Table of Contents

The basics

For most people, communication is purely external and shows up in body language, verbal speech, and symbolism (such as stop signs). In systems, communication can be inside of the mind or outside of it, and the same system may use both methods of communicating. Examples of internal communication can include thinking back and forth at each other, sharing emotions, sending mental images, projecting impulses and urges onto each other, sharing body sensations, and anything else that shares some information between you without involving the external world. Likewise, external communication is anything outside of your head that shares information: notes, talking out loud, journaling, moving objects somewhere that has meaning, and so on.

General communication skills

Verbal communication

There are plenty of ways to communicate that don't require language, but the most visible ways of communicating in the plural community usually involve words. Internal verbal communication in particular is emphasized as the holy grail. This probably isn't the best thing. Many systems can't communicate inside their heads with words, and the pressure to do so doesn't help them. It's completely alright if it's not an option for you. Every system is different, and different things will work for different people. External means of communicating, or nonverbal internal communication, work just as well.

Having a shared notebook or leaving notes can work very well as external communication. It doesn't require co-consciousness or shared memory, making it an excellent way to communicate if you experience amnesia or are blocked off from each other. The key is making sure that the entire system knows where to leave notes so that they'll be found, which can be a challenge. If you want everyone to use a journal, it might be a good idea to leave notes that let them know you have a shared journal (and where it is) in places you think they'll see them, and a note inside the journal with any rules for using it. It's also a good idea to make it a judgement-free zone. It's hard to write freely if you're going to be picked apart for it.

You can use the body to communicate quickly, too. If you have no problem letting someone borrow parts of the body, you can ask system members to borrow your hand and write. You could also write the alphabet on a piece of paper and ask a system member to move your hand like a ouija planchette to spell out words, which can be helpful for system members that have a hard time with fine motor skills. These methods may not work well if you're not very co-conscious, but can be very effective if you are.

Communicating internally isn't possible for everyone. It's okay if it doesn't work for you- there's plenty here that doesn't require it. If you'd like to give it a try, some people compare the feeling of talking inside to prayer. It's thought that's directed at someone. The difference is that rather than directing it at a god, you're directing it inside your head. You're not just thinking, but thinking loudly or pushing it somewhere. There are a few different ways you can target your thoughts. One option is just speaking inside your head without a particular listener in mind. The usual effect is like a PDA system: everyone conscious will hear what you have to say. For some systems, this is all they can do, and everyone hears everything. Others are able to direct their thoughts at specific system members, sort of like sending them a direct message. This can allow for privacy in communication if you can do it.

If you feel like there's a barrier blocking communication and you're able to imagine things (not necessarily visual imagination!), you may have some luck bypassing that barrier with imagery. Imagine a wall or other literal barrier between you and the others. This wall is the blockage. Really grind in that metaphor so that the two are equivalent. Then, find a way around or through the wall. You could make a letter slot, tunnel under it, poke a hole in it, walk around it, or anything else that works. You don't have to see the wall to do this, either. As long as you have the concept of a wall and can come up with a way around it, this could work. What you're trying to do is tell your brain that you need to get around that barrier. Imagery works particularly well sometimes when trying to communicate with your mind, and it can be a useful tool in cases like this.

If you're unable to imagine a wall, you may be able to bypass it by demonstrating to your mind that there's a need to communicate. Don't do anything dangerous or that would make your situation worse, but try to think of how much it would help to communicate. Think of concrete ways it could improve your life, and the benefits it would have for you. Take into account that those barriers may be blocking off something overwhelming or dangerous, and think about your coping skills and how you'll handle any distress; if you're not prepared to handle that, it may not be the right time for those walls to come down. If you are prepared, then you need to communicate to your mind and the rest of you that you're ready and willing to talk, and that the barriers blocking communication are more troublesome than helpful. This may or may not work, but it's worth a try. If it doesn't work, it may be worth considering why the walls exist in the first place. Is there a reason for them to still be there? Would opening communication cause problems or expose you to something you're not ready for?

Nonverbal communication

Not every system can communicate with words, externally or internally. Body movements, emotions, imagery, drawings, and more are just as good as verbal communication is, and sometimes they can be more efficient than trying to say something verbally. There are all sorts of ways to communicate nonverbally.

