This is a guest post by The Trashcan Collective.
They are the original creators of the terms endogenic and traumagenic system. We are extremely grateful that they were willing to write this guest post for the Plural Positivity World Conference 2019. And as a guest post for our website. We think it is absolutely great this is recorded for history purposes and to clear up any misunderstandings. We believe this article to be helpful for both dissociative identity disorder systems, as well as other types of systems who want to know the history, thoughts, intention and story behind these terms. We also want to thank The Crisses for narrating this article and creating a video file for this!
We’re the Trashcan Collective. Have you ever wondered how the terms traumagenic and endogenic came to be used in the plural community? Today, we’d like to detail what led up to the creation of the terms, how the terms have impacted parts of the community, current attitudes towards those who use the terms, and share our vision for the community going forward.
An important part of the development of these terms involves our journey towards identifying as plural. We have used a lot of terms for ourselves over the last thirty years; since 2014, we have identified as endogenic, but have known we were plural since at least 1990. The road getting to our identifying term has been a long one. It’s a major driving force behind why we advocate for inclusiveness within the plural community, and fight to dispel some myths and misunderstandings around the two terms.
To understand the background, it’s important to understand that most endogenic systems didn’t just decide to be plural.
There is a common perception that endogenic systems feel like plurality would be a fun game to play; in our experience, this is an inaccurate assumption. Many endogenic systems have experienced trauma that has impacted their systems, and most have gone through many years of soul searching, research, and conflict in accepting themselves. Both are true for us.
By the time we were five years old, we had at least five known system members, with two identifying as having been born in the body together and the rest saying they had arrived to help when the primary original prayed for help in dealing with her abusive family. We had no words for what we were experiencing, so we referred to each other as our “friends”, speaking openly about each other and who we were. That stopped around six years old when the body’s Catholic mother called a priest to our house, claiming we were possessed. Ironically, the mother got into a New Age “shamanism” phase when we were eight years old. It was then we heard the term “spirit guides”, and our primary original began to use that term because she didn’t know any better. It was a safe concept, for a while.
At age ten, it was obvious that we weren’t spirit guides. Our secondary original and older system members began to switch into front to try and protect us from our family’s abuse. We began to lose time, and our primary original would describe watching the body from outside of it. Our very few friends started to notice our different mannerisms, and distanced themselves from us. We went heavily into denial, with our primary original trying hard to wish us away. We were not friends. We were not guides. We were no one. Even when she heard about the concept of “multiple personalities” in 1999, when she first began to explore the internet, she refused to acknowledge the similarities. It took another four years for her to consider it.
She joined Yahoo Groups (established in 2001), DeviantArt (established in 2000), and LiveJournal (established in 1999) in an effort to come to terms with the idea of her childhood memories being more than just a vivid imagination. She had never quite believed that it had been make believe, but after such a long time of pushing the rest of us away, coming across words and concepts that were similar to her experiences was a shock. Especially so, once she found people who identified as multiple, plural, and median.
Around 2004, she allowed herself to say that she identified as a single person with “facets” that were different from her, but yet still her. It was around this time that we began to black out in high-stress situations. People began to comment on our behavior again, saying we acted like different people. We had trouble remembering details of our lives, such as the names of friends. It was then that our primary original gave up trying to repress us, rediscovered our secondary original, and together they began to figure out what was going on. It was then that our primary original admitted that she wasn’t alone, and we began the difficult journey of embracing the term “multiple”.
From 2004 to 2009, we educated ourselves as much as we could on plurality. We joined as many communities online that we could and studied textbooks, including the DSM 4. We also poured over Amongst Ourselves, by Kate Marshall and Tracy Alderman. Our origin as a system was a hot topic of debate among those of us here at the time. Because of our history of child abuse, and how close that abuse was to our birth, we spent countless years wondering if we stemmed from trauma despite the fact that our secondary original claimed to have been here since birth. Most of us felt our system had some spiritual aspects, too, which wasn’t an unusual concept back then. There were plenty of plural systems who felt their origins had some sort of spiritual component. They, like us, often struggled with medicalized versions of plurality and how it related to their systems.
They, along with systems who felt like their plurality wasn’t the result of trauma– perhaps not spiritual in origin, but simply not the result of trauma– formed the part of the community that back then was usually called “natural multiplicity”. They had been part of the plural community for the entire time we’d been aware of plurality, with websites and communities going back to the 1990s. Of course, there were always people within the community that had disagreements on plurality and how it could form, but in general, all parts of the community worked together. If you were more than one, or median, you were welcomed under the plural umbrella. Soulbonders and people who purposefully fostered mental/emotional connections with “others” within their mind were often welcomed as “naturally multiple”.
Regardless of how a system comes to be, discovery and acceptance are rarely a simple and easy battle.
