"Perhaps the sentiments contained in the following pages, are not yet
sufficiently fashionable to procure them general favor; a long habit of
not thinking a thing wrong, gives it a superficial appearance of being
right, and raises at first a formidable outcry in defence of custom. But
the tumult soon subsides. Time makes more converts than reason." -- Thomas Paine, from Introduction to 'Common Sense', 1776
"Put away the myths the media has created...
The truth is, these are not very bright guys,
and things got out of hand."
-- Hal Holbrook, "All the President's Men"
We have been fed a full plate of lies about multiplicity. For years, the
psychological community has pushed the notion on us that multiplicity-- known to them only as MPD or DID-- is inevitably a psychological disorder involving specific "symptoms," which include lack of co-awareness, lack of common memory and recall of the periods during which other selves (alters) are active, and a traumatic past, usually involving childhood sexual abuse. These ideas about dysfunction and pathology have given rise to a series of destructive myths about plurality.
Click on a link to jump directly to our discussion of the myth in question.
1. Multiples are never aware that they are multiple and need a therapist to tell them what is going on; "self-diagnosis" is not possible.
2. Multiplicity is inevitably the result of trauma.
3. In order to be multiple, you need to experience severe, repeated abuse, usually sexual abuse, in childhood.
4. Everyone is born with a single personality, and multiplicity is the result of that original personality splitting.
5. All selves in a system just represent pieces of an original person.
6. A person cannot become multiple unless they 'split' before the age of 6 (or 3, or 5, or 9, depending on which 'expert' you're talking to).
7. The 'host' is always amnesiac for the periods of time when other selves are in control.
8. In order to be healthy and functional, multiples need to integrate all their selves into one person.
9. All multiples have a host or core personality who is usually weak, depressed, and unaware of the others.
10. All multiples have an 'inner self-helper' who is typically wise and knows everything about the system.
11. Multiples are always potentially dangerous and most systems have violent alters.
12. Most systems have self-persecuting alters who harm the body.
13. The more people in a system, the more abuse the system must have undergone.
14. If you're multiple and don't remember any abuse or trauma, then you must be repressing the memories of it.
15. Multiples are always extremely intelligent and creative, and other selves can easily learn new skills without the host/core being aware of it.
16. Multiples are more psychic than most people and use more of their brains than most people.
17. If selves are aware of each other and can communicate with each other, then it's just roleplaying or acting, not multiplicity. In 'real' multiplicity, no one knows anything about anyone else.
18. There are completely reliable ways of determining whether someone is really multiple or not.
19. Most multiples are women; male multiples are rare and most of them are criminals.
20. Multiplicity is just a way for people to seek avoidance of responsibility, because it allows them to claim 'my other alter did it.'
21. Multiplicity is something induced by therapists. Multiplicity didn't exist at all until it started in the 1980s in America and is a culture-specific 'illness.'
22. Multiplicity is schizophrenia.
23. You can always tell when a multiple 'switches.'
24. All multiples are easily hypnotizable and prone to suggestion.
25. 'Co-consciousness' means everyone in a system (or near the front) is completely aware of what everyone else is thinking and feeling.
MYTH: Multiples are never aware that they are multiple and need a therapist to tell them what is going on; "self-diagnosis" is not possible.
FACT: The 'frontrunner in the dark' idea, made famous by best-selling books such as The Three Faces of Eve, Sybil and When Rabbit Howls, has become the cliche of a comic soap opera: a nice, middle-aged lady experiencing mysterious blackouts seeks help from a therapist because she just can't figure out what's going on, and one day, in the consulting room-- horrors-- the nice lady suddenly starts talking in another voice! The knowledgeable therapist, of course, sees at once that the poor lady is suffering from that strange, mysterious illness MPD, unknowingly toting around a veritable bestiary of selves in her head who buy stuff she doesn't want and put it in her closet.
The persistence of this myth has given ammunition to would-be debunkers asking why 'MPD' and other selves supposedly never appear until someone walks into a therapist's office and is told s/he is multiple. Conversely, it is fueled by therapists (and wannabe lay experts) who claim that it is 'impossible' for a multiple to know they are multiple on their own-- that you need a degree (or at least a Psych 101 class) just to decide whether someone is a person. (Claims such as "90% of multiples do not know they are multiple" are frequently bandied about.)
