are not direct, there is a huge potential to avoid addressing very real internal needs, which can then lead to problems such as safety issues or intolerable internal conflicts.

In therapy, the place where I make the most deliberate and focused effort to heal, there really is no other language to describe the very real partitioning in my head. We use names for parts because they have names, and to not use names would make communication difficult if not impossible.

I have always struggled with names of parts. I realize that some believe the very notion of having names for parts causes more problems or even creates them in the first place. I can understand that argument. For those of us with dissociative disorders, I think we need to come to our own personal understanding and response to such a message. For me, accepting that argument leads to denial and barriers. But, and this is a very big but, having names for parts should not ever be an excuse to take away our personal responsibility. I have seen this over and over again. We must own our actions, even if a part of us, even with a name, did them. I believe it is crucial to keep that perspective.

Names for dissociated parts of myself is one aspect of the language that my "system" (if I can use that word) ended up using to make sense of that system. While I know there were names associated with parts way back when, they were not so clearly defined as they are now. A number of the "hurt" parts were always thought of as shades of Paul or "young pieces of Paul." So there were many variants of the name Paul. And also there were "characteristics" as names, like "Dirty One", "Sexual One", "Evil One", etc. My experience of my dissociation as a kid and young adult was always in those contexts, with massive gaps in my awareness.

Back in 1991 when I found myself in the mental health system and my level of dissociation became more apparent, there was a more clear defining of names as a way to talk about experiences so that those who were helping me and I could find common ground. It is so much harder to say "the part of you who is very spiritual and wants to go to church and holds a lot of physical pain" than to just say a simple name.

The names of parts are much more specific now, and while this is one of the sources of controversy concerning dissociative identity disorder, this increased specificity has helped me in so many ways. I have long accepted that I have extremely compartmentalized parts of myself, and if I did not address them head on, I would be at an extreme disadvantage.

Being able to define parts more clearly allows me to know more specifically what parts represent, what their issues are and what their needs are. It has helped me put the pieces of my self and my life back together. It has helped me to be more whole and more functional in my life. It helps me to be more aware and safe. But most importantly, it has helped me to heal.


Shen said:

In an email to my therapist last night I was trying to explain something and in parentheses I wrote:

(I hate that I keep calling her she but there doesn't seem to be any other way to say it)

It's very frustrating. I know it's me. "she" knows it's me... I have come to calling these sides of me by the ages associated with them - the eight-year-old is the one most on my mind today. On vacation, I was very aware of the "very little one" who represents memories and emotions locked away before I was two.

English isn't made for this multiplicity and the words I have to use to get understanding often make me sound crazier than I ever feel. So - outside of this blog and with my therapist, and in a few other safe places, I don't try to explain this to anyone. It's good to be able to see all these parts of me clearly in my own head and speaking of the various sides of me as "she" is helpful to keep that straight, so I'm going to keep thinking that way. I'm very glad I do now have safe places to express these thoughts.

Paul Author Profile Page replied to Shen:

Thanks Shen. I think it's important to remember that each of us have to find our own way to communicate what our experiences are. Also, where you went in this post is what I'm planning to write about in my next post.

tai0316 said:

I'm really glad you wrote this Paul, it's an interesting topic.
I've seen some discussions about parts having names, not controversial stuff, it was mostly about whether therapists should talk to your parts by name or whether the person with DID can name their own parts or whether parts come pre-named, I don't know, stuff like that. I have realized recently that I don't fully grasp my own DID the way that I probably should. When I was diagnosed bipolar, that was so much easier because there was information out there that I got on an intellectual level. Having "parts" and "alters" is harder for me. Anyway I ramble, my comment was just going to be that, for me, and actually let me emphasize the word "me" since I don't know what other people's experiences are, but for me, some parts had names already when I became aware of them and some parts I named so that I could better understand myself and what was going on. For instance, there were parts that didn't have names but they embodied qualites or characteristics so I named them based on their function like "Control" etc.

Paul Author Profile Page replied to tai0316:

Tai, I hear what you are saying. Hopefully, for you, it will be something that has the same level of understanding and acceptance as bipolar. The main point is that we each have to come to terms with how it works for us, and everyone is different.

tai0316 replied to Paul:

I agree. It's important to remember that people experience things differently. Again, I'm glad you posted about this and I'll be interested in anything you may choose to write about this later.

Kylie said:

For me, I tend to ignore the controversy surrounding DID. I trust myself, my therapist and my friends to simply see me (and my parts) and recognise us for what we are - very complex. I do not feel it is anyone else's business to decide what is good for me and my healing. For us using names and defining parts helps us heal and that's what is important.

