One of the most common questions that we get asked is, “how did you not know you had dissociative identity disorder?” – the answer is that we were blended.
For us, and specifically Isabelle, blended was our normal state for a long time. In fact – until the end of 2018 we referred to a “blended” version of us as one personality, “MaKayla.” It can be difficult to know that you’re blended especially if like us, your environment warranted constant blending to survive trauma as a kid.
What is blending with parts?
Blending is whenever we are overcome with intense emotions, urges, reactions or thoughts. For us, ruminating and overthinking always leads to a really blended state. It’s when you feel things that are extremely opposite of one another or when you think something or have an urge that you normally wouldn’t even consider (like self harm/suicide/contamination etc) Blending looks different for each system and we asked on our Instagram what other systems identified as signs of blending. For @geeksdogsndid – they feel blended when they are “having multiple & often contradictory thoughts about something at the same time.”
And it’s not just DID systems that experience blending – in fact, they may experience it even less than patients with BPD, PTSD, and C-PTSD. For us, we’ve had to heal with both. Isabelle blended as a very young child with all the parts because the trauma was still happening. Then for 5 to 6 years – there was less blending and less trauma – then the mother (who previously abandoned us) came back. It was at that point, around body age 11, that more amnesia and LESS blending happened.
How is blending different than co-consciousness and passive influence?
For us – blending is very different from these two. With co-consciousness, we know that someone else is fronting with us. We can tell it’s not just us fronting. With passive influence, we also know it’s the thoughts and feelings of another part creeping in. When one of our parts is passive, we often recognize their presence and their thoughts/urges as theirs.
When we are blended – that is not what it feels like. Blending is more about thinking the thoughts and feelings are yours. Blending, for us, is when whoever is fronting is overwhelmed with the emotions of another part – but doesn’t recognize that it’s a part. It’s the moment when Lydia says something that is entirely out of character and then she stops and thinks – “why did I say that?” The moment she says, “Izzy, is that you?” she isn’t fully blended anymore but has unblended (or separated) from the emotions enough to know they are not hers.
Most often for us this happens when two parts that don’t normally have contact are triggered at the same time or trigger one another. For example – Isabelle and Claire. They don’t have good communication and never really were exposed to one another. So when Isabelle fronts, if Claire gets triggered it’s easy for Isabelle to over-identify with Claire’s sense of urgency. That we call blending – and typically once the unblending process is completed either the Claire is back in the headspace or passively influencing Isabelle – rarely for us does unblending result in a switch. That usually only happens when the part that was fronting thinks that the part that blended in is more equipped to handle the situation at hand.
What is unblending from parts?
Unblending is a way we use to create some separation from the emotions, urges and intrusive thoughts that sometimes come with parts. It’s the only thing we have found to effectively allow us to observe our parts mindfully and non-judgmentally. We use it to diffuse triggered states and as way to help us communicate with and identify parts.
How did our dissociative identity disorder system benefit from unblending from our parts?
We are unblending from trauma responses to reblend without them. We use unblending to find patterns in triggers and emotions. We use it to help understand which parts trigger which other parts. Before we learned to unblend, it was a constant state of re-triggering. Fight parts like Lydia would stand up for us and almost always trigger attach parts like Emmie who were desperate to keep people around – even if they abused us.
Due to trauma and constant triggering – our parts were used to blending in a way that kept us safe growing up. That allowed us to survive then, but as an adult – it’s very maladaptive. Unblending taught us the strengths of our parts in a way that enabled us to find a better way to blend in response to current life. Blending is something we do only when we really need to. For example – if Emmie is on a client call and they haggle over price – Lydia can blend in to handle that and stand up for us. Otherwise, Emmie would just allow it and likely agree to work for free to please a client.
Before learning how to unblend from parts
As with anything new you and your parts do, first ask how they all feel about learning to unblend. We found that when we communicated with our parts, the most effective way to get them to open up was to first state our intentions – so we recommend doing that. We also need to make sure that none of our parts feel rushed into the decision – so we usually give everyone a week to mull it over before we ask for final votes.
