Dissociative Identity Disorder has nothing to do with “multiple personalities.”


The psychiatric condition known as Dissociative Identity Disorder has nothing to do with “multiple personalities.”

People who are afflicted with DID only ever have one personality. There is never more than one “person” inside someone’s skin— no matter how it may feel to the person or appear to outsiders.

I spent the first several years of my career working almost exclusively with adults who had experienced horrendous trauma as children— many of whom were diagnosed, in adulthood, with Dissociative Identity Disorder. In the course of this work, I came to understand that DID is one of the most misunderstood, inappropriately treated conditions that exists.

How did DID come to be associated with the idea of “multiple personalties?”

The condition we know as Dissociative Identity Disorder started off called “Multiple Personality Disorder.” Which is a shame, because this misnomer put a lot of ideas into a lot of peoples’ heads about what DID is.

Yes, people who have DID have many “parts” to their core personalities– as do we all.

ALL of us have parts of us that protect us, seek pleasure, avoid pain, sabotage us sometimes, and even disagree with other parts of us. That’s normal.

What happens with DID, however, is that those parts of someone’s core personality SEEM to take on a life of their own and assume what psychologists call “executive control” of a person’s behavior— that is to say, it SEEMS like the various parts of a person’s core personality are out, relating to the world, and making decisions, independently of the other parts of that person’s personality.

That’s not, actually, what’s happening. Parts don’t “take over.” ALL aspects of a person’s core identity remain intact at all times— even if they’re temporarily forced into the “background,” they still exist and they still interact with the rest of that person.

So what’s the deal? Why does it seem, in DID, like the parts of a person’s personality are acting independently of the others?

It’s mostly because early developmental trauma inflicts cognitive impairment on people.

In fact, what was once upon a time labeled “multiple personalties” should, by rights, be more aptly named something like “trauma-induced cognitive impairment.”

DID is not nearly as bizarre or exotic as you might think. In movies, it’s dramatic and obvious when someone “switches” between parts. In real life, it’s mostly subtle and frustrating.

What trauma does to the brain is make it difficult to organize and integrate what we know, what we experienced, what we feel, and our behavioral decisions. The non-traumatized brain has a much easier time remembering who we are and what we’re all about, and using that information to make decisions about how to relate to the world and what to do. The traumatized brain struggles with this— because its development was impaired before it had learned how to do it.

People recover from DID to the extent that they learn to compensate for the developmental cognitive impairment their trauma inflicted on their brains.

The more we can get away from thinking of DID as “multiple personalties,” the more equipped we’ll be to effectively treat the disorder— and the less shame and stigma people diagnosed with DID will experience in seeking out treatment and using coping strategies in the real world.

Dissociation, as a psychological defense, is all about altered neuropsychology. That’s why I choose to think about DID, as well as other trauma-induced conditions that include an element of dissociation, as a form of cognitive injury.

It’s truly not all that different from a head injury. DID happens because a trauma— maybe physical, maybe relational, maybe emotional or verbal or sexual— has damaged the areas in the brain that remember, assimilate and integrate information, and support decision making. That’s EXACTLY what happens when someone experiences a physical traumatic brain injury from, say, a blow to the head.

It’s not a crazy or made-up condition.

In fact, the main reason we think of it as a crazy or made-up condition is because of its stupid former name, “multiple personality disorder.” The whole idea of someone having “multiple personalties” is so far out there to most people, that they assume it can’t be real.

DID is very real.

It’s literally a brain injury.

If you have DID, your parts are not independent, autonomous entities. They’re all you— it’s just that your brain is having a hard time integrating all the parts of you due to the trauma you’ve experienced. No more, no less.

Parts don’t “go away” when DID is successfully treated.

In fact, when DID is successfully treated, the various parts of your personality now become even more important— because you can access them, listen to them, and use them in your everyday life. They don’t remain cordoned off behind a veil of dissociative amnesia, just laying in wait to ambush you.

