Dissociative identity disorder systems may have protective alters to maintain overall system safety. DID is a coping mechanism the brain adapts in order to protect the body from repeat trauma.
Protective alters front and/or shield DID system members from experiencing more trauma, including abuse or triggering situations.
Misguided protectors, also known as persecutors, may instead abuse system members and seek to destroy external relationships as the result of their own trauma — like not knowing who to trust or even how to trust other people.
1. Emotional protectors
Emotional protectors in a DID system take emotional abuse and/or comfort other alters from the effects of emotional abuse.
Emotionally abusive behaviors include:
- Minimizing/dismissing your perceived life experience/concerns
- Invalidating your emotions
Emotional protector alters might come across as stone cold or numb feeling on the outside, but comforting on the inside. They may throw themselves into emotionally abusive situations, because they know they can handle it better than other DID system members.
This does not make the abuse okay.
2. Physical protectors
Physical protector alters protect DID system members from physical abuse and/or stand in to experience the physical abuse.
They may react negatively when they think they are going to be hit or experience another form of physical abuse, or simply take it.
For example, a system exposed to beating with a belt might have a physical protector alter who willingly submits themselves to the abuse because they know it’s coming.
This does not make the abuse okay.
3. Sexual protectors
Sexual protector alters protect the system from sexual abuse by fronting when sexual abuse is imminent.
Sexual protectors may also engage in unsafe sex as the result of sexual trauma. This does not take away from their protective behaviors — it is illustrative of their trauma and how trauma affects the brain.
A sexual protector might “willfully” engage with the sexual abuser, in hopes that it will lessen any abuse exposure. This is not consent. Rather, it’s an attempt to feel in control of an uncertain, unsafe situation.
However the body reacts to sexual abuse is not reflective of how anyone feels about what is happening. The body reacts as it does; if you don’t like the feeling, are uncomfortable, and/or do not consent or want to do it — that does not change.
Sexual protector alters in a DID system may also identity as being on the asexual spectrum. The sexual abuse they experience does not negate their personal feelings or experiences.
4. Verbal protectors
Verbal protector alters protect DID system mates from verbal abuse. They may engage in verbal abuse as well, in attempts to protect the system.
Verbal protectors can also protect Littles and anyone else in the system from hearing something they don’t need to hear.
5. Symptom holders
Symptom holder alters might take on the identity of a diagnosis the person with DID has been shamed for.
Instead of singlet masking, an autistic person with DID might have a symptom holder who embodies the autistic behaviors they’re not allowed to do in the presence of other people.
Symptom holders “hold” the body’s disability, mental or physical illness, and/or neurodivergence. There is no minimum or maximum to what symptoms they may hold.
6. Trauma holders
Trauma holder alters hold whatever trauma the body has been exposed to. There is no minimum or maximum to how much trauma a DID trauma holder can or will hold.
As the result of holding trauma, a trauma holder might behave similarly to someone with depression. They may be numb to pain or new trauma experiences.
In my experience with a trauma holder, talk therapy opened wounds the system wasn’t ready to heal.
Fusing my trauma holder unlocked trauma and memories I didn’t know I had, that I’d have rather lived my entire life without knowing. But it also removed a severely depressed part of me that bled into every other alter and helped me transition into major depressive disorder “remission”.
Caretaker alters care for a DID system overall. They might care only for certain alter types, like Littles or all of the children and/or animals in a DID system.
A caretaker alter may also be perceived as the “mother” or “father” of the system overall. I had two caretaker alters until one fused into other alters.
My caretaker alter cares mostly for the Littles and animals, but she will care for the body and home as well if executive functioning fails.
8. Director/Manager/Leader alters
Some DID systems have an alter who oversees the entire system. These alters are given different leader-type labels, depending on the system’s functionality and inner worlds.
Labels for this type of protective DID alter roles include:
The names of alters vary so much from one system to another because each system uses what they are most familiar with to comprehend what is happening to them.
My alter in this type of role is called the Director, and she simply “is”. I know a situation is serious when my Director is fronting or pulled out of her zone.
Being the leader alter of a system doesn’t mean being the “boss” of it. There is no micromanagement going on. The DID system leader should not have to exert their power as a leader unless the situation calls for it.
There are many more different types of DID alters. If you realize your system doesn’t have any protective alters, check out my alter functions list.
Present alters can change functions as well, so one of your current alters could develop into a protective role if your system needs one. In fact, it’s common for DID alter functionality to change the more the system learns about and understands dissociative identity disorder.
All DID alters are a form of dissociation. The brain dissociates to another alter so the primary facing/fronting alter is not privy to the experience.
Dissociating doesn’t make the abuse okay. Nothing makes abuse okay.
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