Dissociative identity disorder (DID) used to be known as multiple personality disorder. It’s a psychological condition in which a person has two or more distinct personality states that have their own ways of thinking and behaving. As Web MD explains, the condition is believed to be caused in most cases by early childhood abuse. If someone you love has been diagnosed with DID, you may be feeling overwhelmed and wondering what you can do to help.
Ask How You Can Help
One of the best things you can do is to simply ask your loved one how you can help. I can tell you some things that help me, but everyone with DID is not the same. Encourage your loved one to let you know ways that you can help. Asking for help can be difficult for some people, so reassure her that it’s OK to ask for what she needs.
Be a good listener. Sometimes that’s really all I need, someone to listen. Let your loved one talk about her feelings and experiences. Don’t be too quick to jump in with advice or try to fix things for her. It may be uncomfortable for you sometimes to listen to her express strong feelings or talk about difficult experiences, but it’s important for her to be able to share these things.
Respond to Different Alters Differently
Keep in mind the fact that different alters are, well, different. One alter may not recall a conversation you had with another alter. Child alters may not understand some grown-up topics, like finances. Child alters may act very childish. You may even encounter alters that don’t know who you are!
It can be frustrating if your loved one switches personalities in the middle of a discussion or doesn’t remember important things. It’s probably frustrating for her, too. It’s OK to ask for a specific alter, but not everyone can switch on command. It’s also OK to ask who is out if you’re not sure.
Don’t be afraid to set boundaries and to communicate those to your loved one. If you cannot be available for middle of the night phone calls because you have to be at work early in the morning, say so. If you’re just too uncomfortable listening to graphic descriptions of childhood abuse, say so, and help your loved one identify someone else she can talk to about those things. You’ll both feel better if the boundaries are clear. Just make sure to communicate your boundaries to all the alters that need to know them.
Encourage Her to See a Therapist
Dissociative identity disorder is a serious and complex condition. Most people with the condition benefit from treatment with a skilled, experienced therapist. You can’t force your loved one to see a therapist if she doesn’t want to, but encourage her to do so. You can help her find a qualified therapist if she needs help with that and you can offer to go with her if she’s nervous about going to therapy.
Don’t Try to Be Her Therapist
Don’t try to take the place of a good therapist. Even if you actually are a therapist by profession, you’re not your loved one’s therapist. Therapists are not supposed to treat people they have personal relationships with, and for good reason. You can help in many ways, including by being a good listener, but don’t assume that takes the place of therapy. Don’t try to push your loved one to remember painful childhood experiences or push her to deal with feelings she doesn’t think she’s ready for; those are things better left to her therapist.
Take Care of Yourself
In the midst of doing all you can for your loved one, don’t forget to take care of yourself. Get enough rest, eat well, make sure you have some free time to yourself and find someone you can talk to about the things you’re going through. You might even benefit from seeing a therapist yourself. When someone you love has a serious condition like DID, it creates a lot of stress for you and it’s important to take care of your own needs if you want to be able to continue helping your loved one with her issues.
Web MD. http://www.webmd.com/mental-health/dissociative-identity-disorder-multiple-personality-disorder. Dissociative Identity Disorder (Multiple Personality Disorder).
Alderman, Tracy and Karen Marshall. Amongst Ourselves: A Self-Help Guide to Living with Dissociative Identity Disorder. 1998.