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Mapping: Headmaps, Self-Maps, System Diagrams, Internal Landscape maps, etc.

The articles on headmapping exercises New and headmap technology New.

What is a "self-map"? (also known as system maps, headmaps, etc.)

A self-map is an attempt by a system to illustrate a variety of the factors of internal interrelationships, or create a visual or topographical map/diagram of their headspace or internal landscape. Some maps are similar to diagrams or maps one might draw of external spaces, where others may be lists, organizational charts, a family tree, a mind map, etc. There as many different maps as there are plural systems, and then some because there's a variety of ways to express different things as we'll go into below.

So in short, a self-map is an attempt to draw or diagram any number of a set of internal working factors. Even singular folk can create self-maps of say their skills, values, belief system, history, influences in their life, etc. The most recognizable plural self-maps are attempts to translate social and working relationships between internal people into a visual or logistical format (it does not need to be drawn).

Map Designs & Styles

Map styles vary greatly from system to system and from the skills, aesthetic, and artistry of the resident(s) creating the map in question. Sometimes it's a map of their locations in the internal landscape, or an organizational diagram attempting to translate social and working relationships between their residents into something that can be viewed by others or for viewing by residents through their eyes.

It's important to know that it's the content not the beauty that matters. Some make beautiful, colorful, elaborate, and detailed maps. And these matter no more than the quick pencil sketch on a napkin or scrap paper that helps you locate a lost headmate and rescue them.

Mapping can be pretty. What matters most is that it's useful. We talk about the difference between art and design. Maps can be both. But they don't have to be. A pretty map that doesn't help is just art. Design fills a function. An artful fountain that doesn't spout water is fine art, but it's poor design. Maps usually have a purpose. And we may not see the purpose or use it for its intended purpose today, but later on we may realize that the map fulfilled a purpose after all.

Every time you reach for a list, map, agreement to update it, it has fulfilled a purpose of both documenting a moment in time, and also that tension or lack of accuracy has evoked a response that something needed to be updated about it. It has, by existing, asked to be kept accurate. Or to be re-drawn or recreated if it's rendered completely obsolete.

Why do plurals create headmaps?

Maps can help improve internal communication, explain to headmates that they're in a system, or can be used to ask other residents whether they know of anyone who is not on your current map. And much more.

Mapping your system may be associated with being in therapy or an effort to explain your group to an external singular or plural who wants to understand details about your system. However, self-maps evolved naturally as plurals wanted to understand themselves better, and are not derived purely as a therapeutic device. It is by no means necessary to map your system to share, or simply because you're multiple, however it is an available tool that you can use to communicate internally and externally if you desire to try it out.

Mapping for Selves-Help

We're fairly certain that system mapping has been around since humankind was drawing in the dirt with sticks or painting cave walls. A plural anthropologist will have to re-evaluate the work of myriad singular archeologists to back us up on that.

So perhaps one of the reasons therapists have latched onto the idea of suggesting headmaps in therapy — whether a list, or actual artful mappings - is because they have been long used as a tool for helping plurals understand themselves and work more deliberately on internal system dynamics and making thoughtful changes and upgrades to their internal communication, planning across the system, holding meetings, changing their internal landscape, or rearranging internal living arrangements to foster a closer-knit community.

When it comes to selves-help work, these maps are a tool for reorganizing internal landscape or internal relationship structures. They can have a powerful as inside, so outside, and vice versa (AISOAVV) effect on your internal organization. You can use maps to deliberately do internal landscaping tasks.

