This article can always use more examples and more discussion, but the additions of Jungian psychology and texts to the page helps it seem much more complete.
What is a Rescue Mission?
A rescue mission is an internal effort to free up lost system members who are stuck in the There & Then. It also includes freeing up lost parts and fragments of existing system members whether those members are stuck or co-conscious. An example would be recovering a system member's lost innocence, ability to enjoy playing, or ability to trust others. You don't usually know what you're bringing back — but you can trust that whatever it is is indeed important and will help in the long run.
A rescue mission is a grassroots community-based form of trauma work. It's exceptionally highly individualized. The more confident your system member participants are about it, the more successful a mission will be.
All the tools for rescue missions lie inside the system in question, not in this article or in the course mentioned above. The job of these resources is to help build confidence, inspiration, and encourage folk to try it out for themselves. Sometimes therapists who understand DID and plurality well will encourage the same and help their clients gain the confidence they need to trust in the process and do their own rescue missions. Sometimes a therapist, friend, family or support community can provide confidence and hope that the rescuers lack. Either way, the main work in itself is entirely internal.
What is a Lost or Stuck Headmate?
Here's some general ideas — every system is unique. If you think someone is stuck, it's likely they're stuck.
These are folk that may be seen in the internal landscape as being literally stuck, frozen, hurt, they may be perceived as being in the dark, in a room or house alone — or they don't respond to others in the system, or only respond with emotional flashbacks and imagery that is essentially overtly defensive in nature. They may debunk everything said, twist logic, make everything and everyone out to be a danger or enemy. Whatever the appearance they have is, what they say, or what they do — it can become obvious when you attempt to interact with them that they're not at all in the Here & Now New.
In technical terms, these may be considered the "emotional parts" in structural dissociation. It's a term we strongly disagree with. We far prefer the shamanic & plural community paradigms: these are people who are stuck in PTSD, reliving the past, having recurring flashbacks, and do not fully understand or know what they're doing or to whom, and they are very very dissociated. They likely are (in shamanic terms) "missing too much of themself" to come fully into the Here & Now. So a significant part of their essence is missing, stuck in traumatime. So much of their essence may be stuck in traumatime that there's little to no evidence of them in your consciousness or inner world.
Those with more of their essence in the inner world can be worked with in normal headspace. They may be able to gather together enough of their own missing essence to come into the present/Here & Now, and onboard as co-conscious headmates. You've probably already experienced some of this type of "awakening" to the present circumstances, coming out of denial or the full realization of what's going on in your life. These are relatively easy events compared with full-on rescue missions, and sometimes seem to happen spontaneously, and don't really need this page and the info here, except to perhaps understand what has happened in retrospect.
The ones we're talking about at best are not quite "all there" all the way through resistant, entrenched in their reality, or buried/missing from known headspace areas but still influence your system. They could just be projected or shadows in the ordinary internal landscape — a shell or representation. The rest of their personal essence is someplace else. Stuck in time and space outside of the ordinary internal world that plurals have.
When are you ready for a rescue mission?
We can say is every rescue will be unique. There's no formula we can hand people about rescue missions. You're going to be trailblazing in your own system, and the level of confidence you bring to the rescue, the readiness of headmates to be rescued, and your belief that rescue is possible and that everyone in your system is worthy of being rescued will play a major role in how long it takes and how it goes.
We know you can do this. You have everything you need in your system. You might just need permission.
How long does it take to do a rescue mission?
Almost everything about each multiple system is different, so it's really hard to say. We did a big rescue mission for 2 headmates over the course of 3 days but really when we set aside our mental, physical & emotional preparation each rescue happened in the middle day, one in the morning, one in the evening, and the actual rescue itself took maybe 30 minutes each — maybe a little more. We deliberately made it a "big event" and stretched it out and did a LOT of system care and built a blanket fort, etc. (this is the "Hell Mission" as we called it.)
However, we also did a rescue mission in about 20 minutes from the moment we hung up the phone with our therapist to completion, no fanfare or fancy preparation, no blanket fort & stuffies & crayons etc. (This was the rescue of Pumpkin & Shady that Buck did.)
It's possible this is one of those "the work fills the time allotted to it" issues. Question: How long does it take? Answer: How long do we think it will take?
This can be awkward when trying to plan a rescue mission. But it's all going on between our ears — it's all 100% subjective reality — so our belief of how long it will take will have a strong effect on how long it takes. And how ready the lost/stuck party(ies) are to be rescued will play a huge role in it as well.