I’m sorry to burst anyone’s bubble about how interesting or dramatic Dissociative Identity Disorder is.

But we don’t do anyone any favors by pretending it’s anything more or less than a traumatic brain injury, which results in cognitive impairment.

Accepting that is the first step toward healing it.


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We don’t have to create situations in life that we hate.


Why do we so often create situations we hate? 

It’s a maddening pattern for a lot of us. The exact situations we hate, the exact situations we’d prefer to avoid, the exact situations that chip away at our quality of life…we tend to create and perpetuate. 

I’m not talking about self-blame. I’m talking about the way many of us very directly create those situations that we hate. 

We hate messy environments— yet we continue to toss our clothes on the floor, delay cleaning the kitchen, put off doing the vacuuming. 

We hate the feeling of having eaten too much— yet we continue to stuff ourselves on every eating occasion. 

We hate feeling stiff and inflexible— yet we refuse to do the few minutes of stretching that would help avoid those physical feelings. 

We hate feeling rushed and pressured— yet we procrastinate and avoid tasks until the ONLY way they get accomplished is under the gun or at the last minute. 

Why do we do this to ourselves? 

It’s not because we’re stupid. Most of us who engage in these counterproductive behaviors know exactly how it will all unfold. 

In fact, that’s part of what makes the pattern so maddening: we can observe perfectly well what’s going on…we just can’t seem to change it, even as we observe it. 

When we knock the problem down to its basic elements, it usually ends up being something to the tune of: we do not connect he dots between the little behaviors we do that perpetuate the problem, and the big, overwhelming situation that we end up hating. 

For example: when we’re tossing our clothes on the floor, our focus is not on the eventual mess we’re creating. Our focus is on the convenience, right then and there, of doing something easy with our clothes. 

When we’re eating too much, our focus is not on the eventual feeling of fullness and discomfort we’ll feel. It’s on the pleasure we’re experiencing, right then and there, of stuffing our face. 

When we have the opportunity to stretch our bodies, our focus is not on the feeling of stiffness or discomfort that we’ll eventually feel if we DON’T do it. Our focus is on the convenience and desirability of doing something else we’d prefer to do, right then and there, in the moment. 

When we’re avoiding a task, our focus is not on the feeling of panic and pressure that we’ll eventually feel because we’ve put the task off. It’s very often on the anxiety and annoyance we’re feeling, right then and there, to have to deal with the task at all. 

The good news is: it’s all a matter of focus. 

The even better news is: if we can get into the habit of connecting the dots between our momentary behaviors and bigger situations— that is, if we can get into the habit of bringing the larger pattern into focus at the right times— we can turn our natural inclinations around faster than you’d believe possible. 

The process is twofold: we have to recognize when a shift in focus is necessary; and we need to be able to make the appropriate shift of focus that will allow us to change behavioral directions. 

Recognizing when we need to make a shift in focus is really just a matter of sitting down, reviewing the situations you encounter in a day, and identifying when and where you’re making those little moment-by-moment decisions that are kicking your butt. 

The truth is, to lead successful lives, we really only have to master a few moments a day— our decision-making moments. 

How many moments in the course of a day are we actively making decisions? 

Five, maybe ten, maybe fifteen minutes at the outset, where you actually have to make a decision about what you’re going to do? 

It may seem like more, but the research suggests that there are only a handful of actual, active decision-making moments in our days. 

Figure those moments out. 

Figure out when you’re dropping the clothes on the floor. When you’re overeating. When you’re passing up the opportunity to stretch. When you’re putting off tasks. 

Review your days over the course of a week— I guarantee you’ll find some very consistent patterns. 

Then it becomes a matter of intentionally, consciously, purposefully pushing the pause button in those moments…and shifting our focus. 

The skill isn’t, actually, very hard. 

We can shift focus in the blink of an eye…if we can remember when to do it. If we don’t go on autopilot. 