There are many other reasons to create headmaps for your own system including (but not limited to):

  • an act of selves-empowerment to name, describe, see, be seen. It can be very powerful.
  • having a concrete achievable shared project as a group entity — sometimes our map projects are our first shared project!
  • introspection and internal exploration - improving the ability to see, sense, hear, feel, etc. internally - also improving on "knowing" and what feels "right" or "more right" like practicing the Litmus Test
  • communicating information - in some ways even journaling can be a type of self-mapping as individuals in the system write their thoughts that others in-system may not be able to hear
  • assisting with pings & polls (counting votes)
  • assisting with roll calls (helpful for "all hands on deck" meetings)
  • locating missing links, people, parts or fragments
  • directory listing for residents to know who to talk to internally about certain topics, allowing people to identify themselves and their connections
  • improving communication channel by mapping out what exists, looking for gaps, and making deliberate changes to foster communication
  • helping other residents who are not fully co-aware get a better idea of who else is living in the system with them
  • help residents find their way around in an internal landscape
  • help develop interrelationships with residents internally
  • change aspects of an external map to facilitate changes to your internal world (AISOAVV or internal landscaping tool)
  • create or document communication links and channels between system or subsystem members
  • help with merging subsystems or creating conduits (communication channels) between subsystems
  • help organize internal community
  • combatting derealization, depersonalization, denial, imposter syndrome
  • describing, documenting, improving internal dynamics
  • creating a shared history of selves-discovery, i.e. record-keeping (thus date all your maps!)
  • sharing with external entities (caution! you'll want healthy boundaries and to take cautions about potential manipulation)
  • to plan and carry out rescue missions (helping headmates come into the Here & Now — with or without a therapist's help)

Making maps safely

Not everyone feels or is safe enough to label names or drawings, with potential for unsafe people to discover and guess what the map is and use it against you. Also, there may be sections of your system, or individuals, who do not wish to be represented on your maps, such as persecutors or protectors.

  • Only share maps with people you feel safe sharing them with. You are under no obligation to share your maps with anyone, not your professional team or anyone else.
  • If you're not in a safe situation, you might make a map using objects or something temporary like drawing in sand, dirt, on whiteboards, etc. and photograph it assuming your device security is assured before returning the objects to where they came from.
  • Use a passworded and encrypted application or file to edit your maps.
  • Develop ways of "encrypting" maps in plain sight include painting or drawing "blobs" of various colors and calling it artwork. Only y'all know who each blob &/or color represents, but you can proudly display your headmap art on a wall without anyone being the wiser.
  • Create maps in online software applications (art programs or org chart apps like Lucidchart) and make sure your system knows the password or what software it's in without having to write it down
  • Always respect the wishes of your headmates to either omit themselves from your headmaps or to be disguised or obfuscated on your maps.

Are Maps to be Shared?

Your self-maps or headmaps don't need to be shown to anyone else, even though that's a perfectly viable reason for wanting one, nor do they need to be drawn in any permanent/written form at all. You can create headmaps in your internal landscape as well, and keep them entirely internal. This can be helpful for systems who don't have external privacy or safety.

Even if your therapist asks you to create a map, you are under no obligation to share it with them, or to share a complete map with them. Y'all can decide how much y'all want to share, create a partial list to share, or let them know y'all aren't ready to share. Building rapport and trust is their job, and if they're asking before y'all are ready that's on them, not you.

There is great benefit in creating a map just for yourselves. Your therapist or treatment team may want to see it or you may want to share it, but don't feel obligated to do so for their benefit. They can create or keep a list of headmates you mention on their own in their notes; you do not need to hand them a list or a map even if it will be helpful to do so when y'all deem it's OK to do it. The main reason we're saying this is that the trust in your system is far far more important in your life than whether your therapist has a map of your headmates. It's not worth the chance that you will compromise your internal trust. Once folk trust your therapist, they may share a map.

Also, there's no reason your therapist must have a copy. It doesn't matter that some author of a book said that the therapist and the client should have a copy — if y'all don't want them to have a copy, be prepared to say No when they ask if they can keep it.

Maps can be public or very private. Some folk readily share lists of headmates, traits, and other features of their internal world. Others are very closed and private. Having maps doesn't mean you're under any obligation to share them. As shown above, there's myriad valid and useful reasons to map that have nothing to do with sharing maps with external folk.