Why did we do such an elaborate rescue for the Hell Mission? Because we really had to prove how much we wanted to rescue headmates we had neglected for too long. Why didn't we need as elaborate a rescue for Pumpkin? Because we were in the middle of flashbacks and she was activated, and her flashbacks centered around asking people to rescue her. Our therapist saying "You don't have to let that door close on the little girl this time" was all Buck needed for inspiration to say "Shit, you're right! I'm going in right now, and I'm going to help that little girl." It fit her narrative. She was ready to be rescued since we were 5.
What goes into a rescue mission?
In many ways, you can plan for a rescue mission like you would any adventure or escapade in fiction or fantasy; mainly dependent on the paradigm your system uses for its internal landscape. Here are some sample steps. They don't need to be done in this exact order. Sometimes the plan comes before recruiting. Sometimes gearing up before the planning.
- Recruiting - who will go on the mission and what role/s will they serve on the mission
- Planning - where will the adventure start? What are the major and minor goals of the mission? Contingency planning, such as: If everyone scatters, where is a regroup or rally point?
- Gearing Up - what physical or mental preparation needs to be done, gathering tools and supplies, getting mentally prepared.
- The Attempt - carrying out the mission.
- Debriefing - how did it go? What lessons are there? What went well, and what needs work? Document the adventure.
How do you know whether your mission worked, or even what to do when you get where you're going? Have a goal and make sure the whole team is on the same page and has full buy-in on what the goal is.
While it can happen, it's unrealistic to expect that you will rescue folk from the There & Then and then they're immediately completely onboarded and comfortable (fully coconscious, one of the trusted host group or those who have bought into all your system agreements, fully able to communicate, and able to share all their memories fluidly). So you may want to check out either the Boot Camp or the article on Re-parenting, especially since y'all may be rescuing young or insecure folk.
Rescuing someone from the worst of their PTSD symptoms will help them be able to onboard, though. For the deepest trauma-holders, it will still be a challenge to onboard them. And this is a good thing. You won't be suddenly flooded with the full force of all their trauma memories and have to accept them in such a sudden cascade, though for sure you may be exposed during a mission to features of the memories, and bringing them to the Here & Now will certainly open up more deliberate sharing and processing of what they have to share.
Our most elaborate rescue mission had 2 major objectives and 2 contingency plans.
The two major goals were the same: rescue Nikki and Shawn. The 2 contingencies for each were the same: if we cannot rescue someone, attempt to improve their living conditions, and attempt to improve communication with them.
We didn't set very many of any type of goal. What we didn't realize was they were in very different places, and not attached to each other. So we thought we had one objective and 2 contingency goals. The mission ended up split between two locations. So don't make things more complicated than they need to be. You can do a separate mission with other or additional goals later.
Parallels in other disciplines
This adventuresome mission very closely resembles "Soul Retrieval" — a shamanic concept where a trusted shaman journeys to find lost soul parts that (by way of conferring with spirit guides) are ready to return back to the "patient's" body (Here & Now) and convince them that it's safe to return. It's an intervention that leaves the client (for want of a better word) able to remain anchored in the Here & Now without having to descend into the lost parts' There & Then. The shaman, who is skilled at Soul Retrieval, is usually someone who has already been to their own personal underworld(s), is versed in navigating the other worlds, and receives additional wisdom and training to walk this risky path. Also, they specifically seek out soul parts that are "ready."
For more about the shamanic lens of trauma, see our page on the Neoshamanic Perspective New.
In Jung's The Red Book (Liber Novis), where he did a multi-year inner world exploration, he talks about going to Hell, and how one's Hell is a personalized place, depending on your own life, shame, and failings. But it was also a tangible inner world space where he went and dealt with others inside. Quoting Jung:
Jung told folk that to achieve individuation (enlightenment or self-actualization) one should do a long inner world journey through one's Hell and look for their "others" inside. Many Jungian scholars think this is a metaphor, but Jung was definitely plural, and he meant this quite literally. More:
It's very easy to see parallels between "giving soul to the soulless" and the shamanic paradigms of soul retrieval listed above. And by so doing, you give more substance by returning the lost bits and giving compassion to your others, and then they are redeemed into life — a form of intra-system rebirth of the other(s) from having previously been mired in suffering.
Tips for Rescue Missions
- There's a variety of ways to find lost/stuck folk. You can go to places in the there & then that you already know folk could be stuck in. You can follow anxiety or feelings, or images from flashbacks. From something we (Crisses) wrote inspired by discussions about Carl Jung's "The Red Book (Liber Novis)", and teachings in life coaching:
- Always ask for permission before touching or removing a stuck headmate from their situation. Abuse & trauma stem from a loss of power and control, so you want to make it clear that they are in control of whether to interact or come back to the Here & Now.
