We've heard of some multiple systems who get upset and individuals in their system will call people ableist for holding them responsible for something another headmate does. This is an extremely dangerous position to take for anyone in the community, and it has to stop.
This issue is prevalent across every level and layer of the community, and singular society won't trust the plural, multiple or DID community if we don't have a plan (as a community) to help individual systems get a handle on these issues as soon/quickly as possible.
Nearly all experienced systems in the entire range of the plural umbrella are already very aware of these issues, but we're going to spell this out so that more experienced systems have the words and concepts to explain this to newer folk, and those who need it have a resource to point people to so they can avoid the emotional labor of walking folk through this repeatedly.
What is Shared Responsibility?
This is the principle that we are all, as a plural/DID/multiple system, responsible for everything that our system (and anyone in it) does. Including what we say. That sometimes when we misbehave we are held to the consequences that we individually do not feel we caused, but as a group we participated in even by way of inaction.
Individuals in a multiple system have a vested interest in keeping an eye on one another. When House Rules aka Articles of Agreement are violated, and after dealing with the shared responsibility (natural consequences, apologies, fines, guilt, whatever), often multiples turn to the concept of individual responsibility to discipline the individuals within the system who have put the system at risk, or harmed the system. They may revoke privileges or limit the freedoms and fronting time of headmates who are not in their own control.
The concept of shared responsibility is an exceptionally important legal and moral reality that all multiples must deal with. You can be entirely straightlaced and do everything right, and someone else in your head can screw everything up for you and land you in jail, lose your job, lose your spouse, lose your children, lose your home.
It goes beyond simply legal responsibilities though. Headmates can wreck relationships, lose you your drivers' license if you have one, empty your bank account with huge financial consequences, etc.
Examples of the Issues
If you are mean to your friend (regardless of who is front) then your friend may never want to talk to any of you again. Why? Because you all wear the same face that caused them pain. Because they can't be sure, in any interaction with any of you, that you won't suddenly turn on them. You may not have had any agency over what happened, you may even learn about it happening when it's too late. But you're left with the social consequences of an enormous breach of trust in this relationship. Is it fair? No, but life doesn't have to be fair.
Why do we need Shared Responsibility?
Anyone in the community, anyone plural in the world, will have consequences for allowing headmates (we say allow on purpose) to act out. It comes back to one of the principles of multiplicity: "We are all in this together."
Who dishes out those consequences? The world, society, culture, the law, families, friends, the media, etc. No one person has to tally up your bill for your system's collective behavior. The world already has mechanisms in place to do this.
One of the many ways that multiples are very different from singletons is the level of group responsibility to which we're held accountable. If one resident tells off the boss, and the multiple is fired, all the people in the system suffer the consequences of that individual's actions by having lost their income and so on.
Thankfully in a normal family situation, if one member of the family is conviced of a crime, they are the only one put in jail*. In this case, if a system member does something illegal, the entire body-system may be thrown in jail. For this reason, it's normal for multiples to come up with a method for enforcing what we call 'house rules' amongst all the headmates. This is one important step on the road to leading a functional life.
(* unless it's drug related, in which case law in the US allows the government to confiscate anything you own, even if you were completely unaware of the crime. This does get used too. -- MRW) There's also some circumstances where minor children are considered the responsibility of their parents, and the parents can be held accountable for the child's crime.—XES
How do we work on Shared Responsibility?
There are several pathways to improving system responsibility, because there are several impediments to having full control as a whole system.
- Amnesias: folk can front without anyone being aware of it — if there's full amnesias, whomever is front is often unaware of anyone inside, and those inside are unaware what is going on in front, so it's not possible to get ongoing input from other system members regarding external behavior
- Passive Influence: folk can influence the behavior of someone who is front without themself being front, including emotional or physical influence - so someone who is front may not be 100% in control of their own behavior
- Switching: folk can take full control of the body and act, even while others inside are aware, and not take advice or input from other system members
- Stuck &/or lost headmates: this is a double-jeopardy when combined with the above. Some actions the system takes may be due to or heavily influenced by system members who are in trauma-time or in the there & then. These are folk are not even fully aware of what's going on, where or when they are, are likely to be influenced by flashbacks, intrusive thoughts from trauma, reenactments of their PTSD-influenced memories, have outbursts of panic behaviors, be very defensive, insecure, or emotionally dysregulated. They are not responsible for what they do, but y'all still may have extreme consequences from their actions so it's important to manage their access to front and the influence they have on your system while they are lost &/or stuck.
