As tomorrow looms for the opening of Glass a movie by M. Night Shyamalan, I cannot help but reflect on the impact this movie and its predecessor Split have on the DID community.
I specialize in treating DID (Dissociative Identity Disorder) and have become intimately aware of the struggles of this population. Many of those within the DID community have voiced their concerns about the depiction of the mental health diagnosis in these movies.
So as an advocate for this community I wanted to flesh out why this is such a concern.
The common rebuttals to the concerns is that
“Hollywood fantasizes everything and takes things to the extreme so people shouldn’t be concerned.”
“Movies are not necessarily about trying to accurately portray every detail unless they are documentaries.”
“It’s just a fun and dramatic narrative, it doesn’t intend to harm this community.”
While I understand the line of reasoning in these rebuttals and agree that the intentions of Hollywood are not to harm people that doesn’t mean that there are not implications of media like these movies.
Why is this such a big deal?
There are probably many reasons why these movies are a concern for the DID community, and I would be amiss to say I know all of them, but I will do my best.
- The DID community is a marginalized group that struggles to be accepted and understood.
Dissociative Identity Disorder is a diagnosis that is surrounded by a lot of controversy in the professional field. There are many practitioners and therapists that disagree on the diagnosis. Some do not believe that it exists and others that relegate it to be a rare diagnosis. As a result, those with the diagnosis are often fighting to get the right treatment and diagnosis. They are often not believed for their symptoms and the treatment they receive is not catered to their specific diagnosis.
Therefore, If the mainstream field of psychology struggles to validate and accept the diagnosis it puts this population at risk for misunderstandings. The reality of this puts the community even more at risk when everyone else watches these movies and build their own perspective on the diagnosis. They will only have fantasized, extreme views on this diagnosis from what they see in the movies.
- The way that DID is portrayed is not the clinical presentation of the diagnosis, reinforcing that it is dangerous and something to be fearful of.
The way that split and I can only assume Glass portray DID is not consistent clinically. DID is the result of childhood trauma. The different parts of self do not always present in rigid different personalities. Most dissociative parts are so oriented on protecting the client that they try their hardest to blend into the normalcy not wanting to be identified as different from the person. The activities of the different parts are based on the trauma the person experienced trying to avoid trauma reminders, negative affects, thoughts, and emotions related to the trauma. DID people are not violent, or monsters, but survivors.
The parts become active to keep the clients safe, away from danger, and manage the day to day tasks and struggles. The parts fight hard to keep the memory of the abuse out of awareness of the person for fear that that would overwhelm the person inhibiting the persons ability to survive and function. When parts are out or fronting they do not follow through with devious and insidious plans for harming others or the client. All the of activities they do is reactive to events transpiring.
Parts of self that may present as self-harming or suicidal are actually operating out of a protection framework. They believe the best way to keep the person safe is by hurting themselves (so no one else does, and to escape painful emotions) or killing themselves (so that no one else does or to escape pain).
The DID population is not more likely to harm others as the movie indicates but are more at risk of being harmed. Trauma history makes DID clients more susceptible to continued abuse, and the way that DID people function puts them at risk of being outcasted for being “crazy”.
- The movies reinforce the false conception that DID is bizarre and otherworldly.
DID has always had an uphill battle when it comes to mainstream acceptance mostly because the way that DID presents seems so different from normal functioning. Most people assume and experience the reality of a single self, and have a working memory of their choices and decisions. So when people present with DID they experience a discontinuity of self to the point of experiencing different selves that act very different and struggle with memory loss because of the role of the dissociative parts.
This I personally feels is a misnomer because most of the clients that I interact with experience a closer expression to the fracturing of self that happens with DID. People often say that “there’s a part of me that doesn’t want to do this” or “something inside of me is telling me to do something different”. I view all of the personality through the multiplicity framework that all people are an amalgamation of parts that make up the whole of the person’s singular identity. Trauma impacts and effects this process by forcing these parts of self into roles of withholding, and survival that keeps the parts more distinctly separate that people normally experience the activity of parts of self.
The more distinctly different media or professionals view DID clients from the normal human experience it invalidates and creates fear. We fear what is different than us. If we can relate in some ways to someone different than us we can have space for empathy and connection. These movies reinforce that DID is not normal human experience and should be feared.
- Lastly, these media panders to the idea that DID is rare or not real so it’s okay to mischaracterize the disorder.
I have written an entire post about how DID is not to be considered rare as the prevalence rates are higher than what could classify something as rare (https://gilessieburg.wordpress.com/2019/01/09/is-did-as-rare-as-they-say/). As a result, when something operates from the framework that DID is rare or not real it puts those with the disorder in the category of liars or fakers. This further entrenches their marginalization and distances them from the care and treatment they need and deserve as trauma survivors.
Given these points, Split and this upcoming release of Glass significantly impacts the DID community and puts them at risk. I have tried to reach out the M. Night Shyamalan’s Twitter handle to influence the presence of a disclosure that the presentations of the character in the story do not reflect the presentations of the DID community, but there has been no response.
Please don’t let media passively educate you about a nuanced and difficult disorder that is hard for this community to manage. Lower your defensive fear response to what is different and build empathy and connection for those with the disorder so they do not have to feel alone, and villanized.