- Not everyone stuck in the There & Then is ready to come back fully to the Here & Now. If you embark on a rescue mission, be prepared to journey back to the Here & Now without them.
- Since they may not be able to come back, consider carefully what gifts or tools your team might be able to leave in the There & Then for them if they aren't coming back. Reminders of the Here & Now waiting for them, items of comfort, their favorite things, communication devices, tools for their own self-work while they're there. You can put these things into a bag or backpack, and if you have to leave, let them know you have some items for them to try to make them more comfortable, and there's no strings attached — they're unconditional. If they let you, you can show them what's in the bag and describe the items, but otherwise if they are hostile, just say you're leaving it, put it down, respect their wishes and leave. Some ideas to put into the pack (keeping in mind you may have to change items for things that work in your (or their) headspace paradigm):
- gifts to remind them that people are excited to meet them (cards, toys, jewelry, etc.)
- maps, a GPS, a teleporter device, or a beacon for a transporter, a flare to send up a signal, etc.to find their way back to the Here & Now, front, coconscious areas, passengers quarters, etc.
- a newspaper from "now-time" so they can catch up on the Here & Now and perhaps see and fully understand that "Now time is safe" (phrase from SystemSpeak podcast)
- a recorded message or scroll/letter that explains that they are stuck and that y'all are waiting and look forward to meet them and get to know them
- flashlight or other style of light that works to light dark places
- a music player for self-soothing and emotional regulation
- blankets & stuffies (pillows, sleeping bag, tent, whatever will help them be comfortable and comforted)
- toys, journal, coloring books, markers, crayons, etc.
- a two-way radio to be able to communicate with someone else or others in the system so they can reach out when they're ready to come to the Here & Now, or if they have something to say to you
- a "safe space" for them like a large appliance cardboard box, a tent, a blanket fort that you can set up for them
- a guardian, protector, spirit, helper, friend, etc.
- first aid, water, food, health potions, etc.
- armor/shield, protective devices, forcefield
- keys for doors or a sledgehammer to break barriers
- whatever else you think they may need, given what you know about them, where you find them, and how your inner world works
- Also if they're unable to come back, perhaps leaving them in a more favorable space or position might be possible. A place with less threats or danger, a place with more creature comforts, etc. You can ask whether you can help them move someplace safer if they're not ready to "come home" yet.
- Consider metaphors. You could bring glasses that allow people to see more clearly.
- Choose the adventuring team carefully. See if you can get the person(s) being rescued to approve the team members or use the Litmus Test to check whether anyone in the system is anxious about the proposed adventure team.
- Manage your expectations — try not to be so sad that it reinforces any guilt or shame. Be overjoyed that y'all could leave them with tools & reminders that y'all exist & that there's a way out — that they can "think about it" & change their mind & come back home. This is amazing. Progress is perfect.
Real Examples: Adventure Team & the Rescue Mission
by the Crisses
October 15, 2020: Quick Rescue Mission
Content Warning, this is highly emotional. Nothing graphic.
Someone got triggered while watching the 2 series finale episodes of The Good Place. They kept crying through the episodes, and we figured out what was triggering them.
It was a young child who used to (we have vivid memories when she's close) cry and beg for family friends not to leave her behind when they left after visiting. Literally being held back by the parental units as she absolutely lost her little mind, carried on, begged, screamed, and was inconsolable.
This child was getting heavily triggered by a character begging another character not to leave, and was hard-relating to the sense of panic and pending loss of hope when the person inevitably would walk away. We cried our way through 2 episodes (thankfully short episodes), and analyzed what was going on, figured out who it related to, those episodes at the doorway of our apartment, folks talking about it years later (I'm sure it disturbed the heck out of them, too). We knew where it came from, resolved to talk to our therapist about it in a couple days.
Even prepping for the call with our therapist, saying "We had something we wanted to talk about -- what was it? OH yeah!" we started the feels and crying again. Another emotional flashback.
We told our therapist about this, and talking about it we were still losing it. Crying and slipping in time/place, some emotional flashbacks, rampant memory associations to who was leaving and the qualities of the people we liked — these people were, for an hour or two, surrogate parents. Role models of love and kindness. When this child would beg and carry on when they were leaving, you could tell it was breaking their hearts to leave.
(Writing this she's getting upset too, but now she's right here and I can console her.)
Every memory, regardless of who was leaving, her biggest panic moment would happen. The door of the apartment would close with her inside, and end with the parental units locking the door, and she'd black out. The memory ends, fade to black, end of movie.
So our 45 minutes up, the therapist suggested that (with much "I know you already know this but I want to mention…" prefacing) the next time that movie plays, take your 51-year-old self back there, and take her with you. Don't let her be on the other side of that door when it closes.