Y'all may have to round-robin through the following issues several times. There's no one-and-done solution for this. These are skills, practices, they take time to improve, and you kinda need all of these simultaneously. So working on one until you plateau, then working on another, etc. to build a set of skills that will help with system responsibility. Our selves-help materials New are created with these skills in mind.
- Work on system-wide safety issues. If your life is not safe, your headmates including lost/stuck headmates are more likely to be triggered or have their PTSD and anxiety issues activated. No one is at their best when anxious or panicked. However sometimes safety is threatened from inside the system, which is why this isn't the only solution.
- Avoid emotional passive influence by having better internal emotional boundaries. Info on this is available in the System Trust Issues New podcast series.
- Negotiate agreements in any way possible (journaling, chat applications, etc.) even if you don't have direct (inner world talk) access to internal communication.
- Start working on system trust issues New ASAP. If y'all can't come to agreements, if folk are insisting on rebelling in any way, if y'all are fighting or in denial of your circumstances, it will be much more difficult to work on agreements so that y'all have a more safe and peaceful life.
- Buddy up! New Let's say you can't control when certain headmates front yet, or want traumaholders or others who have misbehaved in the past to be able to front, or y'all need them to front in order to communicate with them, etc. See whether y'all can have anyone in the system buddy up with them to monitor their use of front. This is someone who basically co-fronts with them to guide and influence their behavior, or who can be near front and ready to take front back from them if they're misbehaving. Sometimes there are headmates who have better awareness of other headmates, or who have an easier time taking front who may be good candidates for this role.
All the skills you build in the "work-arounds" section above assist with the solutions as well, so really start there. But this section is included so that y'all know what the eventual solution is.
- Improve Co-consciousness New. Once you have trust and communication and agreements, generally amnesiac boundaries will start to lower on their own. If not, it's also possible to work on amnesiac boundaries, with permission from anyone involved internally, by way of using inner world modification techniques to locate and start to relax internal amnesiac boundaries. Permission of anyone involved is needed because you don't want to breach trust in your system, and because there may be folk hiding on purpose in the system for a lot of reasons (such as a traumaholder who was threatened to keep a secret — exposing them may retraumatize them).
- Onboarding Headmates New. Once safety and trust improves, traumaholders are less likely to be triggered and act out. But the best way to help traumaholders or headmates stuck in the There & Then is for them to come to the Here & Now and become increasingly co-conscious. Some folk will come to the Here & Now on their own, others need help, in which case y'all can do Rescue Missions New to help them come to the Here & Now.
- Agreements. Y'all will still need agreements. Every time you have a new co-conscious headmate, or someone new in the Here & Now, make sure they can agree to the agreements y'all have, and whether they need anything changed or added. This is part of the process of getting to know them.
Frankly, the big deal about building internal community in the first place is that it will resolve the shared responsibility problems because your sense of community, internal culture, and community sense of responsibility take all of the elements needed to work on shared responsibility into account. So we also suggest checking out the step-by-step process outlined in the United Front Boot Camp or the United Front books.
What are we not responsible for?
You are not responsible for having been abused, used, shamed, traumatized, exploited, hurt, having your power/control taken away, etc. You didn't ask for it, you didn't deserve it, and we're very sorry it happened to you.
In addition, you cannot make the past go away, you can only make reparations for things that have happened in the past. So while you're responsible for the consequences of what has happened, you're not responsible for erasing it, or making the fact that it happened go away. If someone is trying to convince you that something you can do will erase the past, consider whether that's realistic.
But we have amnesias! Are we still responsible?
Yup. This is an incredibly frustrating truth of being multiple.
Think of it as being a party in an authentic accident. You might accidentally knock something down and break it. Whose responsibility is it to clean it up? Someone in the next room? Are you going to say "Well it was an accident, so I don't have to clean it up!" That would be irresponsible, right?
This also doesn't automatically mean that you can clean the mess up by yourself, but it does mean you're responsible to ask for help to clean it up.
So if you& have amnesias, you're responsible to do the work, to get help, to clean up the messes caused by your amnesia, etc.
You're not to blame for having amnesias. But you are responsible to work on safety, trust-building, co-consciousness, lowering amnesiac barriers, etc. If not you, then who? Is someone outside of your body going to work on these things for you? It's also a shared responsibility for all of y'all in your& body. It's possible to have amnesias and work on shared responsibility and have agreements and communication, also. See Self-Help Indexes New for starting points for a variety of issues to help build safety, trust, communication and community for your system.
