|Early Warning Signs of Switching: Recognition
& Avoidance Techniques
By Sara Lambert
One of the most
common fears of multiples is that they will switch inappropriately
in public. Not only is this embarrassing at times and hard to
explain to those who do not know the survivor is multiple, it can
also be dangerous. For these reasons, it is important to develop
awareness of how to recognise the early warning signals of
switching and have a variety of techniques for avoiding switching
when necessary. For many multiples, the tendency to switch
uncontrollably and inappropriately may be an expression of their
general anxiety about their self-control (namely, their lack of
it) or it may have more to do with the importance of maintaining a
constant source of fear in their lives. Strange at it may sound,
fear can actually be a friend, especially if it is all you have
ever known. It can also be incredibly addictive for both positive
(the buzz of adrenaline) and negative ("I don't deserve peace
of mind") reasons. The threat of inappropriate switching may
provide that fear. It may also keep life chaotic, unpredictable,
and therefore familiar - and comfortable.
survivors use switching as a mechanism of power and control over
their primary person or the rest of the system - especially when
certain selves feel they do not have enough "body time"
or when their needs are not being met.
On a more basic
level, some multiples simply have not developed the quality of
communication required to monitor when it is okay to switch, or
the co-operation that would protect them from dissociating
automatically when triggered.
There are usually
ways for a multiple to recognise that she is about to switch,
although it may take her some years to become aware of these. The
signs are unique for each multiple, but some common ones include:
- Headaches: these
may signal that there is tension/change going on within the
system. They may also indicate the alteration in body
chemistry that sometimes occurs with switching.
- Spacing Out:
self-detachment may prepare the way for a full identity
- A Feeling
Inside: this is hard to describe, but it is a physical
sensation, like something inside is undergoing a major shift.
Vision: again, this indicates chemical or energy changes
associated with an identity switch.
- Doubleness Of
Self: there may be a sense that another is standing
inside/behind you, prior to them emerging completely.
- Infusion: this
is alot like doubleness, except that it is not so much a sense
of another's presence, but of being filled with emotions or
thoughts that are not your own, that infact belong to the
other self. So you may suddenly feel giggly and light like a
happy child before that child comes out.
- A Triggered
Response: the only warning some multiples get is a brief
moment of realising they have been triggered, or a snatch of
emotion too overwhelming for them to hold, before they defend
themselves by switching.
These are only a few examples of warning signs. Remember that the
processes of multiplicity are different for every multiple and, if
yours is not on this list, you are not doing it wrong!
Becoming aware of
your own personal warning signals requires time and patient study.
For some, the signals may be so clear, and they may have such
confidence in the fact they are actually a multiple self-system,
that developing an awareness of warning signs for switching is
fairly easy. Others may not realise they have switched until
later, upon finding evidence that it happened, or they may have
such intense denial of their multiplicity that they deliberately
ignore all signs that a switch is about to occur. This latter
situation tends to create more inappropriate switching as the
system becomes overtly dissociative in an effort to fight the
denial to have the reality of its existence acknowledged.
The size of the
system also influences how able someone will be to track their
switching signals. For those multiples with a relatively small and
straight-forward system, it may be easy to get a handle on whose
switching process feels like what. For those who are
poly-fragmented or with a more complex system, this may be
impossible as some selves are only fragments, some have no names,
some are layered across others, and so on.
A number of
survivors find it helpful to keep a journal of what happened just
before and during their switches into specific alter selves. By
doing this, they can track any patterns of feeling or behaviour
that may exist. Others ask outside observers to describe what they
see when the multiple switches - one of the reasons why therapists
are helpful! An internal gatekeeper who can observe switching from
the inside as it happens, and later pass information about it on
to the primary person, may also be helpful - but is probably only
possible once the survivor's self-system has developed a good
level of communication and co-operation amongst themselves. The
next question is, how do you stop switching before it happens? I
believe it is possible to do so, although some survivors may not
develop this kind of self-control until well down their healing
road. In my opinion, to say that the system has no control over
its traffic flow is to buy into the idea that life is always
chaotic and that the survivor has no internal locus of control.
techniques for avoiding switching are suitable for different
people (including the different selves of someone), and it is a
matter of trial and error finding something that personally works.
