The Three Stages of Healing

Healing from dissociative identity disorder (DID) often is a long and arduous journey. For some, it takes many years in therapy to move through the stages of healing.


This article will concentrate on the three stages of healing and how they relate to the lives of those who live with the condition known as DID.


The Stabilization Stage


During this initial first stage of the healing process, you learn that you have DID and how it is formed. You might suddenly find that there is a reason for all the anomalies you have noticed throughout your life from the experiences of those around you.


This phase includes the following items:


  • Internal and external safety
  • Grounding resources
  • Self-regulation
  • Triggers


Internal safety. In the first stage of healing, anyone healing from DID and the severe trauma that caused it will need to establish a sense of safety both internally and externally. This is vital to ensure that the multiple does not self-destruct during the other two stages of healing. Internally, you may find that working on dissociative identity disorder issues is very difficult to handle. Not only is it grueling to handle the voices and thoughts of the others in your system, but there are also the body memories and other internal symptoms to manage.


External Safety. Externally, one must find and form habits that maintain the body’s safety. Too often, multiples find themselves facing fugue where they go places they did not usually go or waking up in situations that would be embarrassing at best.


Self-regulation. One of the first steps to healing is learning to regulate what you are doing and saying, even when split into an alter. The crucial thing to remember is that you are responsible for all things done, whether switched into an alter or not. You are entirely responsible for any harm you may cause you or someone else. The alters and you must learn to regulate the behaviors your system exhibits. This is a critical part of healing.


Triggers. Learning your triggers can lead you to feel empowered and in control. Learn coping skills to handle triggers and feel more confident about your behavior and how you feel about yourself. Once you have mastered coping skills such as grounding yourself in today, whenever you feel triggered, you are well on your way to healing by gaining control over things that happened long ago.


It is highly discouraged for multiples to move on into the processing stage without achieving a semblance of stability.


The Processing Stage


The processing stage is perhaps the most trying phase to go through. The difficulty comes because of the emotions attached to the different phases of the processing stage. They include:


  • Remembering and mourning
  • Telling one’s own story
  • Sharing and disclosing


Remembering and mourning. The memories that are tapped during this healing phase are strong and exhausting. These recollections are not something you need to dig for or that a counselor will dredge up. Instead, the memories will surface on their own as you begin to feel safe with your therapist and begin to know it is alright to share what happened to you with them.


The mourning one feels as you remember you were robbed of your childhood and how much your life is affected today is tremendous. It is as though something inside has died because of your maltreatment as a child. It is alright to mourn and feel angry; remember, you do not wish to remain in that state because it can become an inescapable trap.


Telling one’s own story. While it may be evident to us that telling our story is a part of therapy, few understand just how vital it is to do it. Yes, what happened so long ago was horrific, and we would prefer to keep the secrecy we were led to believe would protect us.

However, once we tell someone else our story, we lighten our load and allow someone else to weep with us over the lost opportunities that were robbed from us by people who used us for their own needs.


Sharing and disclosing. Allowing someone else to know what happened to you is almost exhilarating as you break the silence that was forced upon you by the perpetrator. Letting someone else see the pain and sorrow you experienced while growing up is freeing because your therapist (or whomever you choose to share your story with) will mourn with you. Some will even cry with you as they recognize your pain.


I can remember telling my story for the first time to my therapist Paula. I had been seeing her for several months before I opened up about what had gone on in my childhood. Once I did, it was as if a huge weight had been lifted from my heart, and we began to walk down the road less taken together.



The last part of healing involves learning to live after all the chaos and pain you have been through during the stabilization and processing stages. Several life-altering changes occur in the integration stage, including:


  • Healthy relationships and boundaries
  • Sense of agency
  • Self-identity
  • Empowerment and ability to thrive


Healthy relationships and boundaries. Because of the damage done in childhood, many of you either formed no relationships at all or found yourself trapped in an unhealthy relationship. Also, you may have become aware that your boundaries are non-existent or that you have allowed others to trample all over them.


Now you have passed through the gauntlet of healing to reach a point in your life where you want and can form healthy relationships where your boundaries are important and respected. Boundaries may include insisting that people treat you with respect and dignity as is your right as a human being.


Sense of agency. The term sense of agency is a sense that you have control over your life. It is a subjective awareness and control of your will and how you interact with the world. You know now that you and you alone are responsible for your bodily movements, especially how you behave.


After spending so many years lost in the morass of loss and pain, gaining a sense of agency may feel like coming out of a dark cave and into the fresh air and light of life.


Self-identity. Multiples have a hard time during the beginning and middle stages of healing with their identity. There is so much confusion with having alters to contend with and not feeling like a whole person.


In this last stage of healing, you may find that you are discovering who you are and what you want to do with your life. Finding who you are and defining your aspirations and goals is a significant step forward, leading you to a better present and a promising future.


Empowerment and ability to thrive. Last, you have reached the stage where you feel and are empowered to not only share your story but to move beyond it. No longer are you a hapless victim, as now you have become a powerful force in the world. For many, empowerment also means changing the way you see yourself moving from victimhood to a person who thrives.


Your ability to thrive is the hallmark of leaving the abyss of dissociative identity disorder behind and moving on to a life full of power and reward. No, life will never be a cakewalk because, well, that’s the way life is for everyone. Healing and thriving means accepting that life is hard and sometimes unfair for everyone.


Ending Our Time Together


I don’t write this article without knowing the three stages of healing well. My healing journey has not been pretty, but it has been well worth the heartbreak and drama. I began my journey a total mess, and my therapist had a tough time helping me stabilize so I would be safe enough to handle the other parts of my travels.


My last words of wisdom, one might say, are these:


Never give up on your dreams and keep working with your therapist, no matter how hard things get. I promise you if you persevere, there is a better life waiting for you when you thrive. You will find life challenging but not dangerous, and your relationships with other people will flourish.


We must each lead a way of life with self-awareness and compassion to do as much as possible. Then, whatever happens, we will have no regrets. – Dalai Lama


You’ve gotta dance like there’s nobody watching,
Love like you’ll never be hurt,
Sing like there’s nobody listening,
And live like it’s heaven on earth.
– William W. Purkey

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