A really nice article about different ways to map ones system. (at the Internet Archive)

Types of Maps

There are many more types of maps than the ones below, but here's some "types" we've identified in something like an escalating order from most basic to most complicated.

a simple list of name or designations for all headmates who want to be counted. A basic roll-call, this can be used to ping residents (Are you there? Are you ok?), or do basic polling or voting (yea/nay). With a higher headcount, this can be very important reference material while drawing other maps. Some systems skip this step when their headcounts are smaller, but doing this type of map at it's most basic level can reveal more headmates and encourage them to volunteer their presence because they want to "get on the map" or "make the list" as it were. So this can be very helpful for selves-discovery when folk aren't ready to do anything more than say "I'm here."
List with Details
This is very popular around the Internet and it's a name list with more information: name, gender, pronouns, race/species, age, origins, back-story, interests, physiological traits, etc. May include faceclaims/drawings/photos (images of the alter) or not.
A map drawn by playing "hot or cold" with your mind. This is similar to the Litmus Test in that it's a trust-your-gut exercise and can help improve communication through your body's sensory system. Be careful to not ground deeply into your body to do "gut instinct" exercises if you have somatic flashbacks. You can sense your body's reaction without being fully in your body. We describe making a heat-map in our video presentation linked at the top of the page.
Org Charts & Family Trees
These maps organize headmates, usually visually, in a role-based web of internal relationships, and can show derivations or origins, or connectedness between headmates.
Internal Landscape Diagram or Map
These can be topographical maps or other renditions of the inner landscape, and may include where people/parts reside or commonly are found, where they are at the time of drawing, or other features of the inner world.
Communication Maps
These maps show internal lines of how information and/or knowingness connections that information can travel through. Information can include emotions, memories, thoughts, somatic (sensory) information, etc.
Subsystem Maps
Useful for polyfragmented systems of various sorts, these maps show the overall topography or connections between various subsystems (conduits), the veils & gatekeepers of 1 or more subsystems, clusters of internals, etc. in a way that makes the subsystem dynamics and boundaries clearer.
Auxiliary Maps
There are a wide variety of maps that both singulars & plurals can use for self/selves-help and personal/system development such as mind maps, role maps, skill maps, mood maps, value maps, etc. Plurals can have such maps for individual members of their system, or collective maps which might start to resemble team-building and brainstorming exercises used by workgroups in the external world. It's up to your system whether or not to attribute contributions to specific headmates or not.
Whether or not they are written down or stored internally, our group agreements are indeed a type of system map that determines what is or is not appropriate behavior for our system members. For singular folk, they may have an explicit code of ethics or principles of behavior (c.f. Stephen Covey's books The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People & First Things First) they go by but often do not write these things down unless specifically doing self-improvement work or working with external teams/organizations. We are a (potential?) team or organization and it's important to collaborate and write down ideas and guidelines that can help us operate as such.
Collage or Image Maps
These are the individual face claims, portraits, etc. assembled into group portraits, or can be depictions of internal landscape features, various inhabitants, etc. Some folk draw family portraits, or assemble collages or contact sheets (photography term for an assembly of photo "negatives" or thumbnails on one sheet) to show their "entire crew". Some folk may sit out, that's why entire crew is in quotes.
You can create timelines or time-maps of memories, events in your physical shared life, when headmates were discovered or names came up, significant system events, etc. This can be helpful to find lost time, help internals regain a sense of "before" and "after", legal/court documentation, etc.
"Vision Board"
We know that is kinda a buzz term, but this would be any map that your community is looking to "live into" — a projection of something y'all desire for the future. Mapping where you want to be can directly help get you there. They can take any form, and don't have to be what is normally professed like a wall art collage of images cut out from magazines. It can be the values you want to live up to in the future. It can be something that represents how you want your system to operate, etc. Ideas for what can be depicted on vision boards: group plans, goals, dreams, careers, etc.

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