Multiplicity – Is naming parts harmful?

This post follows on from an earlier one called I am not Sarah.

Some people who have, or work with those who have, multiplicity get very anxious about parts having names. There is an idea that naming parts will increase separation, that it supports the ‘illusion of independence’ and will reduce internal harmony and health.

There’s a lot of ideas tied into this premise that I think are worth examining:

  1. The first is that names have power. This is an interesting idea, as an avid reader of fantasy I find it often. The Wizard of Earthsea by Ursula LeGuin is a perfect example, where people have their ‘usenames’ they use everyday, and their ‘truenames’, which they keep deeply secret or share only with those they most trust. To know someone’s truename is to be able to exercise power over them. Our entire field of psychology is based on the idea that to name something through diagnosis is helpful, will aid understanding and communication and help give you power over it also.
  2. The second is that naming a part will make it more separate. I’ve read arguments back and forth between therapists about how to identify parts, which terms are best, about whether to ‘correct’ multiples if they refer to their parts as people. I’ve read of multiples who refuse to name or allow names for their parts, or who become intensely anxious if their parts choose names because of this idea that naming confers independent existence.
  3. The third is that increasing the separation of parts is a bad thing. This comes from the medical model of DID. In this model, you are mentally ill, and it is your parts that indicate you are sick. Health is about getting rid of the parts, through integration or exorcism or suppression or whatever. Once all the parts are gone, you’re well again. Anything that makes the parts more separate or to function more independently of one another is going in the wrong direction as the goal is to merge everyone together or to collapse those parts that are ‘not needed’ and leave just one.

It interests me that each of these ideas are generally ‘accepted truths’, because investigating accepted truth is often fruitful. What do we think, why do we think these things, and how do we know they are right?

Some people read my outing of myself as multiple I am not Sarah, as a declaration that I disagree with allowing parts to have names, forcing everyone to operate under the group name Sarah. Not so!

My system, pre-diagnosis, used to organise itself roughly into a few groups. A handful who thought of themselves as Sarah, and who did a lot of day to day living and surviving. A handful who only turned up in very close relationships and thought of themselves as our middle name, Katherine. A handful who gave themselves no names but were clear that they were not Sarah, and would occasionally write very unhappy poetry about how much Sarah annoyed them. And lastly, the deeply cut off and buried ones who also were without names, without time ‘out’, just buried. Some slept, some screamed.

This is a pretty lousy structure. We’ve re-organised a lot over the years. Part of this process was finding a group name that everyone could shelter under, so that we didn’t have to identify individually. We chose Sarah, and disallowed any individual part from using that name for themselves, and the same with Katherine, because both names had such importance to us, and because the psych approach tends to create a hierarchy according to who has the birth name. The greatest threat to our functioning was now perceived to be the psych system, so we restructured partly to protect ourselves from them.

Everyone in my system (ie, me included) has either a name, or a title, or both. This is what makes it possible to communicate with and about each other. Therapy for example, can become extremely complicated if you are trying to talk about which of 8 Sarah’s you are trying to refer to! We can often deliberately trigger each other out using names or titles – maintaining their presence can be trickier, but calling someone’s name will often make us switch to them. It was engaging this process that was part of convincing us initially that we were multiple. Some multiples discover parts who already have names, so the whole question of whether parts should have names is moot. In my case things got pretty interesting at the point of awareness, with many parts very excited about names or titles (by titles I mean things like “The sad one”, “The librarian”, or “The 7 year old”. none of these are used in my system) Some parts, particularly a couple of younger ones, got very excited and rather confused and chose a lot of names for themselves until we worked out they weren’t remembering their previous choices and were accidentally making system mapping pretty confusing. This was a frightening and confusing time and we were worried that this process might make us ‘worse’.

Now, we’re pretty relaxed about the whole thing. I never give a fixed number for how many parts there are in my system, because I never assume that our system map is completely accurate and finished, and I’m comfortable with that. We have never yet been comfortable about openly identifying as individuals – on many blogs by multiples there will be a page where you can read about their system members – and I’ve always admired that, but it makes us feel incredibly exposed also! Maybe one day.

  1. So what about those first three assumptions? How have they played out for us? Well, names were powerful. Names took us out of darkness, incoherent and terrified. With names, came relationships.
  2. Did names increase separateness? Hmmm, that’s a difficult question to answer. My system has known a lot of internal wars over the years, massive power conflicts, terrible distress from banished members, parts getting lost and not coming out for many years… Relationships were the start of changing all of that. We also all tried to operate as some kind of middle ground between us – between the extremes of adult/child, dark/light, serious/silly, functioning/wounded… the result of which was that nobody was every really able to be who or how they are. All of us were scrunched in a box too small, limited by an idea of who ‘Sarah’ was that was painfully ill-fitting. Instead of continuing to cramp us all, we have changed and expanded the idea of who ‘Sarah’ is. So, in that sense, yes, part of the process has been about becoming more separate, being able to be ourselves.
  3. Lastly, has this separation been harmful? Well, no. My system has spread wings and we’ve all reveled in the freedom to be who and how we are in the world… while actually coming together to share a deep commitment to values that bind us as a tribe and help us function together. Our leaders have inspired us, have treated the wounded ones with care and the hostile ones with respect, and we have come to find value in our differences and to stop being threatened by each other the way we used to be. We are far more separate in some respects, and far more united in others. In this, has been health and peace.

I don’t share my experiences to suggest that this is the ‘right way’. Everyone’s path is unique, and it can help to hear a variety of ideas about paths to recovery. Certainly in my case, names have not been something catastrophic or something to fear. If you have parts who deeply desire names, perhaps fear is not needed. Perhaps this can be the start of awareness and light in processes that have been happening unconsciously and in the dark. Perhaps if you don’t think of them as symptoms of your illness, you’ll be able to relate to them with more warmth.

For more information see articles listed on Multiplicity Links, scroll through posts in the category of Multiplicity, or explore my Network The Dissociative Initiative.

2 thoughts on “Multiplicity – Is naming parts harmful?

  1. Really interesting; thank you for sharing. Being diagnosed 7 months ago, have been finding it increasingly tough to un-tangle myself(s) from the confusion over the accepted norms in D.I.D. It’s helpful to be reminded that actually,each D.I.D’er is very, very unique, so thank you .


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