Our path to discovery was a terrifying, lonely period in our lives, and communication within our system was hard won. Unfortunately, we lost our primary original along the way in 2012, when the abuse from our family and an ex became too much for her to bear. But the rest of us still came out the other side, embracing each other and proud of our plurality; finding the plural community and having words to describe our experience was a huge part of that. Words are important. Having community that accepts you, regardless of how you’ve come to be, is important. We have always wanted that for all types of plural folks and all types of systems, so it made sense to use our experiences to help others, and to try and educate singlets on plurality. We often considered other terms the community might be interested in, such as replacement terms for the word “fictive”, but there didn’t seem to be a pressing need for much else at that point.
Time passed and the plural community blossomed across the internet to places like PsychForums, IRC, AOL, Skype, and countless LiveJournal clones. Tumblr arrived in 2007. By then, the terms “natural multiplicity” and “natural systems” had begun to fall into disfavor. Not because it wasn’t seen as real, but because some systems felt that it implied other types of systems were unnatural. Terms like empowered or healthy multiplicity existed, but again, it was often confusing because there were trauma-based systems that identified as empowered and healthy, and non-traumagenic systems that identified as disordered. It just wasn’t a very good indication as to the how-and-why of a system’s origins.
Still, it wasn’t until almost a decade later that the first signs of divisiveness appeared in the community. Around 2014, a small number of systems began to argue that plurality was only caused by trauma, and that systems who identified as “natural” weren’t plural and shouldn’t be allowed to use certain words like “system”. While all types of systems still got along for the most part, especially outside of Tumblr, anti-endogenic rhetoric picked up speed fast and began to crop up elsewhere. In retaliation, a few endogenic systems attacked traumagenic systems. In a very short time, a community that had been more or less united for at least fifteen years was divided as people began to fight over who owned the rights to the term “system”, and even the entire concept of plurality. Systems that didn’t form from trauma were accused of faking, appropriation, and “roleplaying”; traumagenic systems who stood by endogenic systems faced those same accusations. They were told to “find their own words”, despite the fact that the words being used had been shared terms for quite a while.
August 8th, 2014, was the day that our system had enough. Around that time, we were on a virtual pet game and were dismayed to discover that the fighting had taken root even there, after a thread on plurality was created on the site’s forums. We were tired of it all when we sat down at our computer and began to play around with words. Our idea was that if we should have our own words then maybe we could create neutral ones that systems could adopt if they didn’t want to use the more medical or contested terms. We decided that we would be happy using other words, if that would keep people from attacking us and people like us, and it would be nice to have some simple, descriptive terms that didn’t involve the concept of “being natural”.
We came up with a lot of words that never really caught on. The word we first created was an alternative term to “multiple” or “plural”: polygenic, meaning “of multiple origin”. The other terms were supposed to just describe one’s “type”. There was protogenic, or being “born multiple”, which is what endogenic is commonly misunderstood to mean today. Another term was Cryptogenic, meaning “to have unknown origins”. Those, and a few others, faded into obscurity. Two terms that formed in those early days seemed to stick, though— traumagenic, or systems that formed from trauma, and endogenic, or systems that did not form from trauma.
When we brought the whole -genic idea to the Tumblr community, we never expected it to catch on like it did. If we had known, we would have been a lot more proactive about their use and addressed misconceptions from the start. Our intent with the creation of the terms had nothing to do with drawing a line in the sand between who was a real system and who wasn’t. It was never meant to cause further division. We did it out of frustration, but also out of love. We had hoped that, if the terms in general had caught on, it would give systems options for what to call themselves.
Now we feel that our intent backfired, culminating into the current state of the online plural community. While a lot of the worst remains on Tumblr, the infighting has spread to sites like Facebook, Vent, YouTube, Instagram, Twitter, and other social media sites.
After the terms started to gain traction, the anti-endogenic part of the community began using traumagenic to mean “real systems” and endogenic to mean “fake systems”. It was sad to see “traumagenic” become some sort of badge of authenticity, and to see “endogenic” become something shameful. On some social media sites, people began to target those who identified as endogenic and pro-endogenic systems regularly, sending them triggering material, harassing them, telling them to harm themselves, and more. “Honeypot” Discord servers were created, claiming to be inclusive of all systems and then attacking endogenic systems and their supporters after they had joined. Some argued that endogenic systems were claiming to have a disorder without meeting that disorder’s criteria, and stealing resources from systems with DID/OSDD. People claimed endogenic systems were mocking trauma survivors. Forums and events that said they were for systems restricted their membership to traumagenic systems only while using neutral or usually inclusive terms. Sometimes this exclusion wasn’t made apparent, leaving endogenic and pro-endogenic systems to figure out where they were welcome if “multiplicity” was no longer safe or accepting for everyone.