Actually, our experience is that spontaneous selves-discovery is not at all uncommon outside the therapist's office. Nor are multiples who grow up with an awareness of "being many people" in a very literal way, but are obliged to hide or disguise it because it's considered unacceptably weird and 'crazy.' Many of the plurals we know have not only never received a diagnosis, but have never been to a therapist at all. It's pretty hard to believe you need a psychiatric label to be "real" when you've experienced the presence of others all your life.
Are there multiples who fit the profile of the clueless frontrunner needing a therapist (or someone outside the body, at least) to put the facts together for them? We don't doubt that such situations happen, though we've never known any systems personally who were in such a situation. But it's the fact that they're obviously not communicating which makes them disorderly-- not the fact that there's more than one of them. (And it's the ones whose systems are in chaos who end up in the therapists' offices asking for help-- talk about a skewed sampling...)
MYTH: Multiplicity is inevitably the result of trauma.
FACT: The idea of multiplicity as a result of 'nervous shock' is pretty old-- and we don't doubt that it can happen that way. It just wasn't that way for us, or for many multiple systems we know, either. (Many older case studies of multiple personality, from the turn of the century or earlier, featured patients with no extreme trauma in their lives-- the element which seemed to dominate their histories was emotional repression.) As mentioned above, the multiples who come into therapists' offices are a self-identified, skewed sample-- groups without trauma issues, or who communicate well, don't have any reason to seek help from therapists, especially since even disclosing the fact of their multiplicity would put them at risk for being labeled mentally ill.
People also tend to assume a false correlation between trauma and multiplicity-- that if a system has been abused (as many people, both single and multiple, are), the abuse must be the cause of their multiplicity; the multiplicity couldn't have predated it. (Interestingly enough, we've read several books about multiples where the system clearly seemed to have existed before any severe abuse, but for some reason even the authors didn't make that connection.) It may be that some systems existed naturally but assumed a more prominent role because of abuse, because the front (or fronts) relied on the others to cope with the trauma.
MYTH: In order to be multiple, you need to experience severe, repeated abuse, usually sexual abuse, in childhood.
FACT: The idea of a connection between trauma and multiplicity had been batted around for at least a century, but in the 1970s, Dr. Cornelia Wilbur essentially took it upon herself to write the official book on multiplicity with her case study of Shirley Mason, alias "Sybil." According to Wilbur, multiplicity could only be the result of a highly gifted and creative child being repeatedly and brutally abused. She took Dr. Morton Prince's dissociation theory from earlier in the century and reworked it so that the patient split not due to having socially undesirable parts of of their personality, but in order to 'make the other parts endure the trauma for them.' Wilbur's explanation is the 'official' one you'll see in most psychology texts and books about multiplicity.
We don't deny that some systems may originate this way-- there isn't any 'right' way to become or to be multiple-- and that it may have worked as an explanation for Shirley Mason and some of Wilbur's other patients, but it's still a gross oversimplification. Not all gifted, creative, severely abused children become multiple, and not all patients with 'classical' MPD symptoms have backgrounds of severe repeated trauma. (As noted above, many pre-'Sybil' cases involved patients who either had no significant past traumas, or their traumas had not been of a repeated brutal nature. Our page on the history of multiplicity in Western culture, in progress, will have more information on some of these systems when we finish it.)
MYTH: Everyone is born with a single personality, and multiplicity is the result of that original personality splitting.
FACT: What is personality anyway? Psychologists, philosophers and neurologists still can't agree. How can one assume that everyone is born with a single original personality (and how can we prove it) when no one can even say what, in fact, the thing called "personality" or "self" really is? (Claims of some doctors aside, there is no empirical evidence whatsoever for the idea that "the brain cannot support more than one personality.") Even from the most reductionistic standpoint, it seems to us that what people are born with is potentials for what kind of person they can become. The 'norm' for our culture is one person per body, so children who feel like they're anyone else often learn to repress it early on, that they not be thought strange or abnormal.
That said, the concept of splitting is also a rigid oversimplification-- as if the self were brittle like a piece of glass. Singlets (non-multiples) can undergo significant changes in personality through their lifetime, and no one decides that they've 'split.' It seems to us that the self is a very malleable and fluid thing, dynamic and constantly changing (and the same can be said of individual selves in multiple systems)-- it doesn't just break up into neat little sharply defined pieces.
MYTH: All selves in a system just represent pieces of an original person.