I think what I have really come to realise is that DID is a coping mechanism our minds created. Each person with DID has had to deal with different things and our minds would have used different strategies to cope with that. That make DID such an individual thing, It makes any trauma based issue an individual thing and it can be frustrating when people want to give it a formula.

I think its wonderful that you have found a way to help you heal and to function more. In the end that is the important thing.

Paul Author Profile Page replied to Kylie:

Thanks Kylie. What a very validating view you have for yourself. Most people struggle to have that level of acceptance, even for a short time.

David said:

Carl Jung, who wasn't dissociative, had names for various aspects of his psyche. I think we get so caught up in the language of psychological and emotional "illness" that we cease to see what is simply useful.

I remember when I was "feeling around" in my system, and would come across parts that didn't have names, but would have had to be described, as you mention in your post, by a long awkward sentence that was function-related. I simply wasn't willing to do that, so I would "test" names out on them. They always picked one. Sometimes it took a while, and sometimes they'd get annoyed with me and just pick one that I wasn't suggesting or wouldn't have thought of. It was kind of fun.

Paul Author Profile Page replied to David:

David, thanks. I didn't know that about Jung. Do you have a reference for that? I'm not at all a student of psychology. It's interesting how you have such good recall of how names came to be for you. I don't remember much of that. It all feels so long ago. And it all feels like I had such little role in naming parts.

David replied to Paul:

He talks about it in the later part of "Memories, Dreams, Reflections."

Paul Author Profile Page replied to David:

Thanks David!

Nansie said:

Wow Paul... I really love this post! During my healing I have become aware of some parts that like to have a name but then again it's all mostly "shades" of me. I like that word too because I think it's very accurate. I want to do more work on mapping out my "system" to gain more awareness of where I am at and what I did to cope. Prior to awareness and therapy I just always thought I could fluctuate my moods when I wanted to and always saw it as a gift I had. So with that in mind I also began perfecting the shift so it was smooth, very disguised and not noticable by anyone..especially my mother and family. I truly believed if they knew I had this "gift" they would take it away from me and it brought me safety from them.

So, some of these "moods" did get names just so that I could identify the emotion or "shade" of me that was going to take over for me. It was always situational and a part that would make whatever it was going on better and easier to manage. My parts work in the past tense. With all that's going on in my life currently I need to manage that with my adult skills. The adult in me is something that happened somewhere but I don't know how or when. So my other parts have stepped down because they are too scared of this situation to even consider coming forward. They are on retreat and gladly stay that way. They will not take on or even be part of what is currently going on in my life...I don't think they are capable of it due to their child-like status but they are very afraid of what will happen to them and who will take care of them.

I really do like the word "shades" as part of my daily life. I can't use it though for all of the parts...especially the younger ones...they are VERY separate from me and their own entity within. They watch and listen more than they act out. They are timid and stubborn about it. I feel that they will relax at some point in therapy and then start to deliver more information to the healing process. I hope anyway.
I do see a difference between my "shades" and then some of my "parts". It is a mix of both inside me. Shades are easier and parts are more solid and separate. While shades have flow to don't because they are bigger and more separate.

Thanks for this's really got me thinking about this in a good way and I'm going to copy and paste my response and send it to my T because by the time I go to therapy I will forget most of it. Good job here and thanks again.

Paul Author Profile Page replied to Nansie:

Nansie, thank you! This is a very good piece of awareness here for you! Good for you! It's really astounding how far you've come since we first started talking.

shen said:

As I read these comments, I had a thought.

I wonder if the reason I've never named parts - other than by their age - is because I don't consider myself important enough to be named. I don't like to hear my name, I don't ever sign it (usually just an innitial) unless I have to. I don't like to say my name - not my given name or the chosen one (Shen) which represents the creative and searching part of me. I think "shen" may be my core self, but I don't even like to hear that name spoken out loud.

My husband almost never uses my name - he uses an endearment to call me and I've always preferred that.

I thought about trying to name parts, a couple years ago, but it felt so embarrassing to me... it gave them too much power, in my mind.

All very interesting to think about. Thanks to all the commenters, and again to you, Paul.

