Integration



Content warning for this article: detailed talk about integration and fusion.

Note: when we say "integration," we mean the lowering of dissociative barriers. This can include fusion, which is when two or more system members merge together into one entity, but the two words are not entirely synonymous. Integration can mean reducing amnesia, improving communication, and other improvements in functioning which lower dissociative walls. While writing this essay, we were not always certain which word was more correct to use; in those cases, we have opted to use "integration," as fusion is a particular type of integration in the area of identity.



Integration and Us

Integration and fusion are scary topics for some. Considering how they've been forced on systems for years, we can't blame people for being afraid of it. There's a long and unpleasant history of therapists, psychologists, academia, and the general public forcing fusion on systems that didn't want to fuse, and it's tainted the plural community's views on integration as a whole. There's a sizeable chunk of the community that compares it to death, murder, and permanent loss. No one talks about it, or what it's like. Integration and fusion have become taboo topics in the wider plural community.

We've always said we wouldn't pursue fusion. It was scary to us, the notion of being alone in our mind, of losing our individual identities and our place in the plural community. We saw it as a form of identity death. When it started happening to us as an unexpected part of healing, we denied that was what was happening at first. We were just increasing cooperation, just reducing blockages so we could work with each other. When Kade and Az fused to create Kaz, we couldn't deny it anymore. It terrified us. Some of us started joking that if we ever completely fused, we'd just create a tulpa so we wouldn't have to be alone in our mind. Others doubled down on their separateness, raising higher dissociative barriers in hopes of staving it off. A few went the other way and tried to fuse in hopes of abdicating their responsibilities to whoever resulted. Most of us promised ourselves we wouldn't fade away.

None of us wanted it at first, but it kept happening in fits and bursts over the course of a year or two. Various hosts fused to create a group we called the Peeps. Many of the kids partially merged together into a median subsystem. The lines between us all blurred, and everyone else began to bleed into the Peeps. As months passed, we gradually drew closer together, and borders broke down. We began to have periods where many of us fronted together without any clear lines between us. We were all co-present, and one person's traits leaked into everyone else's to create a composite self. Switching was near-constant, but not jarring or distinct, more like a gentle cycling of parts that were all present to begin with, or a simple change in who was leading the charge at the time. We couldn't easily peel out a fronter like we could before, because we were all fronting. Eventually, we switched to using parts language because it was more comfortable and accurate than clinging to separation with language, and we began to make our peace with what was happening.

What we began to notice was that no one was gone. Everyone had made integration out to be like identity death, but no identities died. To the contrary, we were all still there as ourselves, just differently than before. Names and individuality were less important. Dissociative walls were less present. We still talked to each other, but it didn't matter who was talking as long as they were heard, and many times the speaker didn't want to be identified. Interacting with one another was still important, but rather than it feeling like talking to an alien voice, it felt like talking to a distinct part of ourself. We all still had our traits, but we could access everyone's traits at once, even contradictory traits at the same time. We could be both fearful and loving, soft and angry, bold and cautious. It felt powerful. It was like single colors became a kaleidescope, with no colors being lost or isolated, and we could see the full glory of our rainbow.

The increase in fluidity came with emotions we hadn't felt in a long time. We began to feel peaceful now and then. We hadn't felt calm, content, or peaceful in years, possibly since early childhood, and we'd begun to think it was an emotion people grew out of. It was a shock to realize that we had times that felt calm and level again. There was also a sense of self-love that began to emerge. We could see almost all of us, in all our complexity and color, and we just couldn't hate what we saw. Even the dark parts had their place and purpose. When you're that close to each other, there's this sense of truly having each other's backs and knowing one another in ways you couldn't before. It's like parts of your mind are curled up holding one another. That closeness becomes a source of strength. You're able to work with yourself in full, to directly target issues you couldn't reach before because they were buried behind dissociative walls. When a part is hurting, you're there with them, telling them it's okay to feel the pain so they can finally let it go. When part of you celebrates, all of you shares their joy. There's something indescribably beautiful about that closeness.

This isn't to say we didn't have our fair share of problems. Many of us were still scared of what was happening, and we still had to do a lot of work with each other to ease the transition. Painful feelings came back along with the positive ones, and feelings we'd dissociated away reared their heads and demanded confrontation. Dissociation was still an issue, though less than before. Our child parts were still hurting and still needed parenting, even as part of us. Many of us had to cope with anger, grief, panic, and shame for the first time. Some of us fought over where we were going and whether we should try to resist it. Others struggled with what this would mean for our identity. We eventually had to accept that like it or not, we were integrating to some degree, and we had to process the shame and fear of integration that the plural community had taught us. We had to resolve that fear for those of us that were too afraid to let things happen, who were convinced that they would die, or who were afraid of losing an entire community.

As of now, we consider ourselves to be largely median. Our experiences are still more plural than the average singlet's seem to be, but the majority of us recognize each other as parts of the same mind rather than as separate people. Even Kaz regards themself as a part of our mind, though they choose to continue claiming their own personhood in addition to their parthood. We are all present in daily life, and there is minimal separation between us. We are many in one and are happy with what that means for us. We do not plan to create a tulpa like we thought we would in the past. We are not alone in our mind like we feared we would be. To the contrary, we are closer and more communicative than ever.