FACT: Read our take on the 'parts of an original' idea. Since we've already observed that self (or selves) is dynamic, even if a system does begin by one person splitting off an aspect of themselves, why can't both of them continue to grow and change over time? Even a "part" can learn, change, adapt to new situations and acquire opinions and interests of their own, and become more full and well-rounded. By this point, is there any true justification for labeling them merely "part of an original" if they've grown beyond that original, simplistic role? We can't point to people in our system and say 'this is the angry part' or 'this is the intellectual part,' although many therapists will try to push you into labeling everyone that way-- we can't say that we're parts of anything, because we're people, with our own full sets of emotions and interests.
MYTH: In order to be multiple, you have to 'split' before the age of 6 (or 3, or 5, or 9, depending on which 'expert' you're talking to).
FACT: One of the early beliefs of doctors who worked with multiples was that only the minds of children had enough flexibility to create other selves. Some of this seems to have come from the psychoanalytic idea that children before age 5 lacked "fully developed personalities" (a questionable concept at best, especially to anyone who has spent lots of time caring for children!). Additionally, most doctors believed that multiplicity was nothing but an elaborate form of self-hypnosis, originating when abused children managed to delude themselves into believing that the abuse was happening to "someone else." Thus, the 'other selves' weren't really people-- they were just one person hypnotizing themselves into believing they were different individuals.
In other words, multiplicity was being equated with playing pretend, which, in this society, is a capacity which is expected to be given up or lost after childhood. Adults with active imaginations are generally (unless they use their creations to make money) looked upon as curiosities at best and pathological at worst.
MYTH: All multiples are amnesiac for the periods of time when other selves are in control.
FACT: This one just keeps going and going. "I can't be multiple because I know what the others are doing whereas in real MPD you can't remember." "I must be median/midcontinuum because I remember what the others do."
Seriously, if you just take it from the basic tenet that multiplicity is several people sharing the same body, shouldn't the definition of personhood have more to do with how well-rounded someone is, how distinct their way of perceiving things-- aka, if this person got their own body tomorrow, would they be okay after getting past the initial disorientation? It seems to us that qualifying someone as a person, rather than a fragmentary part of some original personality, should have more to do with whether they are a self-motivated individual, with a full range of emotions and ability to act independently, than with whether they can make other people in the system 'lose time.' By this standard, two full people who share memories meet the criteria of personhood more than an 'alter' who causes blackouts for the 'host' but is only capable of a limited range of emotions.
That said, blackouts do not not a multiple make, either. Epilepsy, brain injury, and drug use (even of certain prescription drugs) can all result in periods of "lost time." Therapists eager to see MPD under every rock may inadvertently jeopardize the health of patients by assuming that blackouts can only ever mean multiplicity, and overlook potentially serious medical problems in the process. Anyone experiencing blackouts is best off consulting a doctor before assuming the blackouts are caused by "others taking over," and ruling out all possible physical causes.
A system which cannot at least keep all its members updated on what's going on with everyone else, if they have difficulty with co-consciousness, is not a healthy, functional system, and a system experiencing blackouts is far more likely to seek therapy than one in which memories get passed around. As with so much else, the idea comes from the skewed sampling of plurals seen by therapists. It's about making the pathology the norm.
MYTH: In order to be healthy and functional, multiples need to integrate all their selves into one person.
FACT: Nearly every 'true story' of multiplicity has a happy-sappy ending in which integration is the end of the story, and the new 'unified self' lives happily ever after. Cover blurbs gush about the 'courageous' patients who 'triumphed over MPD.' Of course, this never means triumphing over the disorder part-- you can almost always safely assume it means integration!
Never mind that some tell of appalling methods for getting rid of the 'alters,' including having them literally die or 'putting them to sleep.' They don't have any rights! Only the host, or the person the therapist has decided is the host, has them, and if the host decides they don't want to share their body-- never mind if the other people like it better that way-- the host gets THEIR way. Well, sometimes, at least. Dr. Lucinda Harman, who worked at Cornelia Wilbur's Open Institute for Multiple Personality, reported that it was an 'open secret' among some therapists that a lot of supposedly integrated multiples (including some famous ones) weren't. Someone in the system might pretend to be the 'new, integrated self' just to get the group out of an institutional setting, or several people would agree to pose as one.