Paul Author Profile Page replied to shen:

Shen. I'm responding late. I see David already commented to you. I tend to agree with pretty much everything David said. But I definitely don't have as much acceptance as he does and have struggled with all of this for a long time, and still do. What I said in this post is my position, but I definitely lose sight of it a lot. I think the important thing is to understand that what works for others may not work for you or may not be right for you. You have very valid thoughts on this. Your worry that naming might be not helpful may actually be true for you. The way you write about it sounds like there's a lot of searching for who you really are. A lot of what you said resonates with me. And it changes.

David said:

@ Shen --

My most important breakthrough in learning DID management came when I realized that, just like real people, alters want acknowledgment and recognition. The longer they go without it, the more likely they are to resort to inconvenient and/or harmful ways of getting attention. Even the elusive ones want to be acknowledged; they just don't want to admit it. Naming them, or allowing them to tell me their names, was a very simple but powerful key to unlocking cooperation. In doing this, I was very lucky in never having had any resistance to the DID diagnosis; I had diagnosed myself as being multiple when I was around twelve years old, and so I was pretty on board with the idea that they were there and they were powerful regardless of whether I knew their names, so I might as well know their names.

Names are powerful, powerful tools for enlisting cooperation. People who are trying to control others do not allow name usage, because it creates a personal bond that makes it more difficult for cruelty or control to be established. This very simple fact turned on a real light in my head when I was thinking about how to negotiate/communicate with dark or destructive alters. It was much harder for them once I started using their names. It put our relationship on a different plane, and it made me, as the organizing principle of the system, a different authority.

Coach2 replied to David:

Shen and Paul,

I get so little time to post. Pardon me throwing all my response into one. I've often felt an envy or jealousy for what I assume names might offer in understanding and perhaps in safety from shame. I've also fantasized if parts had names I wouldn't be so deathly lonely and sad. I know this is not true.

But alas, what I have was found from one of my first reads on Mind Parts. I have spaces, and some thread or picture Paul had shows what I know of me. No names for sure. But I have currents distinct above below beside like lightwave forms that shift.

I would say the co-conscious that I do have feels physically as I am standing in strong stream that switches. Or I'm in one stream and then within another stream a voice and conversation is occuring-often it like hearing from another room, and I am ever so sleepy during these experiences and I'm told my eyes roll up, my head drops and the very young boy comes forward speaks like from "the sticks" but is so very competent and brave. He it seems is allowed access to other streams where I am not.

See, so much for names. I think names could be awful for my children that I raise.

castorgirl said:

What about the names which aren't positive or complimentary in any way, how does that effect your ability to heal?

Paul Author Profile Page replied to castorgirl:

CG. I don't know. There are so many things that make healing difficult. Names are not that high on my list, but they are on my list. More important, I think, is what you wrote about on your blog post today... about internal trust, and about acceptance that parts of me can be negative. I'm not sure I'm answering this well. Does this help at all?

castorgirl replied to Paul:

I suppose my question is tied to self worth. I don't want to name any parts here, but the names of different ones were often taken from the insult being directed at me at the time of the abuse. So names like Aimee are rare. Names come with connotations and expectations... if S is a sexual name, then that adds to the stereotype assigned to her. So while I agree that there needs to be a way to validate different ones, is this possible when their name is so negative?

Don't worry, it's a rhetorical question.

Take care,

Paul Author Profile Page replied to castorgirl:

Even though you say it's a rhetorical question, I'm going to try to answer. Yes, I think you can validate when names are negative. I think maybe eventually it leads to grieving on your part and their part about why those names needed to be chosen and how they came to be. And, as David said, there can be room for having new roles, new perceptions of self (or selves) and new names. The names do not need to be fixed.

tai0316 replied to Paul:

I just wanted to say that I think, at least with myself, my therapist always tries to get me to a place of compassion for my parts and sometimes me knowing the names that are "negative" helps me to understand why that part is in existence and maybe feel something for "them" so to speak. Like when I first became aware of my teenage angry alter, I was SO scared of her because I feared that showing anger would make me like my mother, later I came to feel compassion for the reason that she had to exist and it changed "our" relationship. That's all, just my two-cents worth. :)

Paul Author Profile Page replied to tai0316:

Tai, Compassion is so helpful, I have found, in helping us heal. That's great advice from your therapist!

David replied to castorgirl:

I think there are ways to tweak those names that allow them to be recognized with room for movement. I had a part that identified only as "the ugly piece of crap." I addressed it as "the one who feels like an ugly piece of crap." It was a pretty good compromise, for acknowledged how the part saw himself, without saying that anyone else felt that way about him. There was more latitude for him to change how he felt, if he was ready to do that.

castorgirl replied to David:

Thank you all for your feedback and suggestions.

