W. and I have a book, in which we have been writing down the various rules and "systems" we’ve been trying to set up, in which we record punishments, where the lines parts write are kept, and where we keep notes of what works, what doesn’t, and why.
I guess you would call it our personal "punishment book."
W. has realized that, when she is feeling unsure of how to respond to my various parts, it is very helpful for her to read the book, and see what to do, and why. We didn’t realize how useful the book was until this week.
My teen parts are very much engaged in testing their limits. They don’t think of it as testing limits, but, looking back, that’s what they are doing. The problem is, they are pretty much unable to believe that W. really will follow through with consequences. And, since they are terrified that she will give up on them (on us), they follow teen-logic. Which is to say, they do everything they can to bring their fear into reality, so they can get the disappointment and rejection over with.
How this works, more often than not, is that they will say (quite reasonably, or so they think), that the rules won’t work in the long run, that they just increase conflict, and we should give up on trying to have rules. More often than not, W. decides to go along. She is unsure of herself, she often feels uncomfortable enforcing consequences, and she would do anything in her power to spare me (or any of my parts) discomfort. Unfortunately, the teens take her acceptance of their ultimatums as a rejection, or as a confirmation that they are responsible for behaving as adults. This makes their behavior get worse and worse, as they unconsciously, and silently, scream out for SOMEONE to set some limits.
If I were a perfect person, and able to be a Model of Healthy Functioning With DID, then my adult parts would be able to step in, and enforce those limits, and make the teens feel safe. Perhaps this is the ultimate goal of therapy, to be able to work internally as a self-sufficient family.
But I live in the real world, and I am not a perfect person. There are a lot of reasons why I am unable to do this. I have difficulty switching in when another part has decided to take control. Because the divisions between parts are so blurred, the teens believe that another part setting limits is the same as setting those limits for themselves (boy, is DID complicated, because they are wrong at the same time as they are right on this one). And, I am ashamed to admit, I don’t always like my teen parts. I resent their lack of self-control. I shy away from their anger and despair. More than that, I have no idea how to guide them to what they need. The reason they exist is that I created my stable, obedient, self-sufficient, self-directed adult parts by cutting off these teenagers. The only way I know how to move from being a teenager to being an adult is to make the teenager in me disappear. Obviously, one way to solve the problem is for me to continue in therapy, and in learning how to be a whole, healthy person. But, in the short term, that solves no problems. Much as I would like it to be possible, you can’t actually change yourself in three easy steps (or a dozen, or perhaps even a hundred).
So, for better or for worse, W. plays a role here. Either she can watch, helplessly, as my teen parts spiral out of control, or she can step in and help with setting limits. The rules and consequences are not the problem, no matter what the teens think. They spiralled out of control, desperate for someone to help, unable to control themselves, long before I met W. She is the focus of their testing right now simply because she and I/we have a close relationship with each other. She was the focus of their testing before we had rules and consequences.
So we have the book. It’s a simple white binder, filled with looseleaf paper. There’s nothing particularly special about it, there’s no reason for it to hold such power.
But it does. When W. realized that, logical though the teens thought they were being, and much as they had promised that, this time, they would not spiral out of control, she could see the pattern emerging. The book had been tossed in my room at some point the previous week, and hadn’t returned to W.’s bedside table, where it normally lives. She asked for it. The teen in question challenged her, but eventually went and got the book.
And it’s as though the book were magic. Once W. had it in her hands, she was able to feel comfortable setting limits. She was able to be firm, and she was capable of providing the limits the teens so desperately need. In many ways, it was a simple step, holding the book, reading it, and remembering. But it was also a big change. We are moving towards a slightly precarious balance, adjusting to our roles with each other. And, perhaps, the book is making it possible for W. to feel a little more comfortable taking on the role I have asked her to play.
Much as my own healing is a long process, so is this. Sometimes, you find yourself with a partner whom you love dearly, a partner that seems like a perfect match. Except for that one thing. And there are a lot of paths one might take. W. and I are clumsily navigating the path we have chosen, and I (and my parts) are slowly learning that whether or not W. would have done this without us (she wouldn’t have), she still chose to travel this path of her own free will. I/we have to trust that she will know herself well enough to set her own limits, and that I/we don’t have the power to force someone to do something, simply by asking for it.
As for W., I can only hope that our book will help her to feel confident in the choices she makes, one way or another. And if we are going to continue down the path we have chosen, I hope that the book will help us both to trust that we are making the right choices.