Arguing Against Integration of Selves
by The Crisses
For educational purposes, I'm going to reframe the Integration section of Coping with Trauma-Related Dissociation: Skills Training for Patients and Therapists by Suzette Boon, Kathy Steele and Onno Van Der Hart. It's worthy of argument because it's a brilliant book used by many folk with dissociative disorders to help them with coping mechanisms.
Many people who are plural wish they were "Normal" and would love to be something they're not. So when a singlet team that is well-regarded in their field of study says that a plural can become a singlet "again" — that's a very tempting carrot to hold out.
We are told that it's normal and natural to be singlets (and these authors are singlets; so they would know only being singlets, so it makes sense to them!). That being plural is a dissociated state, and that if we resolve our dissociative self-states, we will become one person (again). Some nod to the developmental theories such as structural dissociation that acknowledge that a person, while now an adult, may never in their developmental history before been 1 person. So the "cure" for all that ails you includes becoming something you've never been before, for the first time.
Inte-grate-ion. Because it grates me to have to argue with this.
They claim the opposite of dissociation is integration. I would like to consider the opposite of dissociation to be presence. But one can make these arguments if you'd like. Dissociation is a normal coping mechanism, one that singlet people use all the time. Dissociation itself is not unhealthy. It's the ability to "lose yourself" for a time outside of normal reality, whether a part of you or the whole of your consciousness. It's the ability to "check out" and be non-present.
To vilify dissociation is like vilifying blinking. Yes, when you blink you're unable to see what's around you for a moment. But it gives your eyes much-needed lubrication and wipes down any dust on the surface. Gives your visual cortex a momentary respite. And some of us close our eyes longer for different reasons — sleep, meditation, thinking, remembering. But closing your eyes while driving is not a wise move. Obviously there's a time and place for everything, right?
There's a time and place for dissociation. I will agree that in the case of dissociative disorders, we certainly have had too much of a good thing and learning how to be present and learning to trust being present is very important for our mental and physical health.
There's other meanings of "integration" other than "reversing dissociation" to consider as well. "Sensory integration" which is really co-consciousness with other entities in your head. This can be a very good thing, helps ease a shared life. But does not require becoming one person. Your "self-states" as they like to call it can remain separate, and be quite happy that way. Being many does not indicate failure of a therapist to help you. It indicates that humanity is much more varied in expression than singular folk are generally comfortable with.
The next argument I have with this book in particular is that it regards personality aspects to be part of one's dissociation. Personality. Even the DSM doesn't call it "personality" aspects anymore but "identities" because identity goes well beyond simple markers of personality. Yes, some people who are highly dissociated and could be considered plural are experiencing part-ness more than people-ness, although this isn't to say that parts are less valid than people, at all! Parts are as valid as anything else in life.
However, the potential for "personhood" takes everything beyond personality and identity markers. What makes a person "a person"? If you say having a body, then why would we ever declare anyone brain dead? It's more than a body. In fact, the body is probably the least of the concerns, even the brain. A person is the sum total of their consciousness and self-expression. A person is a bundle of opinions, beliefs, faith, emotions, experiences, memories, perspective, cognition, identities and roles, personality traits, habits, and ingrained reactions to stimuli that become factors within a unique "thumbprint" of their self-dom.
A person is much more than just their "sense of self". And a person within a group entity — within a plural entity — is much more than their sense of self as well. If that person is a valid individual entity and unique amongst their system mates, then they cannot be reduced by compromising any part of themself in the name of becoming singular. It's not possible. It's actually destroying their personhood to do so.
Why can't a group of entities author, direct, or share a life as a group? It's like saying that because these 3 authors wrote a book together they should forego their separateness and merge into one being and be only one author of the book. Preposterous! they would say? Well, it's not any less preposterous to many plurals to suggest that just because we share a life we have to merge into one person — we don't even see how it's possible. And because of this, we are highly willing to go to bat for parts being able to be autonomous in their parts-ness if that's what they should choose to do as well. It would be hypocritical to suggest otherwise.