The idea that integration is necessary is based on the belief that multiplicity always results from an original who splits themselves. If it ain't broke, don't fix it. Increasingly, from what we have seen, we're starting to believe that integration is not really possible for most natural multiples, no more than therapies to "cure" homosexuality are effective on a long-term basis. Even some trauma-created systems find it difficult or impossible to return to life as a single person, after spending most of their life as plural, and opt for living as a cooperating collective instead (similar to the situation described in When Rabbit Howls). All but a few of the supposedly integrated multiples we have heard of, went back to being plural eventually-- not because they "relapsed," or "couldn't handle" something in their lives, but because the functioning system served as support for them, or just because the others had been there to begin with and it was no more natural to try to mush them into one person than it would be to mush together a family of separate physical people.
MYTH: All multiples have a host or core personality who is usually weak, depressed, and unaware of the others.
FACT: The old "weak host" idea dates back to Morton Prince in the 1920s, who was also responsible for the concept that multiplicity started with dissociation and needed to be cured by integration. The original, rather Freudian idea was that one person split off parts of herself because they were undesirable in her situation, usually parts which expressed socially unacceptable needs or desires-- with those parts split off, there wouldn't be much left except a weak, people-pleasing shell.
We don't doubt that there must be some multiples out there whom this applies to, even if we don't know any personally-- that said, the most difficult thing for us when we first started to acknowledge each other was that the front in charge was NOT weak and reluctant to give up 'control' to anyone else.
MYTH: All multiples have an 'inner self-helper' who is typically wise and knows everything about the system.
FACT: Wow! Where's ours? The ISH idea originated with Dr. Ralph Allison, a psychologist and New Age minister who studied multiplicity during the 70s and 80s, was told by someone in a multiple system he was working with that she was an 'inner self-helper,' who had access to the knowledge of the memories of the entire system, memories of the system's past lives, and personal connection to a higher power.
"Inner self-helper" has apparently become shorthand for anyone in a multiple system who keeps track of people or is worldly, helpful and perceptive in general. (In other words, anyone who displays either of those traits puts themselves at risk for being pegged as The Inner-Self Helper.) Also, a disproportionate number of them seem to be Celtic, and speak in strange pseudoarchaisms, or are named after angels. In any case, we've never met anyone in our system with those kinds of abilities, or even anyone who 'knows all about everyone.'
The main problem with the ISH idea, as such, is that it's essentially a religious one, rooted in New Age beliefs which many people do not subscribe to. The New Age is a religion, and to try to impose the idea of the ISH on all multiples amounts to imposing a religious belief. If someone in the system is a follower of the New Age, that's one thing, but no one should be asked to practice a particular faith in order to achieve a stable operating system.
Various doctors have claimed that all multiple systems have someone with 'continuous memory'-- who possesses all the collective memories of the entire system. This mostly seems to be rooted in the idea that multiples can't share memories with each other unless helped by a doctor to do so. There isn't much of a point in having a continuous memory if people can pass information to each other normally.
MYTH: Multiples are always potentially dangerous and most systems have violent alters.
FACT: This is one of the worst and most potentially destructive myths about multiplicity. At its worst, it can lead to multiple systems being fired from their jobs, having their children taken away from them against their will, or forcibly imprisoned in mental hospitals under the pretext that they're too sick to take care of themselves (and if they feel otherwise, that just proves they're too sick to realize just how disturbed they are). It can be less blatant but just as damaging; multiples are assumed to be untrustworthy and incapable of controlling their own behavior. Every system is assumed to have at least one criminal, sex maniac, or serial killer. It is routinely assumed that people in a system are not aware of the others' actions, leading to the infamous "well, SOMEONE in there did it" phenomenon.
Think about this logically. How many serial killers, criminals, and sex maniacs do you actually know? If you took a sample of five random people off the street-- or a family consisting of five people-- would you expect any of them, simply as a matter of course, to be serial killers or sex maniacs? If not, why would the situation be any different if those five people happened to be inhabiting the same body? Even the idea that multiples are likely to be violent because of childhood abuse holds little water-- the vast majority of abused children do not grow up to become violent killers.
A non-dysfunctional system also has the advantage of having a natural system of checks and balances-- not only can they provide emotional support, but restrain or guide the actions of another who isn't handling a situation well. Considering this, one would actually expect single persons to be more prone to crime and violence, simply because they have no "insiders" to control bad behavior!
