Integration can be a Hot Topic for those of us with multiplicity. It used to be (and sometimes still is) pushed as the cure for our illness, our only chance to be a normal person, and have a normal life. People who couldn’t integrate, didn’t want to, or tried to and had it fall apart on them were seen as more sick, less recovered, less committed to recovery, treatment resistant, or basically in some way a failure. So it can be loaded topic with heated diverse ideas and often some firm opinions and rough experiences for people. Hence why in 3 years of blogging about multiplicity I haven’t wanted to tackle it before now!
It doesn’t have to be so divisive of course, the issues really aren’t about integration, they’re about this idea of failure. If integration is an option rather than a cure, a lot of the heat and stress goes out of this topic. That’s certainly how I prefer to talk about it.
So, let’s start at the beginning, what the heck is it? Well, that can be tricky to define, because different people and different books use the word to mean different processes.
Fusion or Merging
This is the most common use of the word integration. It refers to the combining of two (or more) parts into one. Separate consciousnesses, or selves, become a single self, combining memories, skills, and attributes of both. For those who use a clinical dissociative framework, an analogy might be the dissociative walls between parts coming down, so that every part can be out together, all the time, sharing all of life, all the memories, and all the energy. Generally speaking integration is only used to describe the merging of all parts into one, but sometimes I have come across variations in that too. There’s a experiences of fusion shared in the biographies The Flock, Katherine It’s Time, A Fractured Mind, and Not Otherwise Specified.
Some people use integration to describe a system where all the parts but one have been retired from coming out. One part now runs all the life, and the rest live inside where they may be sleeping, playing, advising, or doing their own thing, but they don’t come out any more. An experience of retirement is shared in Today I’m Alice.
Some people use integration to mean that all the parts except one go away. People might pray away parts, have them exorcised, experience them ‘die’ (without harming the body), or simply find that they have fulfilled whatever function they were needed for and disappear. Sometimes passing on happens spontaneously, sometimes it is the specific goal of therapy or an intervention of some kind. There’s experiences of passing on in Little Girl Fly Away, Fractured, and A Life in Pieces.
While most people see this as an alternative to integration, sometimes this is described as integration, which can really be confusing! With co-operation the parts work together as a team, sharing the body and life and making decisions together. Basically, it’s a multiple system that functions well with parts looking after each other, sharing information and resources, and putting effort towards common goals. There’s experiences of co-operation shared in First Person Plural, When Rabbit Howls, The Sum of My Parts, and Five Farewells.
Several of these outcomes are described in In Two Minds. Most of these books can be borrowed from the DI Library.
So, if you’re reading or hearing someone talk about integration, it can be really helpful to know what they’re using the term to mean! Of course, a person with multiplicity may use all of these approaches, at the same time but with different parts, or at different times in their life – perhaps they work on co-operation which leads to fusion, or perhaps some parts fuse, some retire, some pass on, and the rest co-operate.
Integration is a word that also has different meaning in other contexts. It’s often used in trauma therapy to refer to someone’s ability to process, think about, and link into a personal narrative an experience that has been jarring and out of sync with their sense of themselves and their story about their life. In that context it is always seen as a highly positive thing, and that may be part of the challenge about the way it is used with multiplicity – because in this case it describes a process that people experience in diverse ways, ranging from profoundly welcome and life-saving, to highly distressing, destructive, and disabling.
Integration can mean a connection, as in technology or biology when we’re talking about different processes working together – for example “visuomotor integration” – how well our sense of sight and our muscles work together. Integration can be about harmony in difference, such as architecture that integrates well with the landscape. In science integration is the inverse of differentiation – one example of differentiation from biology is the process by which cells change from being generalised (such as the stem cells that start off building an embryo) to being specialised – becoming nerve cells, muscle cells, and so on. Integration is the opposite of segregation when we’re talking about civil rights or putting kids with disabilities in mainstream schools. When we’re talking about immigrants and culture, the word integrate is often used to mean assimilate – that is, the minority or inferior group should adapt and conform, to become absorbed into the dominant culture.
I see some obvious parallels in these various uses of the word integration and how it is experienced by people with multiplicity. Some people see either fusion or co-operation as the best goals for people with multiplicity. Some see passing on as the only possibility. Some people with multiplicity deeply desire fusion, while others are aiming for co-operation. Some people are terrified of losing parts. Some systems have different parts with very different goals, which they may try to impose on each other and team up with other people such as a therapist, to try to enforce.