Your body can be a wonderful tool for communication. You can't lose it given that you're inside of it, and it's always available. If your system has access to it, you can do all sorts of things. For example, suppose you need to ask a system member a few questions, but they're not able to use verbal language and you're confused by what they're trying to tell you. You could hold your hands out in front of you and say that moving the right hand means yes, moving the left hand means no, and moving both means they're not sure or the question is bad. Then, you can ask that system member to borrow the body's hands for a little while to answer questions. They may not even need to be in full front to do this. It can be a very effective way to do quick check-ins with your system.

Any kind of movement can be used to communicate something. The best way to illustrate this is by example. About a year ago, I started experiencing involuntary head jerks that wrenched my head to the side. It turned out that it was caused by a part trying to tell me to stop reading something. They couldn't communicate verbally, but they were able to directly move my body to force me to look away. Another example happens to me all the time when a part of me doesn't want to do something: they'll freeze my body so I can't move until I figure out they don't want to do it. If your system is able to affect your body, it can be a useful tool for communicating something. Pay attention to any movements you didn't choose to make and see if there could be a reason behind them.

Some systems have had luck using a pendulum to communicate with each other or their subconscious. It's not terribly hard to do. Hold your pendulum on the end of its chain and ask your system member or subconscious to use it. Ask them what a "yes" looks like. Wait for it to start swinging in a direction; this might be left-to-right, forward-back, rotating clockwise or counterclockwise, or even coming to a dead stop. It may take a while, so be patient. Give it a good 30 seconds to get going. Once you know what yes looks like, stop the pendulum's swinging and repeat for "no", "maybe", and "don't know/don't want to answer". When you're sure what each response looks like in the pendulum, ask your question and wait for a response.

Nonverbal communication doesn't have to involve the body. It can be entirely internal as well. It's not uncommon for systems to communicate using emotions, sensory images, impressions, just "knowing" things, and more.

One form of internal communication is fairly simple. Ask a question like, "Are you there?" or "Are you okay?" and wait for a response of any kind. This might be a feeling, knowing something, seeing an image, etc. Any kind of response counts. The nature of the response determines if it's a yes, no, or nothing at all; feeling a wave of anger might be a no, for example. This method is sometimes called pinging and a more detailed description can be found a little less than halfway down this page.

Emotional communication can be very useful. System members can share their emotions or influence the emotions of others in the system, causing you to feel what they feel. If a part is sad, you might feel sad too, even though there isn't an external reason to be sad. If a part is upset about something you like, you might suddenly feel disgust towards it overriding your own emotions. It's important not to dismiss these kinds of sudden feelings. Communication doesn't work if the listener tunes out the speaker. If nothing else, it would be a good idea to check inside and see if anyone needs something.

It's possible to communicate with sensory information. This isn't usually literal sensory input, though hallucinations as communication are possible for some systems and shouldn't be discounted. What I'm referring to are your internal senses. If you're not aphantic, imagine throwing an apple at a wall. You might experience the impression of it in your hand, the weight of it, the feeling of your shoulder muscles moving, the sound it makes when it hits the wall, and so on. This kind of imagery can be used as communication. Sending these kinds of images feels like pushing or projecting them at someone inside in the same sort of way as internal speech. Suddenly "seeing" something in your head, hearing music, or having other sensory images can mean someone is trying to say something. Sometimes it is just a random image, but it's worth looking into. Even earworms can mean something- check the lyrics and see if they apply to your current situation, or see if the song is from a certain period of your life. It's worth noting that you may need to be more mindful if you experience intrusive thoughts- ask inside and make sure it came from your system.

Someone's form in headspace can be a way of sharing information. System members might take a form that says something about who they are, or change forms to reflect their mood. They could even use sign language, a talk board, or other methods of communicating with their internal body. Headspace itself might change to communicate something about the system's overall state- a common example is stormy weather during times of stress. If you can access your headspace, looking at each other and your surroundings can be very helpful.