We are still minors, are we responsible for what we do?
Adolescence is a time where people transition from total dependency to adulting. The ages that these transitions happen is different for every individual. Rebellions during this phase involve the minor fighting their (external, physical) guardians for more and more freedoms, and with those freedoms also comes responsibility. Society recognizes this transition phase as well as the variability by making judgement calls (all the time, whether or not official/legal or social) as to how much responsibility any given minor has in a specific situation.
So, if you're old enough to want the freedoms, and going to exercise those freedoms (sometimes without permission), then you are likely to be old enough to handle the responsibility for what you do — and if you are not, then society might hold your legal/physical guardians responsible for what you do.
Basically as soon as you can ask the question and comprehend the answer, the world (communities, society, social media, culture) starts to hand you responsibility for what you say and do. Minors can be tried as adults, so the law also takes into account level of maturity, the crimes done, and how responsible you are for what you do.
It's a "be careful what you wish for" situation. Multiplicity isn't a social or legal excuse to misbehave and get away with it. If you act outside the supervision of your legal physical guardians, such as being an asshole on social media, then you are absolutely in danger of being on your own regarding responsibility for everything you say and do on social media.
Combining being a minor and amnesias, you're quite capable of getting yourselves into a heap of trouble, and you can be booted off social media platforms, sued, tried, jailed for your collective actions. Your guardians may be dragged into these issues, it can have huge legal, freedom, or financial consequences.
Your age is not an excuse any more than amnesias are an excuse. You& accept social media terms of service (as one example) when you create an account, so y'all are all saying you'll use a platform responsibly.
A clear example of shared responsibility even for minors is pregnancy. A minor may very well consider themself ready and willing for sex, but they are very rarely willing and ready to handle pregnancy. It's irresponsible to engage in the act if they're unprepared for the consequences. Yes, they're a minor, but the consequences are still there. Their age doesn't erase the "natural consequences" of the act of having had sex, even if they made all reasonable precautions to avoid getting pregnant.
So to extrapolate: age doesn't erase the natural consequences of your actions. You're still responsible for what you do, even though sometimes society cuts you some slack for lack of foresight or lack of experience.
I made a mistake, what do I do?
Apologize and do what you can to make it right. Also apologize to your headmates, because you made them look bad too. If you can't fix the issues you may have to ask for help, or help your system make new plans to live in the new reality that you helped create due to your error. And if you can't ensure that you won't do it again, then you should work on your ability to control yourself as soon as possible! For now, stay farther from front, limit your fronting time. Get more control over yourself in safe ways. Ask your system to assign a buddy to co-front with you and help you learn.
A headmate made a mistake, what do I do?
Let's be clear there's a variety of types & levels of mistakes from "oops dropped our hairbrush" through much more serious relationship, life altering, or legal issues.
First off, be compassionate with them. They've already breached trust in your system, and how you respond can damage system trust further.
Be certain that the consequences aren't harsh and do not overreact to what actually happened. Sometimes direct honesty can get you farther than yelling. "You really frightened us." may be more powerful than "How dare you!"
If you come down hard on someone who makes an innocent mistake (more on this in a moment), then others in your system will fear what happens if they make an innocent mistake. This increases system anxiety, lowers trust, and will likely increase symptoms such as dissociation, amnesia, and intrusive issues like emotional flashbacks. It's not worth it.
Unfortunately many lost or stuck headmates, headmates who are not fully in the Here & Now, and system rebels may claim to be fully in control of themselves and claim to fully know what they've done and that they desire it, but we can never really be certain this is the case. There's many examples of headmates who have claimed this and later (sometimes years later) the situation is revealed that they actually were not fully present, aware of what they were doing or the consequences, and their actions were part of a reenactment or trauma and panic reactions. This makes restorative justice the best pathway for internal discipline when it comes to shared responsibility. When we punish someone for what they did, we ruin trust and close off opportunities to truly deeply fix and address the core issues. Being harsh towards a headmate already having panic reactions is not going to stop them from having panic reactions.
That said, we may need to sequester a headmate who has gotten us in trouble, revoke or restrict their fronting privileges at least for a short time until we're certain they're responsible enough to front, assign a buddy who can redirect them from trouble, assist them in appropriate behaviors, or take fronting privileges away from them if needed, etc. If you do feel a need to sequester a headmate, make sure they're still a part of the internal community. If their mistake is against other headmates directly, figure out which headmates they relate the best with, and request that their closest contact act as an internal buddy to keep an eye on them.