Where the big issues come into play is often not what the goal is, but who chooses it and how it is defined. If a therapist, healer, priest or so on chooses the goal for a system then their efforts to create that may be highly traumatic, no matter what the goal is, or how well intentioned that person. If a goal is presented as the only possible option for a good life, then people can be devastated if their system simply doesn’t fit it or can’t sustain it. There is not one experience of multiplicity out there, there are hundreds of thousands. There is not one experience of integration either. Here are some diverse stories I am aware of:
- A person with multiplicity who works hard in therapy to fuse back to one part, and discovers that for them, a great deal is lost in the process: memories, skills, and so on.
- A person with multiplicity who experiences a part telling them that they have done what they were here to do, and their lifespan is over. A ritual goodbye is performed, and a small private funeral. The part ‘dies’ at peace.
- A person with multiplicity who draws upon their faith to pray with a trusted person in authority to have deeply distressed or disturbed parts taken away, and experiences relief.
- A person with multiplicity who found a new, more calm and grounded part formed in adulthood and guided their system through stress and conflict.
- A person with multiplicity who over many years, without therapy, learns about their other parts, negotiates their way through differences, and comes to work together as a team.
- A person with multiplicity who works hard in therapy towards fusion, who’s other parts experience grief at their loss of separate self, but who finds deep wholeness and relief in integration and embarks on a new life direction with zest and hope.
- A person with multiplicity who transitioned and went through sex change surgeries so the part of that gender could have time in a body they felt comfortable with.
- A person with multiplicity who has no intention of fusing but finds that fusion happens gradually and naturally as part of trauma healing, and comes to term with their new single identity.
- A person with multiplicity who is convinced by someone in authority that an exorcism of demons is their only hope for a good life, and finds it ‘works’ for several years as the other parts are deeply alienated and buried in their psyche, but then they return even angrier and harder to communicate with than before.
- A person with multiplicity who is thrilled to fuse with their other parts, only to find that when they are stressed they split back into parts again.
- A person with multiplicity who thinks that all the parts have gone, only to find a batch of new ones they didn’t know anything about.
- A person with multiplicity who fused, split, fused, split again, and finally fused for good!
- A person with multiplicity who had parts die only to come back to life some years later.
As you can see, people’s experiences are diverse!
So the stress about integration comes from many places, people who want to fuse but can’t seem to, people who are frightened that parts may die, people who are being strongly pushed into a process that doesn’t fit them well, or who are being told they cannot be whole or healed unless they do a particular thing or do it in a particular way. For some people fusion is amazing. I have seen it and it’s a marvel. For others it is akin to gay reparative ‘therapy’ for people who don’t want it, where people are trying to ‘cure’ something that is a natural difference in how people are, in the process making them much more vulnerable to suicide and self harm. I believe the risks of harm are higher when people are afraid, made to think one way is their only hope, and when they have no exposure to peers and diversity and are vulnerable to the ideas of a person with power in their life. I think the risks of harm are lower when people are able to sit with the idea that there may be many paths for people, and one is not necessarily better or worse than another, that what is supposed to happen for them will happen, and that whether you have single or multiple selves if you are decent to people, animals, and the planet, you are not a failure.
It is entirely possibly there is more than one form of multiplicity, some of which respond well to fusion or other types of integration, and some of which don’t. Certain philosophies and branches of neuroscience consider that it is a sense of having a single self that is an illusion and that all people are a collection of multiple selves and processes. The mind and consciousness are simply amazing. Please be reassured that if you have had bad or frightening experiences trying to navigate multiplicity that you are not alone in that, and that people, parts, and systems can recover.
Personally, when I was first diagnosed with DID in 2007, I had a plan. I was going to be a model patient, obey every instruction, and integrate within a year. I wanted more than anything in the world not to be multiple. I wanted to have a life, to finish my degree, to have a job, to be a parent – and I didn’t think I could do that if I was multiple. Putting my system under that pressure knocked us around badly and our functioning started to fall apart. We’ve ended up walking a much more roundabout route, focusing on specific challenges such as accepting our sexuality and rebuilding our social support, and figuring that if fusion is supposed to happen for us, it will happen in its own time. I’m okay with that! I don’t need to be multiple, it’s not what makes me special or gives my life meaning or gives me an identity. I’ll still be the strange mad creative oddball we are now. I also don’t need to be single to be whole, healed, or have hope. I don’t think single is the best, right, or only way for people.