I have a lot of lived experience with dealing with child alters. My goodness, I have hundreds of six-year-old girls and boys and at least one adorable three-year-old girl whose name is Mary Ellen. I’ll be using her as an example throughout this article.
Two Burning Questions
There are two burning questions people ask about child alters. One is what are they? The other is Who are they?
I’ll tackle the question of what they are first.
What are Child Alters
Child alters are you formed and trapped at different ages in trauma-time (the actual time that a traumatic event occurred.) For instance, Mary Ellen developed when I was around three years and holds all the memories of traumatic events that happened at that time in life.
No one understands yet just where in the brain alters are stored (for lack of a better word.) What we do know is that a young child’s personality isn’t fully formed and is pliable until they reach around nine years of age.
Differences in Personality Formation
During these years children who are not experiencing severe and repeated traumatic events pull together all the parts of their personality (associate them.) They connect their memory directly linked to their experiences.
This connection is especially true of experiences and memories formed with their caregivers.
Children who are experiencing severe and repeated traumatic events are different. Their personalities miss the opportunity to pull together into a cohesive whole leaving the person splintered.
The experiences and memories of their caregivers remain dissociated.
No one understand how these disconnected (dissociated) clusters of memory and experience take on lives of their own and act independently of one another.
I think it has a lot to do with the formation of the amnesiac walls that are formed to protect the child. These occur so that they can carry on with life without going insane or killing themselves.
Memory is Not a Filing Cabinet
If you read my previous post on brain formation, you can see how this explainable.
The way memories are encoded and stored in the brain may be the answer.
In the brains of young children without trauma, memories are encoded and stored all over the brain.
It’s not at all like the popular way people sometimes think of memory storage as a filing cabinet.
However, these “files” are connected so that if stimulated (triggered) one or more of them will bond together and you have a memory of what has happened in the past. This means you know how to handle what is occurred in the now because of memories of similar situations earlier in life.
In the brains of highly traumatized young children, the left hemisphere closes off, and the memories of the traumatic episode are encoded and stored in the right hemisphere only.
This storage problem is a massive problem because the right hemisphere is a silent and mute partner to the understanding and vocal left.
You can say that the left hemisphere doesn’t know what the right hemisphere is doing.
Then Comes Brain Maturity
The memories that formed when I was 3 became encoded and silent. They were not lost, they were not repressed, they were merely put in an area that was entirely inaccessible to the child.
Consequently, they aren’t retrievable to the adult survivor until brain maturity.
They Begin to Speak
At this point, because new connections made, the brain makes a huge leap. Some people suddenly remember, entirely unbidden, the things that happened in their childhood.
It is my belief, (this is not backed up yet by science), that all alters are memories stored in bundles. The memories are saved in the right hemisphere, and the amnesia experienced by many caused by the inability of the right and left hemispheres to speak before brain maturity.
That’s the how, what about who?
Who are Child Alters?
Child alters are not strangers living in our heads. Neither are they demons, aliens, or monsters.
They are us, all of them.
Their experiences and emotions are ours, and all their behaviors are ours.
You cannot blame an alter for doing or saying something wrong because those actions are yours.
It’s Normal to Fear Alters, but Then…
Mary Ellen is me when I was 3. She is adorable, and I’m very fond of her. That means I think of myself as being sweet and I am fond of me.
That’s not wrong.
It’s entirely okay to love myself.
When it can be hard, and I think every multiple reading this will agree, is when we don’t like our alters or are afraid of them.
All of the above are involved in a very natural stage when first discovering their existence. However, that means you don’t like and are afraid of ourselves.
When I first met Bianca, my precocious 18-year old self, I didn’t like her at all.
I mean at all!
She was always buying things and has gotten me into trouble with the law at least twice.
However, after many years of working hard on these issues, I have discovered that Bianca is a beautiful ally!
Yes, she did illegal things from time to time, but her street smarts and determination to get things done is invaluable!
Bianca isn’t someone else; she is me when I was 18. I am full of street smarts, and I am determined to get things done!
Bianca is me. I am Bianca.
It Isn’t Easy
Reaching the point of acceptance of the different thoughts and memories of the alter is a milestone in recovery, but it isn’t easy. Accepting that their memories, no matter how traumatic, are mine hurt like hell. Finally, I got it through my thick skull that their tears and hurts are mine.
How did I reach this point? By loving and accepting them. By becoming the mother to them (myself), I never had. I protect them, love them, cuddle them (in my mind of course), and will never, ever let anyone harm them again.