We don’t have to create or prolong situations in life that we hate. 

But we will, unless we get serious about managing our focus in critical moments. 


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Raindrops. Move. Mountains.


Teeny, tiny drops of water can fill a bucket. 

They can fill a swimming pool. 

Given enough time, they can— and will— carve whole riverbeds out of rocky monoliths. 

Indeed, given enough time, no mountain can withstand the assault of teeny, tiny drops of water. It may take awhile, but it WILL erode away.

Raindrops can move mountains. 

In fact, most of the mountains that have ever existed have been shaped— literally moved— by water in various forms, from raindrops to glaciers. 

Understand: there’s nothing special about water. 

Water is the most common element on the planet. We encounter it every day. We’re mostly water. It’s the most prosaic element out there. 

But it moves mountains and carves canyons. 

Indeed— water is the ONLY thing that, in the history of the planet, that has reliably moved mountains and carved canyons. (Water has been shaping geography since long before human beings were on this planet, let alone had the capacity to shape the landscape.) 

How is this relevant to your recovery? 

Because most of the things you’ll do in the course of your recovery amount to teeny, tiny raindrops. Drops in the bucket, if you will. 

Yes, you may have experiences whereby you gain more than a little ground, whereby you have a breakthrough, whereby you have an “ah ha!” moment that puts you ahead of the game. 

But most of your efforts are going to amount to drops in the bucket. 

A little here, a little there. 

You use a skill at a particular time that doesn’t seem like it makes all THAT much of a difference— it’s just a drop in the bucket. 

You use a tool that doesn’t seem like it makes your day all THAT much better— it’s just a drop in the bucket. 

You have a therapy session or attend a Twelve Step meeting that doesn’t seem like it really changed the equation all THAT much— it’s just a drop in the bucket. 

You stayed sober for one day— or even one hour— when you really wanted to use, but really, what is a day or an hour? 

That’s right: it’s just a drop in the bucket. 

This is why we need to stop and remember: teeny, tiny drops fill buckets. 

They fill swimming pools. They fill oceans. 

And your teeny, tiny behavioral “drops in the bucket” WILL get you through this. 

If you’re going to succeed, either in recovery or life development, you’re going to need to develop a healthy respect for drops in buckets. 

You’re going to have to get past the impulse to deride little decisions or victories as inconsequential because they’re not huge, profound tidal waves. 

Drops in the bucket MATTER. 

If you’re in pain, if you’re suffering from an addiction or a post traumatic disorder or a mood disorder or an anxiety disorder, if you’re struggling to figure your life out, chances are you didn’t arrive at this painful place overnight. 

How did you get behaviorally and emotionally “sick?” 

That’s right: drops in a bucket over time. Toxic drops, but drops all the same. 

It’s how most change happens in humans. Our behaviors and brains change a little, teeny, tiny bit at a time. Each drop in the bucket becomes what we psychologists call a micro-reinforcer, conditioning us toward a behavioral and emotional outcome. 

If you want to change in a positive way, a way you choose, a way that’s consistent with your goals and values, I strongly advise you to quit waiting for the firehose to come blast you in the face. 

Instead, refocus on filling your bucket. 

Drop, by drop, by drop. 


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We can make good choices. Even when it’s hard.


There is a temptation to think that, when we are in pain, distress, or discomfort, we somehow lose our ability to choose our responses to outside events. 

For example: when asked why they crashed their diet, a subset of people might respond, “I was hungry.” Or they might respond, “I had a craving.” Or they might respond, “I was under stress.” 

Those might all be true statements— but they only speak to what INFLUENCED the choice that person made to crash their diet. 

That person did not LOSE the ability to make a different choice based on those factors. 

It just became more DIFFICULT to make the choice to stay on their diet. 

“Difficult” is not “impossible.” 

But for some reason, we often get it in our heads that it is. 

We get it in our heads that if our comfort is compromised— if we’re having a hard day, if we’re stressed, if we’re tired, if we’re anxious— that we simply cannot make good decisions.