MYTH: Most systems have self-persecuting alters who harm the body.
FACT: The idea that "there is always an alter who harms the body" seems not to have shown up until the 1980s, as far as we can tell from our personal research-- Sybil, Eve, and other famous multiples had no one like that. At some point it caught on and became 'part of the model,' thus begging the chicken-or-egg question-- did such people exist in the systems to begin with, or were they interpreted or pushed into the role of 'self-harming alter' because therapists and books told the system that they would find one?
Self-injury also seems to travel as a sort of meme among some social groups, both online and off. Many young women seem to have been exposed to the idea already, before they start to consider that they might be multiple. As a whole, multiples are no more prone to it than anyone else.
MYTH: If you're multiple and don't remember any abuse or trauma, then you must be repressing memories.
FACT: During the 80s and 90s, many therapists believed that repressed memories of childhood sexual abuse could underlie depression and anxiety in adulthood. Many people, mostly women, were led to believe that they had been abused in childhood because they presented with specific symptoms, and that they were merely repressing the memories if they didn't remember being abused. Many of these same people were also led to believe they were multiple-- and that they had "split" because of their traumas, naturally. Some of these people were really multiple; many of them were not, and were asked to accept things about their past which weren't true, on the grounds that it was 'necessary' in order for them to heal. Unfortunately, a great many of these people got worse rather than better once therapy had begun.
We believe that it is possible for memories to be repressed, though not on the grand, conspiratorial scale suggested by some, and that people who claim any recovery of memories is impossible are ignoring some real legitimate research (for instance, adult war veterans who blocked out and then spontaneously remembered memories of combat experience). We do not agree with the position of groups like the FMSF that repression doesn't exist. However, we also believe that if a person or system has experienced such trauma, it will manifest itself in other ways; it is highly unlikely for a survivor of extreme abuse to go through their life blithely unaware of their horrible past, or just feeling a little depressed or unsure of 'who they really are,' until a therapist sets them on the right track.
MYTH: Multiples are always extremely intelligent and creative, and other selves can easily learn new skills without the host/core being aware of it.
FACT: In systems with poor communication, different selves may not be aware of abilities learned by other selves. However, multiples have no inherent superhuman abilities and require no less time than single persons to pick up new skills. The one factor which may give the appearance of a higher learning ability is the fact of having a "team" to collaborate and help with the learning process, just as studying in groups can facilitate learning. However, the downside is that if the system contains a variety of people with divergent interests, the time each of them can spend pursuing those individual interests and studies is limited, due to the fact of needing to share front time with others. Again, plurality is not a superior way of being-- as with many other forms of difference, it has advantages balanced by disadvantages.
MYTH: Multiples are more psychic than most people and use more of their brains than most people.
FACT: There's an old urban legend that humans only use ten percent (or twenty or eight or five) of their brains-- that most of the grey matter sitting in our skull is just being wasted. This was actually a misunderstanding of early studies of patients recovering from brain damage, but it took off like crazy in science fiction, with authors speculating on what would happen if we "learned to use the rest of the brain."
Cornelia Wilbur was the first doctor to proclaim that multiples were inevitably geniuses. (We are tempted to wonder if, due to the nature of her practice and the fees she charged, she wasn't getting a skewed sampling of highly educated individuals.) Ralph Allison decreed that not only were all multiples geniuses, but they were all psychic and extremely creative-- a theme which was recapitulated in the book When Rabbit Howls. As a system we know pointed out, one wonders why, if Truddi's group was skilled at mind-reading as claimed in the book, they didn't just jet out to Las Vegas and make a killing.
This elitist idea is unfortunately still getting around today-- systems thinking they can't be multiple because they 'aren't geniuses' or 'aren't psychic,' systems who insist on their own specialness because 'it takes a special kind of person to become multiple.' Perhaps if one's system is in obvious chaos, it can be a nice ego boost to tell yourself that you're a special genius, but all the same, it's elitist and unfair. Persons within a system can have the same ranges and types of intelligence as any group of outside people. Also, while plenty of anecdotal stories of psi phenomena exist, and one can decide for themselves whether they constitute compelling evidence for the existence of such phenomena, there's still no well-documented scientific proof that multiples experience such things.
MYTH: If selves are aware of each other and can communicate with each other, then it's just roleplaying or acting, not multiplicity. In 'real' multiplicity, no one knows anything about anyone else.
