I am a survivor of a preschool and elementary school experience, in the early and mid 1960's, where researchers at a day school associated with a small, prestigious college took advantage of the privacy and freedom from accountability that their "research projects" gave them, to give free reign to their abusive behaviors. Some of the abuse was sexual; the worst, however, was the intensely confusing and damaging application of theories of psychology to the children such as me who had been groomed for being safe subjects: children who wouldn't tell.
I don't want to write in detail about those experiences; the internet is too public for that. I want to write about what I do now that works for me.
I am "kind of" multiple; I don't look very multiple in front of a therapist -- no lost time, no collection of "little kids" talking in little kid voices. I call myself "a many", taking the word from a glowing flower imagined by science fiction writer Zenna Henderson, and consider "I" a polite euphemism for "we". In any low stress situation, "I" am a cooperative self -- a group of collaborators enjoying life and supporting one another, moving in and out of our conscious level of experience as we choose.
"I" is a good word to use when I'm talking about relating to the "outside" world -- my work, my social life, where I play a lot of traditional music and dance, and do some volunteering; the world where I go poke around in the library following up interesting topics of research, the world where I buy food and deal with other people.
"We" is for when we're talking about how we are organized inside our mind.
One of the more fun examples of us operating in collaboration is playing music: what works for us is to "be many" -- to spread out the conscious attention to doing things among many of us and take on different aspects of the music -- breathing (it's a wind instrument we play) fingers, notes, expressive aspects of playing, hearing the tune a few notes ahead, subvocally verbalizing difficult-to-reach notes that are coming up: we do this as a cooperative thing. It probably sounds clumsy if it isn't something you have any experience of, but it works a lot like parallelized software that's running on a number of cpus all at the same time -- at least, that's what we think it's probably like -- we just do it, like walking and talking and looking at a beautiful sky all at the same time. When it works well -- and that happens a lot these days -- we play dance music at wicked high speed, tunes we hardly know at all (mimicking the notes being played by the other musicians who know the tune, at top speed, is very, very fun) and get some nice kudos from people we play with. (who are unaware of the manyness of us. we're VERY closeted.)
Stress makes this difficult or impossible to do, and makes "all the notes fall off the instrument" -- we can barely play when stress hits. We get very "singular" under stress: we can't do the "being many" thing, and there are only a very few of us who can operate consciously under stress; the more stress, the fewer. We get pretty rigid, inflexible and un-able -- clumsy, slow, VERY polite and silent -- we and leave the situation as soon as we can.
In our daily life, we operate on a Quaker business meeting model: everyone who shows up for any group decision (such as how are we going to spend time this weekend) has an equal voice; anyone may simply not show up; any decisions are by consensus; anyone may stand out of the way without being pressured into it.
If someone is hurting a lot -- that happens if some piece of "old stuff" -- memories of past abuse, flashbacks, feelings surfacing from long ago -- if someone is hurting a lot, we generally give that one the "floor" -- the conscious experience -- and the choice of how to proceed; the rest of us step back and let that one move at their own rate through whatever is hurting so much. Sometimes we find things to do that can be a counterbalance to the hurting -- things that can act as new, gentle, happy memories to be associated with the old stuff that hurts so much; that's our favorite approach to healing: letting ourselves be where it hurts, where for so long there has been nothing but hurt and being alone with hurt; we bring in gentle things that are manageable to the one hurting, to add to that one's experience of the world. An example might be a cat purring; or the sight of those gorgeous pink clouds that happen shortly before sunrise; or the smell of flowers by the bed; or a tune, if there's enough of us able to "do" to pick up an instrument and play (we play several instruments, music is essential.) A most important component of what's healing is simply to be there for our hurting one, to be others who can listen and understand and not judge and not be freaked out, not have big emotional reactions that are hurtful; we can be exactly how the hurting one needs us to be because we are able share that one's experience as it was lived.
It works really, really, really well for us.
Therapists, unfortunately, seem to find what we do to be very difficult to believe in... but having spent over twenty years as a software engineer, having a degree in science and a long, long list of reading in a wide range of fields, we don't find it hard to believe that this brain substrate which can handle all the muscular complications of walking, of dancing, of playing music and seeing and understanding language and producing it, of sorting out all the immense number of perceptual inputs into a manageable collection of perceptions and turning all that into an immense store of memories, managing the huge collection of symbolic information and associating it accurately with the words and problems and new information that fly past all day long -- all of that in parallel -- we don't find it very hard to believe in at all.... But I suppose it does help to make it more believable that we actually live it!
One of the standard questions for a multiple personality is "how many of you are in there?" ... our answer works out to something like "...more than that..." we don't find ourselves to be countable, too many of us are off the edge of conscious awareness.
If we (at the conscious level) really, really need to make a decision with EVERYONE'S input, we have an image we use of a long pier extending out into an ocean, (ok, these could be described as "symbols," but they're more real than that, the words we pick to describe them are essentially metaphors for what's going on in this mind, but there are no other words besides metaphorical ones to describe this.) We package up all the stuff we're trying to make the decision about, all the thoughts we've been mulling over, and drop it off the end of the pier; and wait to hear back.
We're on our second career, and it's even more fun than the first; we love being alive, and right now we need to run away to play music with friends.