Our job is to make the very best decision— that is, the decision that is most aligned with our goals and values— that we possibly can in the moment. 

Where did we get the idea that discomfort, stress, and pain make it “impossible” to make good decisions? 

Let me be clear: I’m not, in any way, saying that making good decisions is always easy. 

I’m saying that making a comparatively good decision is always POSSIBLE. 

And if our goal is the achievement of our goals and the fulfillment of our values, making the best decisions among the available alternatives is vital. 

Mind you: we can have sympathy for the fact that sometimes it’s hard to make good decisions. 

We can acknowledge the fact that it’s a serious BUMMER, that making good decisions isn’t always the most comfortable or convenient thing. 

I wish making good decisions was easier. I wish there weren’t factors that made it so easy to make lousy decisions sometimes and so easy to make poor decisions. 

But the fact that it’s not easy doesn’t let us off the hook. 

The truth is, I think some people try to convince others that it’s IMPOSSIBLE to make hard decisions is an attempt to let THEMSELVES off the hook when THEY have difficulty making poor decisions. 

We don’t have to like the fact that making good decisions isn’t always easy, or that it’s our responsibility to make the best decision we can even when we don’t feel like it. 

But we do have to accept it. 

If we don’t accept our responsibility to make good decisions, you’d better believe that no one else is going to come along and make good decisions on your behalf…no matter what some people seem to fantasize. 

And that really, is what we’re talking about: if you care about your goals, if you care about your values, if you care about your values…it’s on you to consistently make decisions that support them. 

Why? Because no one else will. 

No one else can— or should— care about your goals and values as much as you. 

Consequently, no one else can— or should— take as much responsibility as you do for their achievement and fulfillment. 

By pretending we simply cannot make good decisions when it’s inconvenient or uncomfortable, we surrender our ability to actually make our goals happen. 

We basically give up on those things that should be our top priorities…all because we value our comfort too much. 

It’s not worth it. 

Respect your goals and values— your dreams— more than than that. 

Do the hard thing. Make the better choice. 

Even if it’s not easy. 

What if you have more self discipline than you think you do?


You probably have more self discipline than you think you do. 

I know, I know. You’ve spent all this time convincing yourself that you have no discipline, and that you can’t say “no” to yourself. 

You’ve had repeated experiences of deciding to do a thing…then caving in and doing that thing. 

You’ve tried to diet…but not been able to stick to the diet (and probably proclaimed in exasperation, “DIETS DON”T WORK!” in the aftermath). 

Especially in this culture, we spend an awful lot of time and energy convincing ourselves that we simply cannot do things. We can’t quit addictions, we can’t stop procrastinating, we can’t make ourselves exercise, we can’t push through difficult experiences. 

But…what if we can? 

What if the idea that we are powerless over our whims…is actually a trick the culture has played on us to make us feel helpless? 

Because I can tell you, I’ve worked with a lot of people who have been thoroughly convinced that they are fundamentally weak…and many of them are the furthest thing from “weak.” 

I’ve seen some of the strongest-willed people I’ve ever met effortfully try to convince themselves and me that they are simply helpless in the face of strong feelings, memories, or urges. 

I just don’t buy it. That they— or any of us— are helpless, that is. 

Humans have a really difficult relationship with the idea of pain. We very often don’t know what to do with it or about it. 

We know we don’t like it and we try to get away from it, but beyond that, pain is something that tends to confuse and frighten us. Sometimes we get all existential and ask questions about what the metaphysical meaning or purpose of pain is, but in general, our relationship with pain is basically summed up in the observation that pain is that thing we do our best to avoid. 

Which is a bummer, really. Because in our zeal to avoid pain, we often have to convince ourselves of things that are simply not true— such as that we are “helpless” over our addictions, behavior, emotions, or urges. 