If you're aphantic, don't worry. You don't need a sensory imagination to communicate nonverbally. Aside from the body and emotions, knowing something about a system member without explanation counts as communication too. They may have never told you that their favorite color is green, but it's possible to suddenly know this when someone asks about it, even if they don't seem to be around at the moment. This is a form of communication. They let you know that information, and you wouldn't know it if they weren't allowing it to reach you. Sharing this way can be very handy when a quick response is needed.

Drawings and art can be a fantastic tool. You don't have to be good or skilled at an art form to make use of it. You could use colors, shapes, sounds, textures, and other aspects of the art form without trying to create anything in particular. If you want to say you're angry, you could make a painting with bright red crayons and pointy shapes. If you're scared of something, you could draw a stick figure curled up in a corner hiding. If you feel overwhelmed, you could make music that's as many loud noises as you can fit into it. You could even fill a page with the same word or object over and over. It doesn't have to be worthy of a gallery to be effective, and you don't have to share it with anyone else. The key is putting what you want to share somewhere it can be seen by your system.

You can use your external environment to communicate. Moving objects into significant locations, arranging things to have meaning, and otherwise manipulating your environment can say a lot. A child part could remind the others of their presence by leaving a plushie on the bed. Someone could remind the rest of the system to buy groceries by hanging a plastic bag on the doorknob. A part could stack books that have something in common in the living room to draw attention to their subject matter. You could hide an object to tell the others to stop doing something that uses it, or put it in a central location to draw attention to it. Don't destroy or get rid of anything without permission- that could cause upset if someone cared about it- but you can experiment with moving things around to see what can be said with them.

Exercise: Test your Options

Try out a few different methods of communicating. You could try a shared journal, talking out loud, sending music clips back and forth inside your head, and more. Are there any methods that are easier? What methods don't work well for you? Do different methods work better at different times?

What if it all feels like me?

First off: you're not alone. If you've spent a lot of time in the plural community, it might feel that way. Separation is so emphasized that experiences where all members of the system feel like the same person are hardly ever talked about. It's a shame because it's not that uncommon an experience to share a self. There are more than a handful of systems that share a single identity, and many of them feel like different versions of the same person, or like one person with shifting preferences and beliefs. Not all medians see themselves as different individuals at all beyond their changing identity. Your're not the only one experiencing yourself like this, and it's a perfectly okay way to be.

Feeling like one person that changes can make communication challenging, especially if you're the only one you can hear inside your head. It doesn't mean you can't communicate with yourself at all. Keeping a journal of some sort can be especially effective. It doesn't have to be long or wordy, just little notes on whatever you feel needs to be written down. If you feel like it, you can write comments on previous entries, or keep a dedicated section for responding to yourself. Your goal is to talk to yourself in different states across time and share information. This can really help you agree with yourself on larger issues- if you know that you want to buy something but that another state of you might not want to, you can write in your journal about it and ask yourself to check in later and see if it's still a good idea. If you can, you could even try to call that state forward and write from their perspective. Sometimes, writing as if you had those viewpoints is all it takes to bring forward the you that actually has them, which can get a dialogue going on the issue.

It can be tricky to talk to a different state of you when you're not in it. If you're the you that likes blue things, then you're probably not going to be able to relate to yourself earlier when you liked pink things, and you may not be able to talk to the pink-loving you in the moment. What you can do is get into the habit of leaving a message for yourself to find later. The you that loves pink is probably going to show up again, and you can have a message waiting for them if you need to talk to yourself in that state. As an example, let's say that there's a version of you that handles your work duties, and another state that's stuck reliving a childhood memory. That child state worries work you because they're so stuck in the past, and you worry that they don't know what your life is like in the present. When you're at work, you could write a note for your child self telling them about the present, then leave it somewhere you know they'll see it (maybe with their favorite plushie). Later, when you're in that child state, you'll hopefully find the note and get an update about the world, which will help bring that version of you into the present.

Listening to yourself is especially important. If you feel conflicted on something, it's likely that a different state of you has a different opinion on it. That's something you could journal about or use other methods to investigate further. If you notice yourself behaving differently than you were before, it might be a good time to make a note or try to talk to yourself. You might notice impulses that don't seem quite right for you, or realize that something about yourself has changed. Check in with yourself and see how you feel about what you did in a different state. If you disagree with it, or feel it wasn't something that's okay with you, you might want to leave yourself a note to talk to that state about it.