David said:

@ Castorgirl --

I can speak only from my own experience, but what I found is that it made a difference whether I was assigning the name, or whether the part assigned its own name. I had two very negative parts that referred to themselves as "The Disgusting Things." When I mentioned this in therapy, Debbie asked if they had any other better name, and they adamantly insisted that they did not. She took what I thought was a great attitude about it, and said, "Well, when they're ready to have a different name, they'll let you know."

Calling a negative part something other than what it calls itself doesn't make it less negative, and doing that also compromises honesty in the system, in my opinion. Again, I can speak only for myself, but it wasn't long until The Things shifted to calling themselves Shadows, and that's what they stayed with.

Shen said:

Great question, CG. It reminds me of the one I think of as "the rag doll." I've never thought of it as a name... which is interesting in itself, I think.

kerri said:

Hello Paul, My name is Kerri and I have been reading your blog for a little while now, and have found your way of speaking/writing very interesting. I hope it's O.K. if I weigh in here, as this topic has really got me thinking. My alters/inner family, didn't have names for the longest time, because they were so busy pretending to be me, they thought they might slip up and let people know of their existence if they had their own. But once my childhood and teenage years were over, this was less of a necessity and they started really coming into their own. Now they wouldn't feel complete without their names and/or designations. Michael for example wants to be Michael, whereas Miss 10 sees this designation as her name and likes it just the way it is. At one point my therapist kept insisting on calling everyone Kerri all the time, stating it would just make my dissociation worse if he didn't. I do not subscribe to this theory, because it didn't make my alters go away by constantly doing this, rather all it did was infuriate them and make their behaviors more deliberate and imposing, because they constantly felt insulted and invalidated. All they wanted was respect for who they experience themselves to be, and saying their names is a huge acknowledgement of this for them. Such a simple thing can mean so much. 

Paul Author Profile Page replied to kerri:

Kerri. Thank you for commenting. Of course you can weigh in! Glad you did. I have much the same experience as you did. When I do not acknowledge parts, it only causes internal conflict. Respect, validation, names... all are important and helpful.

kerri said:

Oh by the way, I didn't introduce myself. I am Australian, 41, married and have two kids. I love archaeology and majored in this at university, and was a qualified Nurse for ten years. I only found out about my alters three years ago, which really made so many mysteries in my life fall into place, and I have Aspergers and Bi-polar 2 ( which at times can put my safety in question during hypomanic episodes). Thought I'd return the favor since I know more about you from your blog.

wantstorun (wtr) said:


Thanks for the topic/discussion. Interesting to read, to understand and to know that others can have similar experiences.

Shen~definitely relate to the "she" discussion you had with your T. There are several parts that I have very good co-consciousness with, but when with the T it is awkward to hear a different part of me (with a different-sounding voice) refer to myself as "she." My alters don't refer to me ever by the body's given name.

David (and Paul), we've done the same thing with 'trying out' names for parts. Yes, it is hard to have communication and understanding if there is not some designation of the other you are working with.

Castogirl ~ I definitely have parts that are more known by what would be considered unflattering names (i.e. "Whore"). That part wore her 'name' like a proud badge ... even tho deep down she carries a lot of hurt and shame. She still feels 'useless' for anything but those type of activities, but she has matured some, in that she understands/recognizes that it can be very uncomfortable for other members of the system to call her "Whore." She has adopted the name "Jane" now (short for "Jane Doe" because she still considers herself a nobody) - but, there is progress. Other parts that have difficult names are learning that they are more than the duty/name they have experienced in the past. Part of the healing for us is being able to separate deeds from personality.

What a great post and very honest, thought-provoking, helpful responses.


Paul Author Profile Page replied to wantstorun (wtr):

Hi Wantstorun, Yes, one of the great things about blogging is that you learn that you are not alone in the problems you face. So, that's super helpful. It's nice to hear that many have thought of this issue. I, too, have had a part change a name from a more menacing name to a less menacing name. It was a year ago. I don't know how that came to be, but it did. And it has changed things internally.

Holly said:

How timely ... I've been discussing the name thing in therapy myself. I have a hard time with the names (there are specific, individual names in my system - unfortunately, sort of the stereotypical idea of DID). I see others blog or participate in discussions where they freely, and it appears comfortably, mention parts of their system by name. And I guess I'm a little jealous of that. I don't necessarily need to reference parts of my system by name publicly, but I can't even do it privately, or in therapy, without a good deal of ratcheting up my courage! It's even difficult to do in my own journal!