It was and still is horrible to see the misinterpretation of these terms, considering that we ourselves are survivors of abuse. “Endogenic” wasn’t created to mean “DID without the trauma”. It was created to mean systems that felt their plurality was due to a neurodivergence, from a psychological cause other than DID/OSDD, from some sort of spiritual cause, with a friendly outlook towards tulpamancy or soulbonding. Literally, it’s inclusive of any and all systems or plural folk that do not attribute their plurality to trauma. It has nothing to do with pretending to have a clinical disorder, or mocking anyone. It is simply a single word for many, many ways to be plural. It includes a lot of different opinions and beliefs. It includes a lot of different systems with different levels of communication, varying ability to function, and “symptoms” that can and do overlap with traumagenic systems. The image that has been projected of endogenic systems being happy go lucky rays of sunshine with no worries and no problems isn’t an accurate image.
Nor is it accurate that endogenic systems take resources from systems with DID/OSDD. Just as there are trans people who don’t feel the need to undergo surgery or hormone replacement treatments, there are systems– endogenic and traumagenic alike– who don’t feel the need to seek therapy or enter DID/OSDD only spaces. Systems cannot be stealing resources that they aren’t seeking. Endogenic systems, by definition, do not form from trauma and so are less likely to need the same resources that traumagenic systems may require. at least as far as their plurality is concerned.
The meaning of “traumagenic” has been misconstrued as well.
It is common nowadays to see people use the term “traumagenic” as a synonym for having DID/OSDD, and vise versa. This is far from the case. Using “traumagenic” to mean “a system with DID/OSDD” is inaccurate; saying “DID/OSDD system” to mean “traumagenic system” is also inaccurate. While we agree that DID/OSDD is trauma-caused, the criteria does not specify that the system in question must be traumagenic; we believe that any type of system can be disordered, distressed, and be impacted by trauma, even if that trauma isn’t what caused their system. There are traumagenic systems that never met the criteria for DID/OSDD, or were diagnosed at one time but have since lost that diagnosis. We, an endogenic system, have been professionally diagnosed with DID by a psychiatrist. System origins, as we originally defined them, don’t always align with diagnostic criteria, which makes using diagnostic status or origin terminology to identify “real systems” difficult at best.
Despite efforts to try and clarify what the terms mean, and showcase the inclusive history of the plural community, misconceptions and misinformation continues to circulate. A great deal of anti-endogenic statements aren’t based in science or psychology, which in the end hurts the plural community as a whole. Because endogenic systems are considered “fake”, a lot of traits associated with them– such as having fictives, having nonhuman system members, or even having system rules– are also considered signs that a system is fake. This is harmful to the plural community as a whole.
So, where do things go from here?
We feel that understanding the history behind the traumagenic/endogenic terminology, and the systems that use those terms, is important in going forward. Hatred thrives in ignorance. It is vital to understand that all systems, regardless of their origins, are trying to survive and thrive in a world that often is hostile to the concept of plurality. Traumagenic systems, endogenic systems, and other types of systems, all have a valuable place within the plural community, and much of the infighting seems to stem from a lack of understanding of plural history and refusing to listen to one another. Thankfully, most systems support one another and are comfortable sharing spaces that are identified as inclusive. Many systems are making an effort to preserve community history, compile accurate information on plurality, and advocate acceptance regardless of labels.
We ourselves hope that an accurate picture of what traumagenic and endogenic means can be part of that. It’s our wish to see both terms lose the negative connotations they’ve gained; traumagenic systems aren’t all anti-endogenic gatekeepers who believe you can only be plural if you have a diagnosis, and endogenic systems aren’t trying to appropriate a disorder or mock trauma survivors. It is truly a shame to see this sort of discourse after a long history of relative peace, and it is especially disappointing to see terms that we created– and intended to be inclusive and helpful— being used to hurt innocent people within the plural community. We do hope that someday, the community will learn to work together again so that we may focus on the hatred and discrimination that comes from outside of the community.
“Traumagenic” and “endogenic” come from an endogenic system that loves their community. The terms were originally a product of community infighting, but became a way to help us explain our personal origins quickly and without potentially harmful phrasing. They were never meant to divide the community; the senseless backlash against systems that don’t fit a specific mold isn’t based in science, but anger and misinformation. It needs to stop. We hope the community can grow to a point where we embrace systems of all origins, and judge one another by our actions and character rather than how we believe our systems formed. We hope that people will be able to use whatever terminology is accurate for them without fear.
After all, in the end, we’re all in this together.
Thank you for your time, and consideration. You’re real, you’re valid, and you matter.
– The Trashcan Collective. If you wish to contact the Trashcan Collective, you can do so by clicking here.