Do you need to know who's talking?

It's very common for systems to feel a need to know who's involved in a conversation, and it's often assumed that all systems should know who's talking at all times. This isn't necessarily the case. It's entirely possible to have a useful and enjoyable conversation without knowing who anyone involved in it is. If you've ever been to a large social gathering, you've probably talked to complete strangers whose names you don't know. You didn't know who these people were, but you were able to talk to them anyway and maybe even enjoy the experience. Whole debates happen online without any of the participants knowing the other people involved. Communicating within a system can work the same way. You don't always need to know who's talking. That said, some systems find it useful to have this information. If you find it helpful to know who's talking, feel free to ask the speaker and take note of it. What matters is that you don't feel obligated to know.

Sometimes, it's more comfortable to communicate without knowing who everyone is. It can take a lot of effort to figure out who's who and differentiate different voices, and it's not always worth that effort, especially if the information doesn't change depending on who shares it. If someone says they don't want to knit today, then you may not need to know who doesn't like knitting. You know they're around at the moment, and they've told you something they don't want to do. That's enough information to talk to them and find a solution. You could decide not to knit, or ask them if they're willing to step back for a while while you knit so they don't have to do it (more on this in the section on fronting and switching). It may be useful to know who doesn't like knitting if this is a long-term issue, but you can still get along just fine without knowing who it is. After all, they can always ask you not to knit again when they're around.

Exercise: A Quick Chat

Ask how everyone conscious is feeling in whatever way works best for you. Do not try to figure out who any responses come from; if someone volunteers a name, feel free to make note of it, but don't directly ask who everyone is or expect to be told this. Just listen for any responses you get. How do you feel when not requiring anyone to identify themselves? Does anyone like it? Does anyone dislike it?

Not identifying people all the time is a fairly different idea from what you usually see in the plural community. It may or may not be comfortable for you. That's completely okay- every system works differently. Some systems will be able to identify individuals comfortably and find that more useful than not identifying everyone, while others will do better not naming speakers. It comes down to preference and choice. This section is here because while there's plenty out there on talking to each other as individuals, there's almost nothing for those who don't want to be singled out. It's a significantly different way of interacting that requires some adaptations, and it's only rarely talked about. If you have no problems interacting as individuals and believe that this section isn't helpful for you, you may be better helped by the more general communication advice. If you feel it only partially applies, the section on half-knowing may be more helpful for you, but I'd encourage you to read the sections on not knowing to see if they're useful for you.

It's also okay if your way of communicating fluctuates or changes. You don't have to be the same all the time, and it's okay if something that works at one time doesn't work another time. Go with the flow and do what works best for you. Sometimes the only constant is change.

Talking without knowing

In theory, talking to each other without identifying anyone is simple. Everyone has a voice and speaks, but without trying to pin a voice to any particular person. It relieves the effort of trying to figure out who everyone is all the time and makes it easier for everyone to be heard as equals. In practice, it is that simple, but it may come with a few unique challenges if you've never done it before. These challenges aren't hard to handle, but it's important to recognize them.

One challenge is large conversations between many system members. When many voices are speaking in rapid succession, it can be difficult to respond to a particular voice. One trick to deal with this is referring to them not by who they are, but what they said. If one system member says something about their favorite color being yellow, and then another starts rambling about rubber duckies, you can respond to the first speaker by saying, "whoever said they like yellow...". Likewise, you could respond to the one talking about rubber duckies by leading in with the topic. You don't need to know which member said what, just what was said. Another option is "aiming" your response at where you heard that voice from. This is a bit more abstract, but what you're trying to do is respond to the same place a thought came from. This could be literal if you experience your system members as being in your body (if a voice speaks from your right side, direct your reply to the right) or metaphorical, referring to mental directions.