Doh! Duh! I (Buck) knew exactly what to do (including totally ignoring the "51-year-old-self" none of us relate to that lol — so I took my 24 year old self back there). Since she was already "so close" — or front so close to her it doesn't matter (cf the chart area on Why do we seem to "fall apart" when we discover our multiplicity? New near the bottom of the page) — we got off the phone, grabbed one of our journals that was in arm's reach, and made a few notes (to help anchor us to what we were about to do, and pull up the feelings again), then I went to it. We played the movie, I went there in the inner world (kinda) and I asked that child if she'd like to go with me. When she said yes, I scooped her up and put her on my hip. I looked at her and we did some quick mindspeak and she said her name is Pumpkin.
I turned to leave with her, and she panicked and was leaning back towards the door. So, again, mindspeak of sorts, I was like what's up, and she was on about not letting others stay there. [Meanwhile our collie from growing up was now running up and down the hall, obviously about to come with us too. Basically NO ONE deserved to be left behind in that apartment.] So I called other coconscious headmates to the apartment hallway and asked someone to hold Pumpkin, and I went back and pushed open the apartment door, there was some resistance and though I didn't see the parental units, I gave that resistance energy a stern talking-to for a moment like you're not going to stop me.
And there was a kid-like shadow, like out of a certain magical flying boy's story where his shadow could be independent. But it was also 3D and physical in the inner world — I know that's an oxymoron and I don't care — so I asked if (he?) would like to come with us too. I got consent and I scooped up this kid. I get the name Shady. OK, kid, I need to go further in, and handed him off to another adult buddy.
On the way through the living room, all the pets we ever had were all fleeing towards the apartment door. Cats, finches, gerbils…I just sent them all the thought to head to Lissie, our internal animal & plant caretaker. They seemed to have the right idea, so I didn't really need to do anything about them.
Then I went to both of the bedrooms, and found 2 maybe-kids in the master/adult bedroom, another in our former bedroom, and also since we used to used the backyard there we made sure and found a maybe-kid in the backyard. These kids agreed to come, but didn't give names and didn't seem "substantial" but they could be fragments or full kids, time will tell. The important thing was rescuing them.
Thinking I was done, but not positive, I went out of the apartment but this time I closed the door, and I broke the key in the lock. I wanted to take back power over that door closing. Only we have the power to lock & unlock that door now. We will likely go back there. We are certainly not done with headwork or memories. But it's ours now, not the parental units'.
So we brought the kids to the reparenting nursery and a lot of adults hung out with them all day. Pumpkin has either been asleep at the House or on my hip most of the time, most notable when I'm fronting. Because she's leaking a good bit and not coconscious even if she's mostly in the Here & Now. She has a lot of emotions to process, but the first thing I want her to realize is that no one will ever leave her behind again, and she's loved, cared for and protected. If that means I have to walk around inner world with a 25lb kid on my hip all day, so be it. Shady is usually not far from Pumpkin, so they're likely twins or very close. What we're getting is when that door would lock, that's when Pumpkin would switch to Shady, and Shady's not really talking yet at all — and we're OK with that, we have some levels of communication, these kids are safe now, and that's what matters. We'll get names, or figure out who is what (person, part, fragment, etc.) over time. Now's time for establishing that they're really safe.
This whole rescue mission including the notes we jotted down took about 20 minutes. Talking to others about it took longer than doing it.
April 27-29, 2018: Long Rescue Mission
This idea came to us (The Crisses) from finally digesting the most troubling concept in the book/movie What Dreams May Come by Richard Matheson (SPOILER ALERT! sorry — this is during the climax of the film, but it does not ruin the film):
The scene is 2 people:
Annie lost everything she cared about in her life — her children, then her husband Chris — and took her own life. Now Annie is dissociated, trapped in her PTSD prison in the afterlife — locked inside her personal version of the underworld and unable to be in touch with anything that doesn't fit in her warped perspective. The other, Chris — the person speaking — is her soulmate and has come via a long journey into her nightmare to find her. He cannot be happy without her.
Then Chris fully mentally joins Annie in the underworld — leaving the Here & Now to submerse himself in a dissociative PTSD prison "with her" (the There & Then) but unable to see her for who she is. His ability to fully join her wakes her up to rescue him.
This scene is so poignant, so real — we Crisses left the movie theater reeling, crying, and angry in a way, and amazed — because they had hit on a truth it would take us 20 years to digest. We read the book. We owned 2 copies of the DVD. We watched it over and over again. It took us a long time to really fully digest it.
