The movie, Split (Shyamalan, Blum, Bienstock, & Shyamalan, 2016), received a lot of criticism.
The movie exaggerates the condition of people with dissociative identity disorder (DID), and that might perpetuate stigma (Shyamalan et al., 2016). It is important to note that very few people who have dissociative identity disorder are frightening and violent. Oftentimes, we know that movies present exaggerated, dramatic, fictional cases for marketing purposes.
It would be better to watch a documentary, rather than a dramatic movie, to learn about a mental health issue.
There have been mixed research findings about dissociative identity disorder. Some professionals argue that it does not exist and that it is something created by the person’s mind, by cultural factors, or by trends in diagnosis, while others argue that DID actually exists irrespective of culture or trends.
There are a few messages in this movie that can help illustrate my understanding of childhood abuse:
The main character, Kevin, with dissociative personality disorder, is a victim of childhood abuse. His flashback of hiding underneath the bed, when his mother was holding onto a hanger and yelling at him, is a heartbreaking scene that happens in many real abuse cases (Shyamalan et al., 2016).
It is inevitable for victims of abuse to feel angry. A person who has been through suffering, humiliation, and maltreatment over years and years of time can develop a powerful force of anger inside. The anger is a response to injustice and suffering. If anger is not managed appropriately, it can cause harm.
Anger does not need to be eliminated altogether. Anger is a universal emotion, and it can be used in a healthy, constructive way, such as fighting for justice in a peaceful way, or helping other victims. Everyone has experienced anger. But for victims of abuse, perhaps anger needs a little bit more attention, a little bit more guidance, and a little bit more practice, so that it doesn’t explode in a way that is detrimental to self and others. There are many, many healthy, positive ways to manage anger! Anger does not need to be present all the time! The desire to fight for justice might be stronger in some victims, and that can be used in constructive ways.
It is understandable why victims of abuse feel the need to have some walls around themselves. Boundaries are healthy, and they are needed in everyone’s life. However, if self-protection goes to an extreme, it can also lead to isolation or relationship problems, or hinder the development of healthy social relationships.
Many victims of abuse have a great ability to empathize—they have suffered immensely themselves, and they can feel others’ pain. Empathy, if used constructively, can transform into compassion and altruism and help other people.
Victims of abuse and neglect need more understanding, compassion, and support from society, but it is very important to note that it is not acceptable to turn your pain and suffering into harmful actions. There is help available to you, such as psychotherapy. Persist with treatment! Do not become an abuser yourself! Bitterness, self-harm, or other harmful roles also do not have to be your choice—being alive reveals that you are a strong person, and there are many healthy options for you to pick in life. You deserve love, care, and respect! You deserve a healthy, happy life! But in return, you must show love, care, and respect for others. This may be hard to do when you are not feeling well, but this task gets easier with practice and help.
In the movie, we meet Casey, who is another victim of childhood abuse. Casey engages in self-destructive actions, inflicting self-injury and misbehaving at school so that she can withdraw into her own little world.
Casey, too, has an angry side. She, too, suffers from abuse, trauma, and flashbacks. However, she is rational and very observant. In the midst of fear and chaos, she still tries to understand, in order to find a way to escape her predicament. As well, she looks out and cares for her friends.
She is brave and courageous. Casey becomes the wise leader in the story, and the only survivor, out of all the other female characters, in the end. The wisdom she gained from her own past tragedy helps ensure her survival.
Out of suffering have emerged the strongest souls; the most massive characters are seared with scars. (Kahlil Gibran)
Scars from childhood abuse
Some survivors of abuse may literally have physical scars. Others have emotional scars, or scars of memory. These scars do not have to leave you feeling permanently harmed or damaged. Instead, you may reflect upon your scars, to transform your fear and anger into courage and kindness. Use your courage in situations of injustice, and handle it in a rational, peaceful way.
The abuse may have molded you in a certain way: all the bits and pieces can be used in a healthy, constructive way. You can choose. And there is help along the way!
I wish you well.
If you are a survivor of abuse....
Affirmation: I enrich my life when I build my life with love, kindness, and courage.
If you are a friend of a survivor of abuse…
Affirmation: I enrich my life when I gain knowledge about abuse & trauma and show compassion for survivors of abuse.
Shyamalan, M. N., Blum, J., & Bienstock, M. (Producers), & Shyamalan, M. N. (Director). (2016). Split [Motion picture]. United States: Universal Pictures.