A related issue with large conversations is knowing if two things were said by the same system member when it makes a difference who said what. If you absolutely need to know, you can ask if they were both said by the same person without asking who that person is. Asking clarifying questions is a great way to clear up any confusion. Sometimes, this isn't a reliable option. System members may pretend they said something they didn't, or that someone else said something instead of them. This is a cooperation issue that needs to be addressed, but in the meantime, you may need to ask other system members if that member actually said something, which may require singling that member out. It's not ideal, but you likely have significant system trust issues if one member is pretending to be another, and addressing those issues should come first.

Not identifying individuals can be tricky when you need to talk to the same system member repeatedly over an extended period of time. In that case, you have a few options. You could call that part into front and see what they feel like, then recall those feelings when you need to talk to them (more on this in the section on fronting and switching). You could also try nicknaming them. In a lot of cases, nicknames do isolate a part and lead you towards treating them as an individual, but they don't have to. Title-based nicknames, role-based nicknames, and associations can work well as ways to reference a part without referring to them like they're their own person. You could refer to them by an emotion they hold (like "the angry one"), the job they do (like "the one that hid"), something you associate with them (like "the blue one"), the form they're choosing to take to work with you (like "the alligator"), or by anything else that works for you without isolating them too much. You're attempting to provide some degree of anonymity while still making it possible to reference them in particular. It can be a tricky balance to find sometimes, but it can work. Ideally, you would let them choose the nickname themselves and change it at will. This lets them decide how they want to be seen while you work with them.

Organizer parts of the system may really struggle with this way of interacting at first. When you want to know everything about everyone and sort it neatly, not knowing can be infuriating. If you have system members that like to write down every little detail of the system, you may need to work with them on accepting that not everything can be known before they'll feel comfortable allowing this kind of communication. It's also possible they'll adapt and find it a relief to not have to organize. It's exhausting to try to keep up in some systems, especially when the people you're cataloguing don't want to be identified enough for you to do it. It can be easier to just let everyone exist and redirect that energy towards other organizational endeavours, such as being in charge of the system's external schedule or arranging the inner world.

Problem-solving without names

Resolving internal conflicts without identifying anyone can sound difficult. Many systems have only ever encountered the idea that they need to know which thoughts and writings come from which people to resolve different sides of an argument, and that can make it hard to conceptualize how this can work. If you're not identifying anyone, then how do you work with each other on lasting issues? How do you handle conversations with many speakers? It can seem daunting. Luckily, a lot of things that may seem like problems at first aren't significant issues with a little work. As an example, let's look at the knitting situation from earlier in a little more detail:

You're going about planning your day when someone inside your head speaks up. "I don't want to knit today," they tell you. They don't share who they are, and they don't seem to want to be singled out. You really wanted to get some knitting done today. What are some ways you could handle this situation without needing to separate out whoever doesn't want to knit?

In this case, you can directly respond to whoever spoke up. They were pretty clear about what they want, and you don't need to know who they are to answer them; they're conscious enough to tell you they didn't want to knit, so they should be present enough to hear you respond. It can help to think in the "direction" you heard them from if you're responding internally. You could ask them why they don't want to knit, agree not to knit today, try to work out a compromise, or work with them from there. The goal is to find a solution that makes both of you happy. How you go about that is up to you, but remember that they have a reason for not wanting to knit. You don't need to name them to respect their reason and hear them out.

How about a more difficult situation?

It's late afternoon and you're checking your shared journal to see if anyone left notes. You find a note you don't remember making that rambles on about hating knitting. As you read this, someone in your head speaks up and says they adore knitting, and that whoever made this note is clearly trying to upset them. They sound hurt. You feel a wave of anger after they speak up, and you're not sure if it came from them or someone else. A flood of other emotions follows the anger. You're not sure who you are right now, either, but if you don't step in, it's pretty obvious that this is going to become a problem. You could try identifying everyone and figuring out who holds what opinions, but you know that they don't want you to do this.

This is an immediate issue, but whoever hates knitting may not be around or accessible, and you're being slammed with emotions and complaints about what they said. There's a conflict beginning to brew here, and it needs to be de-escalated before it turns nasty. What you can do is ask everyone that's upset right now to step back and share their feelings one at a time rather than all at once. This situation isn't going to improve if everyone floods each other with their feelings and thoughts all at once, and some kind of order is needed to make sure everyone feels heard. System members don't have to be identified to order themselves a little. They know if they aren't each other or don't share a view, and that's all they need to organize in this case.