My therapist reminds me that names are just tags. Like you said here:

"It is so much harder to say "the part of you who is very spiritual and wants to go to church and holds a lot of physical pain" than to just say a simple name."

That's really true. And I tell myself it's no big deal, just a tag, saying the names just simplifies the discussion, that's all. But it doesn't work. It remains something I have an enormously difficult time with. It's very frustrating.

Thanks for writing on this topic.

Paul Author Profile Page replied to Holly:

Holly. Great comment. I can understand your being jealous of others being able to talk about parts by name. I try to see it as something that is really self-protective on my part. I think I have slipped a couple times here. But not so sure. I may have named a part in a post, but then taken them out. I almost always realize that it lead to too much vulnerability. And try very hard not to have a judgment about it. I say to myself that it's okay. I can understand the "it's just a tag" position, but I try very hard to not go there. I worry that it's not validating to parts who are very attached to names. Some of my names go back very far and have large meaning. Some not so much.

Leslie said:

Wow, Paul, thanks so much for this post. It is amazing to read something and feel like someone else read your mind and recorded your thoughts! This really captures the way my mind works. I couldn't have said it better, so I'm glad you said it for us all!

Paul Author Profile Page replied to Leslie:

Thank you Leslie. And thank you for sharing the link to your blog. I will be sure to check it out. I already love the background on it! I am often careful to share how things work for me because I'm always afraid I'll be the only one who experiences it. So, it is nice to hear that I am certainly not alone.

OneSurvivor said:

Part and names. Characteristics and responsibilities. These can be so different with each person. I agree that responsibility for actions must be owned...regardless of "who" does them.

I also see the difficulty with naming. Naming does make communication easier. In my experience, renaming (or even initial naming) is a good thing so long as the one being named agrees to it. Sometimes, a new name is representative of changing roles. As we heal...especially from RA...some roles are no longer needed and new roles/jobs are found.

When feeling more whole with aspects of self, identity can feel kind of odd. I think of questions like: Is there really more than one of me? Am I blending to the degree that the separateness is less there? Are parts of me just "shut down" and quiet? Why do I think (or feel) the way I do right now?

Good post, Paul. Lots to think about here.

Paul Author Profile Page replied to OneSurvivor:

OneSurvivor: Thank you for what you wrote. The funniest thing in all of this was that when I had a part rename last year, I honestly thought it made me a total fraud. I tried really hard to reality check it, though. But I thought I was the only one who had ever done that. So interesting and helpful to hear that it's not as uncommon as I thought.

OneSurvivor replied to Paul:

Interesting that it made you feel like a fraud. I have sometimes leaned toward that feeling, but for other reasons. I have leaned in that direction because of having experiences that seem to be so different from most others. I have only run into two others that I can recall are like me. But there ARE others. I am not a fraud...merely different.

I share that because...even if you were the only to have an alter choose a new would not be a fraud. I have often said that I think there are as many variations on multiplicity as there are multiples. ;-)

Paul Author Profile Page replied to OneSurvivor:

Hi OneSurvivor. Yes, feeling like a fraud is something I hear a lot of from a lot of people. Maybe this is too personal to write here, but I wonder what you mean when you say you have only run into two others like you? In what way?

OneSurvivor replied to Paul:

I am very tired and, for some reason, thinking about this makes my brain swirl. I will try to come back to this later... if I remember and if I can.

Psych Client said:

I can identify with much of what I read in this and other posts discussing dissociation. I only realized after I shared a dream with my therapist (it was a disturbing dream) that each person in that dream, well it was a nightmare, might have been parts of me.

This topic when brought up in therapy by my therapist usually results in me angrily saying "I know who I am". The truth is I really don't know who I am. I don't have names but once my therapist would assign a character name to some people I would talk about in my life.

After the nightmare, and still since that time which was some months ago now, I have gone over the deep end. Literally. This has led to substance abuse, inpatient and now I am in outpatient for recovery.

I am getting unbelievably triggered by this process and also seeing my therapist. Its triggering several what I call parts of me. The scariest one is what I call the tazmanian devil. I can't control this level of anger not at all. I try and run away from everyone when I feel him coming on.

I doubt I will broach this subject with my therapist. I have been with him 5 years and still learn so much from him and about myself.

Here is one question: I just cleaned out my closet for a neighbor who sister needs clothes. Many of what I found still had price tags on them and I don't remember buying them.

Does this mean I have forgotten or is it something else?

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This page contains a single entry published on April 16, 2011 8:28 PM.

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