However, it's everyone's job in your system to make sure that your life is safe and remains safe, and that includes protecting your relationships, family, and even society, from your system's blunders while you're figuring out how this plural stuff works. It's society's fault for not raising a plural-aware society and teaching plural folk about shared responsibility and selves-awareness from a young age. That accounts for the learning gaps, but the moment we're aware it's our responsibility to close those gaps as best we can and make sure we and others are safe (for example, we do not want to alienate our intentional family, walk into traffic, or crash the family's only car).
What about headmates that are lost/stuck/rebels/stowaways/non-co-conscious? Them too?
Yes. This is the flip side of amnesias that we wrote about above. If they do something wrong, you all will have consequences to handle. If you do something wrong, they'll have the consequences to handle.
Individual System Struggles
Sometimes things happen and a system has a headmate run amuck and do something without group sanction. Then someone else is left having to clean up a mess. We can sympathize with their issue of not feeling ownership of something someone else may have done/said, but it is your whole system's mess to clean it up.
We know it takes time to all get on one page and share knowledge and create agreements etc. but that is our primary responsibility because our shared life and the lives of those around us depend on us getting a handle on our stuff so we don't drag other people into our consequences for lack of control over our overall physical world behavior.
Many folk in the community are in the unfortunate position of not currently having full access to their system, not having enforced and complete system agreements, not having the ability to restrict access to front, etc. The United Front Boot Camp is specifically set up to help folk work on this issue as quickly as possible, and we're continually creating resources to help folk with these problems. We all can sympathize with the issue, and at the same time every time we excuse someone for allowing someone in their system to do harm, it not only harms that system, it harms those they interacted with and caused direct harm to, and it also has the potential to cause ripples within the community and the external singular community.
Cultural & Societal Impacts
Another important point in the concept of shared responsibility is that it makes an impression on the media (movies, news) when multiples are depicted as attempting to avoid shared responsibility in any legal cases, or indeed anything media-worthy on any scale, by trying to blame a specific headmate for having caused the problem versus the whole system having allowed it. Multiples have no more leeway in any situation to be irresponsible and hurt others than anyone else, and if you (as a collective) are unable to control a member of your system well enough to stop them from hurting someone, there is no reason whatsoever for the public, community or legal system to let you remain at large after-the-fact. The same party in your system might commit a similar infraction again while the responsible adults in your head have their collective backs turned. This is a risk no entity (individual, community, corporation, jurisdiction, school, township, etc.) will likely take.
Singular society will continue to fear plurals and multiples so long as we cannot clearly demonstrate shared responsibility. This is not only a system issue, it's a community issue. The overwhelming majority of the plural umbrella and nearly all the communities beneath the umbrella make it clear to newbies and folk struggling with system-wide responsibly that it's not negotiable, this is something every system has to work on, hammer out, and negotiate, no exceptions. Any pockets of community that don't do this would be strongly rejected by the majority.
If or when a multiple system finds itself in deep legal proceedings, proof of a diagnosis can get the system inpatient treatment rather than jail time in the general population. That's not ideal either. This isn't a "get out of jail free card" — it's discipline for people who are not fully in control of their actions and behavior. It is very unpleasant to be in a forensic psychiatric institution by legal order, this is not at all going free for a crime.
Role-Models in the Community
Within the plural community it's extremely important for anyone putting themselves forward as either a public figure or a community role-model to ensure that they take full group responsibility for their system. It doesn't matter if you run a small support group, a blog, a podcast, a larger community, or have a big public YouTube account. Y'all are responsible for your behavior as a group, and your community followers will hold you to that.
If you role-model individual responsibility and claim that someone in your system can act out and y'all all get away with it, you are heading towards problems quickly, and no one person in the community has to hold you accountable. The world is set up this way, so if you encourage this behavior amongst those who look up to you then you're doing them a huge disservice. Even if you can't be held legally accountable for it, the community will likely do so.
Legal and Courtroom Repercussions
Overall, courts do not like to hear "but my other alter committed the crime" and it's not received well in the US overall. Some other countries may vary somewhat from the stance of holding everyone accountable for the actions of a few, as mentioned in the article below — a 2022 review of court cases, literature, and outcomes for folk with DID. We practice group responsibility for much more than legal reasons, but this goes to show the overall cultural & societal outcomes for folk with DID who try to use separate headmates as an excuse for problematic behavior.