Monday, 9 February 2009

Questions of self.

This is fascinating. I don't know very much about multiple personality disorder*, but this is an amazing picture of it. It's a fascinating literary device, turning up all over the place in books and films and so on. Terry Pratchett uses it a fair amount, and then there's Fight Club - though having read the article I would suggest that most of these depictions are nowhere close to accurate. To be fair to them, I suspect they're not really intended to be.

The question I want to ask is how does that woman name her 'alters'? Because they clearly all do have names and are recognisable to her and her therapist. Is it like the Pratchett concept - that when you name something you give it existence on a higher level? Everyone has aspects to themselves; you're a different person in every situation with everyone you meet or know. It's a carefully judged performance based on assessing your relative status, expectations, motives and so on - Stanislavskian given circumstances. That's how we make up ourselves, so often, in relation to others around us. The core of an individual I guess can be regarded as those elements which can always be found in each persona we put on.

This woman has elements of her character that take on aspects of her life - several are children; several are part of her career; one takes on her aspect as a mother. I'm intrigued to know about the mechanics of how it works. Is there a centre self that carries the memories? The way that the article runs, it seems there must be. Do the alters retain memories? But she tells us that there are huge black spaces in her life, where she has been someone else. It's a difficult thing to comprehend. I suppose I could go an read the book, but I don't actually want to. Reading someone else's neuroses would be hard. It would feel very prying. The article is enough for a flavour and to prompt some thinking about definition.

I remember getting quite upset when I was 18 or so, that I didn't know who I was because as far as I was concerned I become someone entirely different with each group of people. And they were very different too - are still in some ways. The biggest split for me is the person I am around my family and the person I am around everyone else. As far as my relationship with my parents goes, 18 was the worst point. They had declared they were moving to Cornwall and that I could do as I liked, and I was distraught. With them, I was sullen and closed and dutiful and dull. All to do with protecting them and trying not to disturb the image of me that they were comfortable with. I was one person there. It was different outside; I could choose more. I could be the clever weird one at school, the obsessive still slightly weird but mostly accepted one with the youth theatre crowd, the enthusiastic naive youngster with the theatre adults, the unpopular but sort of useful one with the lacrosse crowd, the goodie-two-shoes in choir...and more. Is it part of growing up, weaving those aspects together into some sort of whole? I remember noticing when I saw people who'd been away at uni for any length of time that they seemed to have become more themselves than they had been at school. They were more concrete. Quite a large part of that is just to do with becoming more comfortable with themselves having settled into a new situation where nobody knows their history and they can be accepted without question. Quite a lot of it too is to do with getting used to oneself...aligning all the thread of persona together into a rope that wears itself denser as time goes on and the strands rub together - a more coherent whole.

I don't remember that happening to me in the way I noticed it happening to others. A lot of people commented to me that I'd barely changed since I was 12. I hadn't in many ways, but in many ways neither had they. As I said, they had just become more themselves. I have always been a bit afraid of change. Everyone is, I guess, but I have a suspicion there was something unhealthy about the way I viewed it. I did a fair amount of growing up through being forced to re-examine my assumptions about myself in therapy, and was thence kick-started into trying to understand myself a bit more. I don't in any way think I'm there. The day that I feel I understand will be the day that life ceases to be worth living. Ditto the day I feel I have grown up, though the two concepts are nearly synonymous.

This woman suffered terrible terrible abuse, and came out of it able to function. Our bodies and our minds are amazing things. She found the strength to carry on giving to the rest of the world, despite that. It's almost mindboggling. Despite everything, to remain that strong. Makes one feel humbled, really.

*Can anyone help me to the name of a film where the central male character has the illness and commits a series of murders? I remember it being a great film but I can't remember the name. Typical. It wasn't Fight Club. I'm SO bad at names.


  1. Was american psycho split personality?

    Did a whole lot of this for my 3rd year dissertation, fight club, regeneration and girl interrupted as narratives of mental illness. Very very interesting actually.

  2. It might be American Psycho. I don't remember. When I was hunting for a film that fitted my memory, I found that there are really quite a lot around the premise of multiple personalities. It IS a fascinating idea. I wonder why? Something about escapism?

  3. Escapism and lack of responsibility for actions, perhaps. While characters used to do something to bring on their mpd (Jekyll and hyde) more modern fiction it's something that's done to you or an illness - what you do is not your fault when it's your other personality.

    But then maybe there's also something going back to that fractured sense of self which is so modern somehow, the sense that the self is always being pulled apart and influenced by things in society that you can't control. Depends whether the alternative personality is frightening or liberating - or both.

  4. Fractured self is a big post-modern idea, I recall. Hmm. Trying to be all things to all people, which is a central concern of modern existence.