I have invited them to come live with me in the present, and they have accepted that invitation.
Some Common Misconceptions About Alters
As I have mentioned, alters are not demons to be cast out, or monsters in us set on destroying our lives. They are important. They kept us alive and prevented us from remembering horrible events so that we could carry on. It is essential to give credit where credit is due. They are the reason we are sane and alive today and deserve a lot of respect.
That having been said I’m going to speak now on integration. Integration is NOT where my personality or yours becomes wholly associated like people who haven’t experienced severe and repeated childhood trauma.
That is impossible.
It is just as impossible for a “singleton” to become a “multiple.”
Once past the age of association of the personality, the process of becoming a multiple cannot be reversed.
There have been experiments where a “singleton” were forced to form alters. However, these alters did not last. They broke down, and the person lost the ability to dissociate after a short time.
Integration is when the alters all agree on a leader and pull together to go in the same direction. It is when our actions and goals combine to form a formidable force for progress into the future.
It is like an orchestra, all playing their instruments extremely well, playing together in unison to make beautiful music. The leader who is chosen acts as the maestro, the person where the buck stops. The one who is out front, by agreement, to handle the outside world.
That is integration in a nutshell.
It takes a lot of practice, listening to each other, and helping each other to form this conglomeration. But it CAN be done; I am a living witness to this.
They Are Children
Child alters are not just an adult acting like a child, they ARE children. As such they are easily persuaded and harmed.
If Mary Ellen is “out” she (I) will only be 3. My actions, thoughts, and behaviors will be those of a 3-year old child.
I’ll tell a story on Mary Ellen (myself) that illustrates this and the following point I want to make more clear.
A Story From My Own Life
Back in the early 90’s when I first began treatment for DID, I went to a picnic. Now the friends attending there knew me very well and all about me living with DID. I trusted them implicitly.
I rode to the picnic with a lovely lady whose name was Gayle. When we arrived at the house where the picnic was to be held, and a tiny four-year little girl whose name was Elizabeth greeting me when I opened the car door.
She said, “Hi, I’m Elizabeth. I’m four, want to play with me?”
Two hours later I “awoke” on the back deck of the house and Gayle was approaching me with a newly grilled hamburger.
I looked at her and said “Gayle?”
She then told me that everything was okay, that I had just spent the last two hours playing in the sandbox with Elizabeth. It was then that I realized my clothes, including my bra, were full of sand.
Elizabeth came up to me a few minutes later and was very disappointed that her friend Mary Ellen was no longer able to play.
One misconception a lot of people have is that child alter will spontaneously appear.
Yes, like Mary Ellen and the sandbox episode, it can happen. However, such events are tremendously rare. The reason is that the child alters like any other children are not going to merely take over because they must feel comfortable and safe first.
This means that a child alter is unlikely to appear and take over in a busy place where they know no one.
I would never say it cannot happen. Every system is different. I am saying it can happen, there are always exceptions to the rule, but it is highly unlikely.
Please, Head The Following Warning!
I have a warning I wish to convey. It is related to the sandbox episode.
Child alters, like other children, are very vulnerability!
They can easily be taken advantage of by strangers who wish to harm them. Had there been someone at that picnic who were sexual or otherwise predators, both Elizabeth and Mary Ellen would have been in danger.
Predators are NOT Just in Person. They Can Be Online
Please, please be very alarmed by people online in a chat room or a support group, or anywhere for that matter, who become extremely involved with your child alters.
Your inside children can be easily manipulated!
This means they are manipulating you!
Who I’m speaking of are people who talk to your child alters in private chat rooms or on any site telling them they love them or asking them to meet them somewhere. Just as you would if your inner child were an outside child, you should be terrified and keep them from making contact ever again.
Alert the administrator or owner of that site and do not allow anymore contact.
These trolls can be extremely dangerous and can bring harm to your system that can set back your recovery for years!
I guess in closing I will say this. Child alters are beautiful and beautiful parts of you who never grew up. Like Peter Pan, they are still full of wonder and joy. Yes, they also remember some horrible things, but after those memories are dealt with you can enjoy the awe they still feel about the simple things in life.
Enjoy these little parts of you. They are precious.
“Life is full of beauty. Notice it. Notice the bumble bee, the small child, and the smiling faces. Smell the rain, and feel the wind. Live your life to the fullest potential, and fight for your dreams.” Ashley Smith