Chapter 7 – Beginning Work with Dissociative Parts

coping book coverHappy Friday! It’s time to pick up Coping with Trauma Related Dissociation, by Suzette Boon, Kathy Steele and Onno Van Der Hart, and this week we’re doing work.

If you struggle with anxiety when practicing these exercises, get grounded and review the materials in Chapter 5 again. Pace yourself and be kind to yourself; this is a marathon, not a sprint.

What’s on deck this week?

When you have a dissociative disorder, it can be hard to recognize and resolve inner conflict. Listening and taking into account the needs of your dissociative parts, even though you may not feel those needs yourself, is a powerful skill to have.

Initial Dilemmas in Working with Dissociative Parts of the Self

“Cooperating with various parts of yourself is sometimes more easily said than done because there is so much avoidance and conflict that keeps dissociative parts separated.” 

Common topics of conflict among parts include:

  • Body appearance, including things like diet, clothing style, hair, and tattoos.
  • The nature of relationships with friends, family, sexual partners, and abusers.
  • Priorities, including how you split your time between commitments, work, hobbies and interests.
  • Career choices.
  • Attending therapy.

First Steps in Working with Dissociative Parts of the Self

Quality of life comes first. That means cooperating on recognizing and dealing with triggers, increasing internal and external safety, cooperating in therapy, and working together on daily life tasks.

“Traumatic memories, emotions or sensations generally should not be shared among parts at this point.”  

Every single time I hear that, I feel better.

It can be time consuming and complex, but each time you’re aware of a part of yourself, you can grow your awareness of how you think and feel about that part of you. This is the stuff you need to journal about and take to therapy.

This chapter emphasizes acceptance of parts without judgement. When you’re less judgemental, you feel less afraid or ashamed, and less threatened. You allow yourself to be curious. This is one of the (many) reasons that applying negative labels to your parts can be dangerous.

Labels reinforce identity rigidity, the opposite of your goal in treatment.

After acknowledging without judgement, creating safety and expressing curiosity, it’s about keeping that mindset and listening. Techniques and forms of inner communication included in the book are written (eg journals), inner talk, and inner meetings.

One way to start is to find common ground . You may not agree on how to keep your body healthy, but it’s probably a topic some of you care about deeply. Start there.


7.1 provides a list of acceptance statements, starting from “I do not want to accept that I have dissociative parts” all the way to “I have regular communication with (some of) my parts to discuss issues of daily life”. Don’t worry, they don’t expect you to check off every step yet 😉

At this point, you’ll be assessing your current level of acceptance. Get the rainbow colored highlighters out and let your parts indicate where they feel they are on the acceptance journey. Refer back to this every week to validate that you’re all making progress.

This chapter ends with a week long homework project. For those of you following along at home, journal about these questions every day:

  1. Describe what you said or did to establish emphatic communication with a part of yourself.
  2. Describe the response of that part of yourself.
  3. What, if anything, made it difficult for you both to communicate?
  4. What, if anything, helped you both communicate?

Stick with it. Teamwork is a skill you want in your toolbox.

Til next week,

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