Think of it like passing a stick around. Whoever has the stick can speak. It's especially important to make sure that no one tries to speak over each other, even if it's a helpful reply. If someone tries to talk while someone else is, you can ask them to hold that thought, and tell them that you'll hear them when the current speaker is done talking. If people refuse to organize in the first place, you may need to communicate why talking one at a time is better than talking over each other, and that it's an arrangement that makes sure everyone is heard.

Once everyone upset in the present has been heard (including you, if you're upset!), you can start working together to address concerns and resolve disagreements. If you're lucky, you might find that it's not as serious a conflict as it first seemed, and get right to the next step. Otherwise, you'll need to talk to each other and work through why people are upset about this. What does knitting mean to them? What are they willing to do to resolve the conflict, and what's absolutely out of the question? Your goal is to get an idea of what everyone's stake in the issue is, and what isn't an option for dealing with this. If you need to address someone in particular, you can still do so without naming them; refer to them by their opinion. A phrase like, "Whoever said that they really wanted to knit today, is not knitting out of the question?" is an example of addressing someone without naming them.

Once the present disagreement is resolved, try to come to a consensus on what to do next. You haven't responded to whoever wrote the note, and odds are that you'll need to write back to them about this issue. That'll be a second discussion through external communication, but you can approach it the same way. You don't need to sign notes or use specific pen colors to have a conversation. It can help to use markings of some sort to differentiate sometimes, but you don't have to. Do whatever feels best for you.

In general, treat conflicts like you're working with a crowd of unknown people. You don't need to know their names or histories to know what they think. You need to know their opinions to solve the disagreement, but that's it. You could mediate between complete strangers successfully without knowing anything else about them. It's the same in a system. Each voice in an argument will have an opinion, and you can work with the opinions directly without needing to know who said what. Hear everyone out, get to the bottom of the disagreement and figure out why they differ in opinion, and then address the root reason behind it in a respectful and compassionate way. Remember that there's always a reason behind a belief.

Exercise: Conflict Resolution

Go about your day normally. When something comes up that causes unease, uncertainty, or disagreement in your system, pause and try to hear everyone out without forcing anyone to single themselves out. Why do your system members feel that way? Is there something they want, or something they're scared of? Are there any opinions at odds with each other? Can you find a solution?


You don't have to know who everyone talking is, or not know who everyone is; in fact, I'd argue it's best to let everyone decide for themselves whether they want to have names and be known. Allowing everyone to make that decision for themselves gives them the ability to do what's most comfortable. If someone would rather be an anonymous part of the system, they don't have to share their name. They don't have to identify as a person if they don't want to, either. Likewise, if someone wants to be treated as an individual, they can share who they are and ask to be introduced wherever they're comfortable. Leaving it up to personal choice gives your system agency over who and how they want to be.

This is easy enough in theory, but organization-minded parts of the system may make it difficult. If there are members of your system that like to know who everyone is and catalogue them, you may have a hard time convincing them to allow some people to remain anonymous. There are a few tactics you could try to help them accept it. One option is grouping the anonymized members as a category, allowing them to be catalogued as a group rather than as individuals. Make sure to get their permission to be grouped first, but this can satisfy the desire to organize. As an example, we grouped anonymous parts by color associations, allowing our organizers to write down the colors without identifying any specific parts. Another option is directly working with the organizers to find out why they feel the need to catalogue everyone. Every behavior has a reason behind it, and you can work with that reason. You may be able to help them accept that not everything can be written down and filed neatly. This is a difficult process a lot of the time, however, and can bump up against trauma work if the reason ties back to something painful. Even if it's not trauma-based, learning that a core belief you hold is a problem can be distressing, and it's best handled with as much compassion as possible. Take your time.

Exercise: Figure it Out

Go about your day normally. As you communicate with your system members, take note of what feels comfortable. Don't force anyone to identify themselves, but allow anyone who wants to be singled out to do so. Are there certain members that prefer to be treated as individuals? Does anyone prefer not to be identified? Can you respect opposite preferences and listen to what everyone wants?