Don’t get me wrong: I dislike pain as much as anyone. I became a psychologist explicitly because I want as many people as possible to develop the skills and acquire the tools they need to have LESS pain in their lives. 

As M. Scott Peck once said of himself, I’m not a pain freak. I’m a joy freak. 

Convincing ourselves we are helpless, that we do not have sufficient self disciple to live our values or achieve or goals, is often not a reflection of reality. It reflects our desire to avoid pain. 

The pain of trying and failing. The pain of growing. The pain of feeling awkward as we try out new skills and tools. The pain of having to deprive ourselves. The pain of uncertainty. 

Let me ask you this: if you really DID have the self discipline that you’re thoroughly convinced you don’t have…what would be the worst part of that? 

What would you have to do that you’re currently afraid to do? 

What is the pain you’re trying to avoid by convincing yourself you are helpless? 

Understand, most people don’t do this consciously or on purpose. Nobody wakes up in the morning and says, “Hmm, I think I’m going to lie to myself today about how much self discipline I actually have.’ 

Most of us have actually be conditioned, day after day after day, to repeat to ourselves these unempowering messages and believe these unempowering ideas. Marketers LOVE to convince us we ARE helpless…because that’s their opportunity to sell us stuff to help us feel better. 

All I want to do with this blog post is to plant a seed in your mind: maybe you’re not helpless. 

Maybe you have more self discipline than you think. 

Maybe you can do things that are hard. 

Maybe that feeling of helplessness is about fear…not reality. 

What if? 

What would you do with your life if you weren’t afraid? 

What if you can stop smoking? Stick to a diet? Stay clean? Follow through? 

What if it’s not even as hard as you’ve been brainwashed to think it is? 

Just let that idea sink into your mind for a bit. 

What if? 

Progress and stability. Yawn.


Many of us SAY we want stability and progress. 

We SAY we want to move toward our goals and values, and to avoid the chaotic ups and downs that make our lives difficult and miserable. 

…and then we go and behave in ways that can’t help but sabotage our progress and stability. 

Why do we do this? 

It’s not, usually, because we’re stupid. There are very, very smart people who are very, very good at torpedoing their stability and progress. 

It’s not, usually, because we’re unmotivated. If personal development or habit change is even on our radar in the first place, we’re usually motivated enough, especially when compared to the population at large. 

So what’s going on, then? 

Believe it or not, many peoples’ difficulty embracing stability and progress has to do with the fact that, well, progress and stability can be pretty boring. 

If we’re making progress toward goals, that’s usually because we’ve constructed a well-thought out plan that includes intermediate goals and daily habits and rituals that will get us closer to those goals. 

If we’re emotionally and behaviorally stable, it’s usually because we’ve identified those triggers that send us off the deep end, and we’ve discovered or adapted tools and skills to manage those triggers. 

Stability and progress are hard work. And if we’re doing them right, they are, objectively, kind of boring. 

They involve a lot of repetition. 

They involve a lot of pre-planning. 

They involve a lot of work when there’s no immediate payoff. 

Sometimes they explicitly require us to step away from situations that are, or might, be, gratifying in the short term. 

It’s all a bit of a drag…at least, from a certain point of view. 

Our brains do tend to crave novelty and excitement. Look at the movies and media we, as a culture, enjoy— we like mystery, we like plot twists, we like drama. 

Progress and stability are the exact opposites of mystery, plot twists, and drama. 

So sometimes, despite our best intentions and efforts, our brains kind of go behind our backs to create mystery, plot twists, and drama…at the expense of our progress and stability. 

Understand, there are neuropsychological reasons for this. It has nothing to do with intelligence, it has nothing to do with integrity, it has nothing to do with morality. Some of the best, smartest people unwittingly create drama for themselves and sabotage their progress and stability, because their brains are simply bored. 

That’s the bad news. 

The good news is: once we’re aware that our brains’ appetite for stimulation really is a risk factor that will torpedo our stability and progress if we let it, then we can actually do something about it. 