FACT: This idea was used by a lot of psychologists attempting to 'debunk' the multiples who appeared on shows like Geraldo and Maury Povich during the 80s and 90s. We don't doubt that some of them were indeed faking for attention or had been misled by their therapists, but ability to communicate is not the criteria for what makes a multiple. Being aware of your next-door neighbor does not make you the same person. A person is a person because they have a unique set of personality traits, history, way of thinking, and way of perceiving and interacting with the world. It seems to us that if you meet these criteria, it shouldn't matter whether you share a body or not.
In addition, if one believes in the MPD/DID model, the idea that 'nobody knows anything about anyone else' is contradicted by some of the most popular 'case studies,' such as Sybil's and Billy Milligan's-- in both cases, at least one person in the system knew about everyone in it, and many of them had at least some awareness of and ability to communicate with others before therapy.
This idea is insulting because it implies that we're doing this all for our own amusement or to temporarily get a different perspective on things (i.e. "naming different parts of yourself"), and could just put it all aside and walk away any time we felt like it.
Being multiple is not like having imaginary friends, because imaginary friends do not share a body with you or have the potential to use that body. Being multiple is not "just one person with a lot of different moods," because each person in a system can have a full range of emotions. It is not "masks you present to the outside world," because many multiple systems work to maintain the image of a front with many different moods and behavior patterns, since they must give the impression of being a single person at all times in order to avoid being tagged "insane." It is not acting or playing, because when people in a system think and feel in certain ways, they are not pretending to for the benefit of some exterior source; those are their true feelings and beliefs, though they may conflict with those of others in the system. Non-pathological multiple systems are NOT likely to make a big show or display out of being such. They often tend to keep it as private and "in the closet" as possible, especially if they don't know any others and think they're the only ones.
Perhaps most importantly, imaginary friends, moods, masks, roles you act, etc. do not possess strong senses of self-identity.
MYTH: There are completely reliable ways of telling whether someone is multiple.
FACT: There are no ways of determining infallibly whether someone is multiple or not. Many multiples, especially those who identify as median or midcontinuum, often aren't even sure if they're seperate people or not. Brainwave changes and differing physical reactions can and have been measured and verified, but the degree to which physical reactions of selves differ is by no means constant between systems, and single persons can be taught to change physical reactions without any essential change in self (think of the yoga masters they sometimes show on TV).
Absolute certainty is something often sought after by both plurals ('but what if I'm really one person making this all up?') and singlets ('how do I know if this really exists?'). For better or worse, it's an ideal which will probably never be achieved when it comes to something as slippery and loosely-defined as personality. There's still no popular consensus on what the self really is, let alone whether the average person has just one.
Time is the best proof. A person who's acting will be highly unlikely, even unable, to be able to keep up the facade for years on end, even if they initially get something out of maintaining the act-- especially if they're portraying many 'characters.'
MYTH: Most multiples are women; male multiples are very rare.
FACT: Multiples come in all shapes, sizes, genders, and ethnic groups. The primary factor underlying this myth is the fact that most people diagnosed with MPD or DID fit a certain demographic: the large majority of them were traditionally white middle- to upper-class females. This group proved to be a real cash cow for doctors and insurance companies making money off the MPD diagnosis in the 80s and 90s; statistically, such people were the most likely to seek (and to be able to afford) therapy, and hence obviously far more likely to receive a diagnosis. Therapists were told that most multiples were female, and hence were substantially less likely to look for it in male patients; this was mostly based upon the dubious assertion that more girls than boys are sexually abused.
Outside the therapist's office, multiplicity transcends national, racial, gender and religious boundaries. The multiples we've known have come from a wide range of ancestries-- white, black, Asian, American Indian, Hispanic, et al-- and included males, females, and everything in between. Most of them did not need a therapist's diagnosis to know that they were them; most were also in the closet-- which is probably a much bigger factor underlying this myth of the "typical multiple" than any uneven distribution of the prevalence of sexual abuse, which is, though unrelated to multiplicity, also sadly a widespread phenomenon.
MYTH: Multiplicity is just a way for people to seek avoidance of responsibility, because it allows them to claim 'my other alter did it.'
