If you don’t have dissociative identity disorder, you’re probably wondering why someone that does would need help dealing with personal hygiene and dressing. If you have dissociative identity disorder, though, I bet you know. I bet you have an alter that is scared to take a shower, or an alter that is male even though the body is female and therefore gets really upset when you need to put on a dress, or a teenage alter that wants to dress very provocatively and doesn’t understand why that’s inappropriate for the workplace. For years I struggled with a six-year-old alter that often refused to bathe because she was terrified of getting undressed. It’s challenging, to say the least.
Dissociative identity disorder (DID) is a condition in which a person has two or more personality states. It used to be known as multiple personality disorder. The different personalities are usually referred to as alters. It’s not uncommon for a person to have both male and female alters and to have alters of varying ages, including small children. Each alter has its own way of thinking and behaving. They often have different preferences in terms of clothing, hairstyles, makeup and jewelry, too.
Personal hygiene can be problematic for people with DID for several reasons.
As mentioned earlier, some alters, especially child alters, may be frightened of things like bathing. It’s believed that dissociative identity disorder usually develops as a result of severe early childhood trauma and if you experience something like traumatic, such as sexual abuse, while being bathed as a child, the idea of getting undressed and bathing or showering may be terrifying to child alters. Even things like brushing their teeth may be triggering to child alters, reminding them of frightening or painful experiences.
Sometimes simply reassuring child alters that they are safe now is enough, but often it’s not. If a child alter is afraid of taking a shower, taking a bath may be less scary, or the other way around. One of my child alters feels safer taking a bubble bath because she feels she can hide under the bubbles. Something else that has helped a little with my child alters is buying them fun bath toys. Bathing during the daytime, instead of at night, is also less scary for them. You may need to experiment to find out what will work for you.
Some people with DID grew up with a lot of neglect and never learned about basic hygiene. For instance, they may not know how often they should bathe or brush their teeth or other things that most people learn before reaching adulthood. In other cases, some alters may have these basic skills but others may not. If you aren’t sure about things like how often to bathe, you might feel embarrassed to ask someone about it. Talk to your doctor or therapist. They should understand and be able to help you with those questions.
It’s usually better to have adult alters handle some aspects of hygiene. For instance, child alters may be confused or frightened about menstruation. An adult should attend to that instead of child alters. Again, if you’re not sure about how to care for yourself in this regard, talk to your doctor or therapist.
After some of the difficulties involved with personal hygiene, dealing with issues of clothing preferences may seem easy. Still, it can create stress and internal conflict if different alters have very different clothing preferences.
Many issues related to different clothing preferences can be resolved by simply compromising. Find out what things are important to each alter and see if you can find clothing that satisfies everyone. Perhaps the body is female but a male alter strongly objects to wearing dresses. Perhaps other alters want to look feminine, though. In that case, perhaps everyone can agree to wearing jeans and feminine-looking blouses instead of dresses or perhaps everyone can agree to wearing denim skirts. Or maybe a child alter feels unsafe wearing skirts but other alters really like wearing them. Perhaps everyone can agree to wearing long skirts, though, or perhaps everyone can agree to wearing a pair of shorts or leggings underneath skirts.
If that doesn’t work, try taking turns choosing the clothing. An adult alter, one that goes to work, should choose the clothing for work. At other times, child alters, teens or others can choose clothing when it’s appropriate for them to do so. A responsible adult can still set limits when necessary, of course. For instance, you can set out a few outfits that are appropriate for church and allow younger parts to select from those outfits.
Web MD. Dissociative Identity Disorder (Multiple Personality Disorder).
Alderman, Tracy and Karen Marshall. Amongst Ourselves: A Self-Help Guide to Living with Dissociative Identity Disorder. 1998.
Also by this Contributor:
Dealing With Child Alters When You Have Dissociative Identity Disorder Improving Communication Between Alters when You Have Dissociative Identity Disorder How to Handle Bedtime when You Have Dissociative Identity Disorder