None of this process has been intentional or sought-out. We did not have a therapist pushing us to fuse, nor did we have a therapist to work with at all. This happened to us naturally as we've worked to heal from traumas and assorted issues on our own, and we've even fought the process at times out of fear. No one talks about what it's really like, so we didn't know what to expect beyond the panicked interpretations of the plural community, most of whom have never experienced a fusion. When it started happening, all of those fears were our only understanding of what integration and fusion were, and many of us worried that they would die. None of us have died, and none of those fears proved to be warranted. Minus our anxieties and misconceptions, fusion and integration have been and are a positive experience for us.

Individual choice and demonization

Don't get me wrong, integration isn't for everyone. It's not a choice every system will want to make, nor is it the best choice for everyone. Sometimes it's not a choice at all, and the relentless pressure to fuse is a problem in psychology that still needs addressing. If a system decides to fuse at all, it should be freely chosen or happen naturally (as it did in our case). Forcing it on systems only causes harm and worsens existing problems, rather than helping or improving the situation. Dissociative barriers exist for a reason, and bashing them down before they're ready to come down is never a good idea. Even if they are ready to come down, you don't want to crush the bricklayers if they want to keep the walls up for one reason or another. Healthy multiplicity is a perfectly good end goal for disordered systems, and the choice should be left up to the individual system.

At the same time, the plural community's demonization of integration is a serious problem. Much like forcing fusion on a system takes away their right to choose and causes harm, claiming that integration is harmful, negative, and will kill your headmates detracts from a system's ability to choose to pursue it. For some systems, it is the right choice, and yet we've seen those pursuing complete fusion recieve hate, harrassment, and misguided concern for their decision. Fusion (and really, any integration that's referred to as such) is presented as murderous and received as a betrayal of the community. This has to stop. If the plural community truly wishes to include all experiences and paths to healing, integration and fusion need to be as accepted and welcomed as healthy multiplicity is. The two options of fusion and healthy multiplicity can coexist, contrary to what Twitter would have you believe. There needs to be an emphasis on choice that doesn't claim one choice is lesser or worse than the other.

The demonization of integration doesn't just affect systems that choose it intentionally. It also harms those that begin to integrate or fuse without meaning to, like in our case. The main reason we were afraid was that we were taught to be afraid by the community. We were told that integration was analogous to murder, and we saw how those that chose to fuse were treated. Our path would have been much more comfortable and smooth if we hadn't had to wrestle with the misconceptions about integration that the plural community teaches. As it is, we worry that we're not welcome because of how we experience our mind now. We still don't line up with singlet experiences of self, but we certainly don't fit the plural community's typical experiences either. We are not entirely separate, and most of us share a sense of self. The fear of being rejected by the community has led us to keep our gradual integration a secret for longer than we probably should have.

We've written a fair bit elsewhere about how medians are perceived as inferior to multiples in plural spaces, particularly singlet-leaning medians, and this continues to be an antipattern in the plural community. There's a lot of pressure to present as mostly or entirely separate people. Even the resources written for the entire community tend to assume complete separation of identity rather than catering to the broad spectrum of experiences that is plurality. This alienates a significant number of systems that don't experience themselves as separate and self-contained people, and they're left figuring things out on their own or feeling like they don't have a place under the plural umbrella. There's also a complete lack of support for fused systems and ex-plurals, groups that don't quite fit into either community but that need support more than ever while adapting to the changes in their mind. These people are the community's siblings, and they need somewhere to have their experiences heard.

The plural community's views on integration need to change. Yes, continue fighting against forced fusion; clinical psychology needs to learn that it's entirely possible to live happily and successfully as a multiple. This fight can be carried on without demonizing integration and fusion wholesale, however, and that is what is needed. For some, integration and fusion is their path to healing. The community is casting these people out by claiming that integration is universally bad, and those experiencing it are left isolated. If we want to create an inclusive and accepting community, these people need to be embraced and accepted as much as healthy multiples are. Integration and fusion need to be acceptable options that are not misrepresented as murder.

Written December 2nd, 2021; minor edits made December 6th, 2021.


An Addition

Recently, we've been trying to figure out how Kaz fits into our mind. They're not entirely their own person, but they're also not quite part of the same self that everyone else has fused into. They have overlaps with that self, and they view themselves as part of the same mind and consciousness as it, but they're also their own entity. It's a complicated gray area of being both a person and a part at the same time.

Integration, fusion, and identity are complicated things. We're finding more and more that the difference between a person and a part is extremely blurry and subjective, and that your mind is what you make of it. A lot of things can come down to how you choose to percieve and interact with your self or selves. Your mind is yours to mold. It's worth thinking about what you want your internal experiences to be like and discovering what you can do to reach that goal. For us, that goal is to resolve our longstanding issues and see where that takes us together.

Addition made on December 23rd, 2021.