©2012 Gary Vey for viewzone
You talkin' to me? ...
This was going to be an interesting story. Now it's interesting AND weird.
I was going to tell you about the relationship of personality possession and ancient prophets. But as I began to investigate the nature of personality, I realized something both real and hard to accept.
Personality is always a hot topic. Some of the most popular pages on viewzone.com (like the Color Preference Personality Test and Finger lengths reveal your hidden talents) discuss learning more about who we are -- our personality. Also popular are personality tests which confront us with a situation, an object or a color, then ask us to react to it. Our pattern of reaction discloses secret motives and hidden agendas which are based on statistical models.
When you think of it, that's weird. If we are our personality, why is it that we have to learn about ourselves in such remote ways? And who or what is doing the learning?
The answers to these questions are known. Understanding what is going on is your right to know. In fact you know already since you have a "self" so this information is just a reminder.
Identity usually comes with a name. Our family and friends associate our name with our physical being as well as an assortment of predictable behavior that forms our personality. Personality encompasses our posture, facial expressions, speech and vocabulary as well as an assortment of likes and dislikes. If we are sick or troubled, those close to us can often sense the subtle difference in our behavior and might ask, "Hey, are you OK?" In short, personality is who we are.
Although it is us, our personality can surprises us with strange behavior and previously unknown abilities. We have all done things which we later regret and which, even to us, seem out of character. At other times, we have all discovered talents and interests that have shaped the path of our lives. Like the violent "hero" that possessed Travis Bittle [top] in Taxi Driver, these things seem to "happen" to us -- it is almost as if personality has a life of its own. Actually, it's more than "almost as if". In this article I will show that personality is a dynamic mental creation, and that it can be erased, turned on and off, be replaced, enhanced, repressed and terminated. You may never think of yourself (or others) the same again!
When studying the origin and nature of personality, it helps to examine some extreme cases. The phenomenon of Multiple Personality Disorder presents the situation where the uniqueness of our identity is challenged, forcing us to re-evaluate the nature of "self".
Being "possessed" by spirits and demons is a known phenomenon in almost every culture. The general public first became aware of Multiple Personalities as a psychiatric condition in the 1957 film, The Three Faces of Eve:
In this classic film, based on a well known real case, Eve had two alternate personalities that emerged at different times. Each was unique and developed with their own vocabulary, accent and interests. The "normal" or host personality was unaware of the other alters, as they are called, and had no memory of their activity when they were "out".
But reality is even more bizarre. The average number of alters for a victim of multiple personalities is fifteen!
Psychologists have studied multiple personalities for the past several decades. What they have learned about this phenomenon has shattered our traditional concepts of "self" and, as you will see, has changed history.
The Common Denominator in MPD
Almost all documented cases of MPD have a history of childhood trauma. In the study cited above, the trauma was categorized as follows: Sexual abuse (73%), physical abuse (73%), and emotional abuse (82%). Seventy-three percent had a parent with a diagnosable dissociative disorder; 36% of the mothers had MPD.
Recent statistics report that a third of all women in America report being molested or sexually abused as a child. One in five American women report that they have been raped [*] at least once in their life. It is possible that multiple personalities are more frequent, especially in females, than previously thought. These are so-called "covert" cases where the victim has learned to cope with the alter personalities.
A typical example of MPD (now called Dissociative Identity Disorder) is presented here:
"...A woman who had been physically and sexually abused by her father throughout her childhood and adolescence exhibited at least 4 personalities as an adult. Each personality was of a different age, representing the phases of the woman's experience -- a fearful child, a rebellious teenager, a protective adult, and the woman's primary personality. Only one of the personalities, the protective adult, was consciously aware of the others, and during therapy sessions was realized to have been developed to protect the woman during the abusive experiences. When one of the secondary personalities took over, it often led to episodic dissociative amnesia, during which the woman acted out according to the nature of the dominating personality. During intensive therapy sessions, each personality was called upon as necessary to facilitate their integration." -- [*]
One has to remember that the severity of the act or acts that trigger are relative to the victim's perceptions and feelings. Small things, like parental arguments or observed or experienced violence can make a child disassociate (i.e. withdraw) from reality.
The escape from physical or emotional pain may begin as daydreaming or fantasy and can develop in to an alter personality that either protects the host by emotionless cooperation or suicide. In this regard, some interesting characters re-appear in case studies.
Common Cast of Alter Characters
One way of understanding the various alters is to observe their emotional characteristics, since they were created as coping mechanisms. Interesting observation has been made by some therapists [*]. They have noted the following roles, which aptly describe common MPD alters:
To some extent we all have these characters in our emotional repertoire. They are patterns that have worked successfully for us in the past and persist as part of our composite personality. But for people with multiple personalities, these characters are isolated from the host and have apparent consciousness of the host while they are passive (i.e. not "out").
I'll explain how this happens later. For now, let's move on to another extreme personality event.
While a person can have multiple personalities, it is also possible to lose one's identity. What remains is a curious memory of procedures and training. It's called fugue.
The "Fugue" of War