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Internal Relationships

What are Internal Relationships?

These are relationships between members of any type of plural system, headmate-to-headmate. The overall cumulative effect of these relationships is the plural system's internal culture.

Internal relationships of every sort can and do happen in plural & DID systems. Familial, parental, mentoring, intimate, colleague, friend, adversarial, etc.

Are internal relationships a good or bad thing?

Short answer: Having internal relationships is as inevitable as having relationships externally. On a relationship-by-relationship basis it depends on the quality of those relationships.

The current prevailing belief both in psychology and in the plural community as a whole, as well as health-seeking DID support groups and external communities is that getting along well internally promotes health and healing for the whole system. Attempts to cut headmates off from each other, alienate headmates, distance them, prevent having relationships at all has been observed both in the community and by psychologists to have a detrimental effect to system solidarity, culture, energy, stability and functionality.

Adversarial relationships can create many difficulties and increase anxiety and stress for the system, which can increase difficult symptoms for DID systems and increase co-occurring issues and disorders (any that are affected by stress & anxiety), as well as drain energy (deplete spoons), create erratic or "uncharacteristic" external behavior with conflict over who is fronting, increase amnesias and loss of consciousness with anxiety and these difficulties may also result in self-harm, sabotage of external relationships, and much more.

External plural communities spend a good bit of time and effort giving support around this topic in discussing how to manage unmanageable headmate situations or work on interpersonal relationships to improve difficult dynamics.

It's important to realize, as stated in the principle of As Inside So Outside, that many aspects of internal relationships are similar to external relatioships. For example: attempts to control others harm relationships; you are invariably better off controlling yourself and changing your own attitude to improve relationships with others; when a relationship is harmful you may need to distance yourself, at least for a while, and find a different way of working through it than butting heads with them trying to "get them" to do (or not do) what you want or need.

Quite often adversarial internal relationships are caused by headmates who are stuck in PTSD and overreacting to external or internal stimuli New (such as emotional flashbacks) or internal cultures that struggle with trust New. (see also our podcast Onboarding Residents (024) New.)

How do you all relate to one another in your mind?

Some people have something that's called a headspace or an OtherWorld (internal landscape New, inner world). The persons who are not in Front tend to interact in their head as though their head is an actual location. The individuals can be walking around, doing stuff in the corner by oneself, or interacting with one another. Just like any external space where you see the same people over and over again, headmates will often build up relationships over time. Some have relationships that started as children and continue to this day, where others may have started out as strangers to each other and go through a trust and familiarity process that is similar to external interactions.

Sometimes the types of relationships are easily modeled in the external world: headmates may relate that they are family, siblings, friends, companions, and so on.

What about intimate internal relationships?

Like any other relationships in the external world, inner folk can and do experience attraction, romance, intimacy, date, get married or bonded in a variety of ways, make love or have sex, and so on. Some systems have experiences of having inner world pregnancies and children with each other as well. Many systems have an internal network of non-monogamous intimate relationships, for example polyamorous or otherwise in nature.

Headmates can be anywhere in the LGTBQIA+ designations as well, and relationships basically do not have external-world constraints such as being legislated or monitored by external folk. That is not to say that there's nothing to prevent or hamper them from expression or realization.

It's our experience that an internal intimate relationship is more emotionally intense than an external one, because of the degree of Co-awareness that we share. Physically it's frustrating though; because we are sharing a body it's impossible to enjoy normal sexual or physical activity. We can't even hug each other or hold hands, except internally, and that's just not the same. --DH

Shame and stigma around internal relationships

There are a lot of cultural pressures and internalized issues around experiencing or disclosing internal relationships. Since many within the overall community are survivors of CSA, and from other trauma around sexuality (both cultural as a whole or direct conflicts throughout life with issues around expressing sexuality and intimacy), there can be a great deal of shame, embarassment, feeling very self-conscious, and fear of disbelief or reprisal from others, even within some of the support groups and cultures within the wider plural umbrella. The inclusive "Proud" plural community often accepts internal relationships in stride without significant bias although the culture may police certain types of internal relationships more than others — having relationships in-system is not seen as a problem in itself.

But psychology, external culture, and DID culture still pervades into the entire plural umbrella as a whole. It's important to explore why intimate relationships between headmates can be seen as something to be ashamed of, or where the idea that it's a problem or should be policed comes from.

Psychology and "Narcissistic Investment"

Notably, psychology are the guardians of the status quo, and many psychologists over the years have internalized and expressed the overall culture's fears and biases in their studies, writings and books. Sometimes to great harm for various populations.

One such harmful idea is the one promoted by Kluft (1984 1 etc.) of "narcissistic investment" which basically says that DID system members should be discouraged from liking each other "too much" because that may make them treatment-resistant. This is an offshoot of the prevalent "treatment-compliance culture" of the time, and basically encourages acts of coercion, force, or shaming by therapists to try to pry apart the emotional attachments of internals so that the system can be unified, which is often viewed by plurals (correctly or not) as a systematic eradication of headmates. (Compare with conversion therapy!)

Historically speaking, if the goal of treatment (at the time force-fed by therapists to their clients, not client-centered goals) is to make plurals into singulars ("again" - regarding the prevalent splitting theory at the time of the original writings), then their resistance by way of not wanting to lose their connections to one another is an impediment to the therapists' goals for treatment.

This idea probably should have died by the time of the ISST-D 2011 treatment guidelines2 as structural dissociation theory was taking hold and more therapists acknowledged that coercion of unification was overall unfruitful (low success rate, high chance of relapse), but instead it is quoted in the guidelines and thus reinforced for the following decade as the ISST-D treatment guidelines are often cited as "Best in show" standards for treatment of folk with DID and similar OSDD presentations.

Notably, "narcissistic investment" is not mentioned at all in the 2019 Blue Knot treatment guidelines3.

The Fallout

Not only do many multiples in treatment have a hard time discussing or disclosing internal intimate relationships to their therapist due to shame and internalized cultural difficulties around sex, pleasure, and what may be seen as masturbation, but when they have disclosed in the past it may have resulted in painful reinforcement of that shame and stigma from their therapist as it was not only actively discouraged but often rejected, vilified and declared an impediment to working together and would block achieving treatment goals. Multiples, often hanging all their hope on therapists for any chance of healing, brought this to their support groups, fostering a culture of backlash against anyone liking their headmates "too much", and immediate and unbending discouragement of romantic or sexual attractions to their headmates.

As such, the overall DID support culture has a history of stigmatizing, shaming, oppressing, ostracizing, and not supporting individual systems that disclose intimate internal relationships.

Healing the Shame

Pride New is the opposing force of shame. Many folk in the Plural Pride movement proudly reject the idea of "narcissistic investment" and will openly disclose and discuss having good to great, familial through intimate, internal relationships. They're attempting to counter and educate against external folk policing internal relationships, and limiting "selves-love" and mutual internal respect and friendships.

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