Everyone needs to have the freedom to choose their life's structure, whether one or many. Just like singlets don't have to choose only one role to be, we don't have to choose only one person to be (or cram ourselves into one person somehow).
The authors claim there's a "…natural tendency to integrate our experiences into a coherent, whole life history and a stable sense of who we are…" — their words. Actually, that's a singlet normative tendency. The people writing the rules have decided this is normal. And the people writing the rules (of our culture, of what is normal, of what is disorderly, etc.) are the ones who have decided this from their singlet point-of-view. The field is set up such that those amongst them who are peers — people with mental health issues — dare not reveal themselves as having lived experience lest they be stripped of all credibility (a situation which is changing in tiny fits and starts but only in some areas and definitely not changing in others).
It's like someone dictating accommodations for blind people but not able to have input in it if they are blind. But Louis Braille was blind when he invented the braille alphabet. But when it comes to how to help or accommodate for plurality, we're not at the table. Other so-called normal people are dictating what happens to us, as if we are unable to speak for ourselves.
What if it's not normal to integrate our experiences? What if it's the pressures of a singlular-normative society that influence children to become one person? If the stories and myths told, the language used around them, the subtle expectations put on them, the rewards and punishments given to children all are subtle cues and brainwashings and peer pressure to conform to a singlular-centric society? We are (according to structural dissociation theory) born with self-states, and what if in a plural-normative society more people ended up plurals than singulars? Are the society models of "integration" of self-states into one singlet personality creating singlets, and not the nature of humanity itself?
We may not find out, given that we're stuck in this singlet-normative culture where everything points out that we're supposed to be only one person in one body.
If a child grew up in a plural environment that encouraged internal cooperation and co-consciousness, then there's no notable gaps in memory. When there's no c-PTSD, there's no difficulty distinguishing past and present, and no trouble contemplating a shared future. The more safe and secure we would be growing up, the more acceptable our capacity for plurality, the more likely we would grow up a healthy and stable group entity rather than a singlet, with group decision making taught and modeled for us. Why would this be a demerit? No, it would in fact be a potential boon, perhaps opening up wider interests and creativity to one body.
But that's not the way it is. They say "the way it is is normal" but never entertain that it's because it's the way it is enforced, not the way it would (or could) be under other circumstances.
When you develop several concurrent identities — sum totals of behavior and cognition — consistent individually in themselves, they too can be coordinated and make smooth transitions between sets of traits, similar to shifting gears in a car. And have no need to experience themselves as the same person. That's your "normal" but not ours. Your single personality is stable and predictable, author, but that's to convenience those outside your body. Those outside my body don't seem to have any trouble with my stable and predictable GROUP of personalities. No more trouble than if you call a company and get a new person on the phone and need to ask to leave a message for the person you are calling.
You say your personality is flexible. Our personalities are flexible, too. There's no real difference in your being a singlet and our being a plural — and neither needs to be fixed.
Dissociation, on the other hand, could use to be balanced in a healthy way with being able to be present, and better ways to know which is more beneficial under what circumstances. Coming out of surgery, some dissociation from pain might help space out pain medications, might help one not become dependent on opioids. So that would be an adaptive use of dissociation. Where not knowing you broke a toe because you have no ability to feel your body is maladaptive. Every skill and coping mechanism has a proper time and place; they develop within reason.
Switching personalities does not need to be a dissociative mechanism. Yes, the ability to dissociate is very highly correlated and may indeed contribute to the ability to maintain separate self-states that develop into full-fledged people (alters, identities, personalities…) over time, but eventually they're ingraned in our brains such that you can see the differences in a brain scan. If we work together more and more, they no longer require a dissociated state to maintain their separation.
So don't conflate dissociation from the Here & Now as the separation of Me, Myselves, & I. Two different issues.