We can short-circuit our brains’ propensity to go behind our back and make our life difficult. 

We have to make sure that, even in the midst of working toward our goals and managing our emotional and behavioral stability, we’ve included enough novelty and stimulation in our lives that our brains won’t feel the need to create it on their own. 

This is where interests and hobbies come in. 

Sometimes patients think it’s lame when I, as the therapist, encourage them to really explore and get involved in things they like. 

The truth is, I’m not telling them to get hobbies and interests simply because that’s what therapists are supposed to encourage. 

I’m telling them that so their brain doesn’t get bored and restless, and sabotage all the good work we’re doing. 

There’s more to the equation than hobbies and interests, certainly. In order to keep our brains from getting bored, restless, and lonely, we also have to pay attention to our time management, energy reserves, diet, relationships, and other factors. 

Like most things in the arena of personal development, this problem requires a multi-modal approach. 

But the first step is to acknowledge the problem— acknowledge the potential for a serious problem in constructing and reinforcing your stability and progress— and then begin, step by step, to construct a strategy to handle it. 

Yeah, you totally have limits. So?


So many of us flip out when we bump up against our limits. 

We’ve been taught that having limits is bad. 

We’re not supposed to think in terms of “I can’t do this.” 

We’re supposed to embrace our UNLIMITED POTENTIAL, right?!? 

That’s what all the self-help gurus say, anyway. 

I can assure you: you have limits. There are absolutely things you cannot do. 

I can also assure you that this fact probably matters a lot less than you’ve been taught to think it does. 

Who are we kidding, when we go around pretending we don’t have limits? This is the real world; of course we have limits. 

We only have so much time. We only have so much money at any given time. We only have a finite amount of focus. We have a finite amount of physical strength and energy. 

You have limits. It’s not a big deal. 

And THAT— THAT is where the problem usually is. 

The problem is not that we have limits. We are human. This is reality. We live in a world that is defined by limits and boundaries. 

Without limits and boundaries we’d just be, I don’t know, all free flowing energy constantly morphing in and out of form. But a quick glance around you will confirm that no, we actually live in a world of physical and metaphysical limits. 

The problem is, we’ve been convinced that our limits are way more important than they are. 

The problem is, we’ve been convinced that because we have certain limits, we cannot do certain things that we absolutely can do. 

The problem is, we’ve been taught that limits are such a big deal that we have to deny and disown them— and when we get into the habit of denying and disowning anything, THEN we’re giving that thing way more power than it should probably have. 

At any given time, you are limited by your comparative level of skill at a task. 

At any given time, you are limited by your abundance— or lack— of applicable tools in the moment. 

At any given time, you are limited by your paucity of experience in a situation. 

What you’ve probably been led to believe— and maybe even convinced yourself— is that because you have those limits, you cannot succeed in this situation. 

You may believe that because you do not have a perfect skillset or toolbox to handle a particular stressor or symptom, you are at the mercy of those stressors and symptoms. 

You may believe that because you cannot do a thing easily on your first try, that thing is not for you. That you’ll never get it right…let alone learn to actually ENJOY the thing. 

None of that is true. 

The fact is, our limits— especially when it comes to skill building and adding to our psychoemotional toolboxes— usually turn out to be quite impermanent. 

We are built to learn. 

We are built to expand. 

On a more prosaic level, we are built to start out being lousy and awkward at stuff— then, through patience and practice, slowly get better at stuff, before mastering stuff. 

Our limits can change. 

The thing is: if we do not acknowledge our limits— if we flip out at the very idea of having limits— we’re going to have a hard time expanding them. 

You have to realistically acknowledge your limitations if you want to change them. 

Don’t get wigged out by the concept of being limited. 

Don’t buy into the hype of self-help gurus who want to convince you that you’re existentially, metaphysically unlimited. 

Relax, focus, and get cozy with your limits. Get to know them. 

Then create a realistic plan to wipe ‘em out.