The context of the work and research background

An exploration of the resilience of the human spirit in the face of trauma, Grace is a story about love and the fallibility of the human mind. When a person has experienced pain or violence, memories of the past haunt them with echoes that travel forward through time to create fear and uncertainty in the present.

A victim of bullying can often become the perpetrator because they have learned unhealthy ways to react to challenges to their physical or emotional status. Sometimes the cure they adopt is worse than the disease: unwillingness to trust, being a “loner” to avoid intimacy, defensiveness to deal with fear, using shame to punish themselves and others for innocent mistakes.

Without intervention, often the self fulfilling prophecy continues: people who have been victims look for evidence to confirm their negative beliefs about themselves and others, which compounds their lack of trust and leads to anti-social behaviour.


Sufferers of DID can be affected by flashbacks and feel “taken over” by aspects of their personality they cannot control. This causes memory loss and the feeling of being trapped in one’s body while one is being controlled by “someone else” – dissociated from one’s sensory experience. Sufferers can experience difficulty coping with everyday emotions, stress and interactions due to their memory of the abuse and trauma they have suffered coming back to haunt them, and colouring their perception of themselves as they are in the present.

Many people experience this to a lesser degree than that which qualifies as a mental illness. The concept of “learned limitations” is one that is challenged by positive psychology. Examples in history show where a feat of science or human achievement, like running the 4 minute mile or sending humans into space, required someone to believe in something that was previously thought impossible. On a personal scale, often we believe we are “no good” or “not talented” at a particular skill, when in fact, all it requires is a model and then concentrated practice, in order to get good at that skill. Things we used to believe were impossible are now second nature.


The Making of Grace: Inspiration and Mood Board

The title “Grace” references the theme of Brene Brown’s pivotal TEDtalk on Vulnerability and is a quote from the interview she gave with Tim Ferris where she discusses the social limits placed on creativity by a culture of shame and judgement.

The concept for this work explores the idea of a person being haunted and controlled by their own memories of themselves as they were in the past, as a result of trauma.

Vicky Kelly – The Paradox of Trauma informed Care

Drawing on the psychological phenomenon of dissociation, which results from trauma and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, the narrative of the piece is loosely based on the story of a person who develops Dissociative Identity Disorder. Snap of their personality are captured at a time when they experienced a traumatic event, and these snapshots seem to them as though they are different people controlling their body, which later come back to haunt them in flashbacks. This phenomenon is also apparent in the observation of “learned helplessness” in both humans and animals, where an individual who has experienced limitations or being trapped “learns” that they cannot escape, and later still continues to behave as though the limitations exist even though their circumstances have changed.


Inspiration for the movement style draws from the exploration of the way Control and Power manifest in relationships, as a way to deal with challenges and conflict. Each individual tries to gain more certainty by establishing rules for themselves and for the others around them. They try to exert physical control over themselves and their behaviour even though in their mind they may be experiencing flashbacks to memories of their past, which might influence their actions.

This expands on the observation that abusive cultures perpetuate because victims have not learned healthy skills to deal with challenges and conflict. They learn rules that keep them safe when they are experiencing trauma themselves, but out of context, those rules become dysfunctional. For example, army veterans find it difficult to integrate back into civil society after coming back from a warzone.

Their hypervigilance and fast, defensive decision making keeps them safe in a dangerous environment where any wrong move could endanger themselves and their colleagues. But in family life or normal peace time society, these same behaviours are considered violent and aggressive, and veterans often have difficulty adjusting psychologically, when they have flashbacks and triggers that remind them of previous episodes of trauma.

Emotions and Dissociation

The concept of the personality being affected in different ways by our emotional states was used in the popular Pixar movie “INSIDE OUT”, which also tackled the way in which people “act out” when they are experiencing difficult emotions.

The theory of Dissociation Identity Disorder proposes that young people subjected to abuse or trauma (like family violence or emotional or physical abuse at the hands of a caregiver) develop difficulty bonding with their caregiver as the person they trust is also a source of pain for them. This results in “snapshots” of their personality developing that relate to that period in their life that are dissociated or distanced from their main “self”, so as to cope with the feeling of shame, guilt and responsibility that many victims expereince. These personality snapshots “take over” when they experience distressing circumstances later in life, causing various symptoms including memory loss, unusual or anti-social behaviour, withdrawal and difficulty “connecting” and forming bonds and attachments with others. This cycle perpetuates as the victim later experiences difficulty trusting and bonding to others and can lash out when they get close to people, which triggers painful memories of their early abuse.

In Grace, emotions are represented by different dancers who represent the way a person can feel controlled or manipulated by their emotional states and can act in ways they would otherwise not do because they feel “controlled” by that emotional state. Violent offenders talk about the “red haze” that takes over and how they have difficulty managing their anger when they feel threatened. In Grace, these characters move to control both the Boy and the other characters he encounters, instigating strong emotional reactions in himself and others.

Information and Clinical support for people affected by DID

The Clinic for Dissociative Studies has resources and treatment for sufferers of Dissociative conditions, which sometimes arise as a result of PTSD.

Contact them for more information.