We couldn't rescue our lost inner children while fully anchored and blissfully present in the Here & Now. All the people in our system who "held it together" when those children "fell apart" abandoned them in a version of There & Then and let them sit with the pain of the trauma, while the rest of us "moved on" with life. We pushed away the pain and the trauma so hard we created their prison. We enjoyed our life while they were frozen in theirs.
For a while we issued open invitations. We tried to reach out to them but in their pain they couldn't be reached in our headspace. They're trapped inside themselves somewhere, somehow — or in time/space in the shamanic realms, or in a personal underworld if you will. Everything we have tried just hurts them. We decided for a long while that they had chosen to protect us from these things, and we were grateful, and we thought when they felt we were "ready enough" they would come out of whatever and join with us and be part of our happy head family.
Then we started having doubts. It had been more than 10 years of waiting, and they weren't budging. Maybe us "being ready for them" wasn't the problem.
To expect that they might suddenly be "inspired" to come forward, claw their way out of their There & Then PTSD prison and share their pain all on their own is asking them to do the (nearly) impossible. So we are assembling a team we believe they can trust, people who never failed us — including one person who did claw their way out as a journey guide — guardians, shamanic practitioners, healers, mothers, etc. And we're going to have this "Adventure Team" go on a rescue mission to find these children, using What Dreams May Come and other sources as the "metaphor" for their underworld, the journey, the tools we're bringing, things we may leave with them if we can't rescue them, etc.
In the meantime, we totally expect our external life to get very rocky, maybe even fall apart — because we were pretty sure we couldn't blithely dive that deep into PTSD as a prison or visit the There & Then and not have system-wide repercussions. It may shake us to our very foundations. But those children can't be left fully alone down there to suffer any longer. It's really bugging us that we've left them there this long, but we can't change what we've done (or not done) in the past. We can and will change what we do now.
The Journey Itself
We did the Rescue Mission, we did about a dozen video logs — they're behind our Patreon paywall for personal safety reasons. It went much better than we could have imagined.
We're not sure whether we had to vibe with the kids, or if the kids were exerting passive influence i.e. leaking their anxieties to the rest of us to basically kick our butt and get our attention. So perhaps our theory was wrong. Once we finished planning and were going to embark on our journey, we were strangely peaceful and well-prepared. A little apprehensive — maybe tentatively excited even. Which is a difficult emotion for us to hold safely. But we were much less anxious or frightened when it came to the doing it.
Our therapist suggested — and we always have to consider that it may have really been interpreted by our system in a post-hynotic suggestion fashion which bugs us but was positive if that's the case here — that we didn't have to be in the same space/vibe in order to do this work.
Another way of looking at it, perhaps, is that in journeying to their underworld(s), we brought a protective bubble of our Peace with us to them. Which makes a lot of sense in both a shamanic journey way (brought protectors and spirit animals) and in a psychic self-defense manner — and thus were "shielded" from the immense pain that was possible to experience when we went there.
It went very very well. The rescue missions proper were held on April 28, 2018. It's now February 2019. We did one rescue (for Nikki) in the morning that day, and one (Shawn) in the evening. We prepared and planned for weeks, and set aside the 27th and 29th as well, and we built a blanket fort, brought things we thought we might need inside, went over a stack of childhood photos, and a trauma journal, and basically made up our own big deal about it.
The results to date are very good. Nikki and Shawn are much more aware of the Here & Now and while they're no longer looping in panic mode with trauma, they will still take a while to onboard. They have not gone back to their old ways; part of what we did the first day was contact them the best we could, to get permission and make sure they wanted to be rescued. If you can't reach them, then go on the adventure and ask them when you get there.
The missions were mostly documented by videos recorded by Lissie, a new-to-us coconscious youngster (that we can remember, maybe others as well). There's more than 10 videos and they're on Patreon behind the $10 paywall for our privacy and everyone's protection since they may be triggering. They were recorded during breaks in the work as a video journal and backup of the experience.
- Advanced Headwork New
- Codependence - filling emptiness inside with other people New
- Emotional Regulation New
- Encanto as a Plural Allegory New
- Headwork Mindstates New
- Healing Traumatized Residents
- Neoshamanic Perspective New
- Onboarding Residents (024) New
- Please wipe your feet before you come in
- Shame, Shame Spirals, Toxic Shame, Carried Shame New
- Shame And Pride New
- Shared Responsibility
- Size & Complexity, Headcounts, and their effect on daily living New
- Stuck Residents aka stowaways, lost souls, non-coaware identities, emotional parts, etc. New
- Taking out the Trash
- We're so glad you could join us!
- Why do we seem to "fall apart" when we discover our multiplicity? New