Unblending is something everyone should be on board with if possible. It’s not going to work if one of the parts involved isn’t having it. Unblending takes the knowledge and consent of both parts. Lydia can’t unblend from Emmie unless Emmie agrees to unblend from Lydia. No one part controls the system – each part has equal say. (as much as Lydia hates that lol)
And finally – before learning to how unblend from parts it was very helpful that we already knew some basic things about communication and mindfulness. Since we didn’t know this all before unblending began for us – we were able to tell which new skills made a difference. For us – unblending from parts was significantly easier after learning some non-violent communication skills, some mindfulness and the basics of compassion for parts.
5 steps we take to unblend from parts
Before we jump into the steps – we’d like to say that when we first started this process could take HOURS – and now it takes about 5 minutes most times. Originally we used it to diffuse triggers, but now it mostly functions as the 5 steps we use to “check in” when we feel another part getting close to the front.
1. Assume that all overwhelming feelings, intrusive thoughts and urges are communications from parts.
We assume this every second of every day. We walk through life waiting to receive communications from our parts. Sometimes we don’t know if it’s our feeling or not – we always assume that it isn’t, even when we don’t know for sure what to think. If you know it’s your thought or feeling, it doesn’t contradict something you know you think or feel and it isn’t causing you discomfort or triggering another part – then it may be safe to assume that it is yours. Don’t worry too much about whether or not you are getting it right, your system will tell you. Trust it. If it feels right, it is. If it feels not quite right, then keep exploring.
2. Describe them as not yours but instead theirs.
The feelings, thoughts and urges that are now communications from parts need to be communicated as such. Think of your job as one of expression and advocacy for your parts. Now express for them. Describe the thoughts, urges and feelings as theirs. Say what feels right, what your brain tells you. Don’t judge it, just express it. For example: “They are angry. ” “She is scared.” and “he just wants to get out of here.” are all great ways to advocate for your parts when you’re fronting as well as a great way to identify parts and patterns.
We kept a journal to write these all down in. Eventually, patterns emerged that enabled us to get to know our parts and anticipate their needs much more quickly.
3. Create space from their thoughts, feelings and urges for your own.
Not a lot of space. Just enough to be able to feel their feelings and theirs and yours as yours. In order to do this we have to send messages to our subconscious (or Inner World) and the best way we have found to do that is by moving our body. We sit up straight and give ourselves a big hug to communicate safety and strength. Since most of our parts need to feel safe and strong to feel comfortable – those two things work for us. You’ll feel the shift in energy when you move to a position that calms the parts you’re blended with. When you achieve that sense of “their feelings” and “my feelings” you should be able to attempt to comfort your parts.
This may take some time as many parts don’t trust others after all they’ve been through. Keep showing up. Keep advocating for them and they will open up – we promise.
4. Imagine that your parts are your best friends
Now that you know what they are feeling and you’ve tried to help calm them – it’s time to comfort the parts. We found more success with doing this step with each part individually if we were blended with more than one – although it takes a ton of brain power.
Imagine your part is your very best friend. Imagine that your best friend is feeling exactly how you described your part was feeling. Treat your part just like you would that best friend. Ask them what you can do to help them and offer continued support just like you would to your very best friend.
Many of us don’t tell our angry best friend to just calm down but instead we validate their anger and help them through it. When we began treating our parts like our friends – our entire healing path and journey changed for the better.
5. Focus on feedback from your parts
We were so used to disowning our parts or down-playing their feelings that we would even do it right after “comforting” them. Parts are there for a reason – they give us information about internal struggles and when we don’t feel safe. Listening to them is the only way we can learn how to help them. Ask them what they need from you and LISTEN. Don’t just write off their desires and needs like their abusive attachment figures did. Listen. Don’t assume that you know everything. Instead you’re better off assuming that you know NOTHING and your system has all the answers.
Listen to your parts concerns. Ask them what you can do for them. Make sure you understand their needs by restating them and asking if what you understood is correct. Then do what you need to for them – always.
Keep showing up. Keep asking what they need. Keep doing it for them and you WILL keep healing.
More on unblending from parts can be found in Janina Fisher's book "Healing the Fragmented Selves of Trauma Survivors"