- Negotiate in
advance with your other selves when each can have time in the
body to follow their own special pursuits. For example,
allowing a child time in the evening to colour-in or watch
cartoons will mean that she is less likely to emerge during
your work day in order to just have time out. If you are the
sort of person who likes charting schedules (or if you tend
towards chaos and need a charted schedule), then you
might like to make a pie chart divided into segments
representing the hours of your day, and allocate each segment
to different selves. You can then include in this chart the
various chores that have to be completed during certain parts
of the day, and it is the responsibility of those selves
present at that time to attend to those chores. Drawing up
this chart with the help of everyone in your system is a great
opportunity for developing communication - although be
prepared for it taking some considerable time before you come
to any agreements!
- If someone is
going to come out because they have been triggered, have
another alter self be with them inside, to comfort them until
you are able to spend time with them going over what happened.
If possible, take a few moments for them to write down what
triggered them and why.
- Use breathing
and grounding exercises to remain in your body. Try applying
something very cold to your skin.
- Take time out,
for example by going to the toilet or having a breath of fresh
air. This removes you from a triggering situation, changes
your environment, and gives you the chance to have a
conversation with the alter self who wants to come out,
without anyone noticing that you are "talking to
- Ask adults to
keep the children occupied during work hours, perhaps by
singing to them, telling them stories, or teaching them about
things you have learnt about yourselves in therapy.
overstimulation or, on the other hand, boredom. Be flexible,
insofar as, if some activity is causing you to dissociate,
take a break from it for a while or do something else instead.
- Have a buddy
inside who can help you deal with both internal and external
stressors. Have an outside buddy as well, if possible. You may
be able to disclose your multiplicity to a trusted workmate or
friend who can let you know if you are becoming too
dissociative, and help you to ground yourself.
- Use your
dissociative skills to put up a wall between you and your
inner selves while you are at work or in a situation where you
need to be "singleton".
- What does not
work is trying to block other selves without compensation or
denying their right to be in the body at all. As well as being
unfair, this will only encourage conflict. Instead, work out
compromises for sharing your day that will allow everyone a
certain amount of freedom. (If you resent your other
selves taking time that you consider to be yours alone,
remember that they are actually all part of you, so in reality
you are only denying yourself the opportunity to spend time
doing things that, in part, you enjoy doing!)
While it is
important to control inappropriate switching as much as possible,
I do not believe that switching in general should be discouraged,
especially in the early years of recovery, on the basis that
dissociative defences are "bad". Certainly, there are
better and safer ways of dealing with problems, and much of the
recovery process deals with learning new ways of problem-solving
and associative skills. But denying the presence of alter selves,
refusing them body time, ignoring their needs and discounting the
ways they defend themselves and the system as a whole are all
recipes for disaster. Infact, if there is one thing guaranteed to
worsen dissociation it is trying to make it go away. What I
strongly support is multiples finding ways to respect their alter
selves, develop communication and co-operation, and find ways that
everyone can have "body time" and get their needs met at
It seems to me that
nothing happens in a multiple's system without a reason. Therefore
the trick to stopping things that you don't like from happening is
to find out why they are happening and then come up with a
more suitable and effective alternative for action. For example,
there is usually more to a child coming out at the office than her
just being a brat. She may be frustrated because she is never
allowed out at any other time to play - in which case, the system
must arrange time for that child to be out at home, where she will
be safe and the system not embarrassed, and she must be allowed to
play. Another reason for the child's appearance may be that she
was triggered by something in the office, and her appearance is a
powerful way of the system drawing attention to the potential
danger of the trigger. In this case it would be worthwhile to talk
with the child about what triggered her, as this is valuable
information which holds clues to what happened in the past.
Once the trigger is known to the system, they can come up with
ways for dealing with it in the future so the child does not have
to be involved (and so is protected from further fear and
distress). The child herself will probably have some good ideas
about how to defuse and/or associate the trigger. The child may
also appear as a sign that something is wrong inside the system.
It could be that the primary self has been neglecting her alter
selves, or that they are rebelling against her denial of the
diagnosis, or that there is conflict inside or re-enactment of
abuse scenarios being played out on the child.
selves spend time in the body does not make multiplicity
worse or create more switching. Infact, to the contrary - it eases
conflict, promotes harmony and control, creates less need for
inappropriate switching, and so makes things better for all.
Used by permission. http:///users.actrix.co.nz/tmspirit/index.html
you are going to work with ritual abuse survivors, you must
also get educated if you want to be effective. And you must
learn to be humble. Trauma survivors do not need to be
around ignorant, modern-day Pharisees. Survivors in pain
need people who will connect with them on an emotional
level, get right down in there where they are, and listen. --Kathleen