FACT: Some patients have seen a diagnostic label as a way to attain a special, privileged victimhood status in which they couldn't be held responsible for any of their actions; or they used the idea of 'angry alters' to act out and do things that went against prevailing morals. Some lawyers also took advantage of the idea of the amnesiac, ignorant host unaware of the actions of the others in their system, and used multiple personality as a form of insanity defense. (Yes, in technical terms, a multiplicity defense is an insanity defense. The technical meaning of an insanity defense is that the defendant was incapable of distinguishing between right and wrong when they allegedly committed an offense.)
Have we seen multiples who play this card? Absolutely. Numerous criminals, such as the infamous Hillside Strangler, have tried to use a claim of multiplicity as an insanity defense; most were judged, probably rightly, to be faking it. And multiplicity is not the only diagnosis to be used as an excuse for grossly irresponsible or downright criminal behavior. The question remains, though: even if the criminals in question were really multiple, why should they be allowed to use that as an excuse for committing crimes? The only reason it's allowed to be an excuse at all is because we are viewed by society as being insane and out of control, incapable of reining in any bad behavior by our 'others.' Still, there's no reason that people sharing a body should not be held to the same standards of responsibility as seperate physical people, whether they're co-conscious or not! Regardless of who committed the crime, the body goes to jail, and there is no reason why multiples should be allowed to claim special exemption. If anything, living in a shared body entails more responsibility on everyone's part. Azusa has written more about the issue of responsibility evasion in a rant.
If we are trying to "avoid responsibility for our actions," why are we not out to anyone in our offline life? Why do we try to give the appearance of being one person at all times, and moreover, to give the appearance of always being emotionally stable, even in situations where people would find it perfectly acceptable for a singlet to break down and cry? We force ourselves to grit our teeth and bear it sometimes when we really just want a shoulder to lean on, out of fear that any admission of needing help, even in an ordinary, human way, will be taken as "evidence" of the instability of multiples.
MYTH: Multiplicity is something induced by therapists. Multiplicity didn't exist at all until The Three Faces of Eve/Sybil/the 1980s in America and is a culture-specific 'illness.'
FACT: Cases of multiplicity have been described by Western doctors since the eighteenth century. The first widely publicized case was that of Mary Reynolds; other famous cases included Ansel Bourne, Thomas Hanna and Clara Norton Fowler (aka Miss Beauchamp). The claim that "multiple personality did not exist until doctors made it up in Three Faces of Eve" is blatantly false (and debunkable by a Google search, even). Interestingly, one may note that in all of the 'famous' historical cases, the multiplicity was accompanied by significant memory loss and disparities in skills between selves-- how many more plurals may have been living 'stealth' lives in complete awareness of each other, and never came to the attention of doctors?
The concept that the idea of many selves in one body is culture-bound is equally absurd. Many cultures worldwide have conceptions of outside spirits being able to inhabit a human body. It's the idea that multiplicity is a mental illness, a result of dissociation, and connected to child abuse, which is specific to Western culture (and Japan, via translated American books). One does not need a psychological model to conceive independently of the idea of many selves sharing a single body.
We have been to therapists in our life, as many people have, but for issues unrelated to multiplicity. We have never been diagnosed with MPD or DID or had a therapist tell us that we were multiple.
When MPD was a diagnostic fad, many therapists began to purposely look for it after it became a trend in psychiatric literature, and ended up too often jumping to assume a patient was multiple when in fact there was a much more mundane explanation for the patient's problems. Many of these therapists managed to convince their patients that if they didn't remember being abused, they were just repressing the memories (see our take on that further up). This occasionally resulted in atrocious cases of psychiatric malpractice like the Patricia Burgus/Dr. Bennett Braun case. Such sensationalistic cases, along with skeptical groups like the False Memory Syndrome Foundation, have done quite a bit to erode the psychological community's belief in the existence and validity of multiplicity. Most of the skeptics jumped to the conclusion that multiplicity was innately connected to the memory recovery therapy fad, and that nobody would ever become multiple in the absence of these therapies (see more about our take on this in the opinion section...). Obviously, this was not the case with us.
MYTH: Multiplicity is schizophrenia (or, schizophrenia means having a split personality).
FACT: Schizophrenia refers to a group of conditions (there isn't just one 'schizophrenia'; the DSM-IV classifies five types), whose definition is often vague and whose diagnostic symptoms seem in some cases to have little relation to each other. The popular stereotype of schizophrenia involves delusions, hallucinations and a 'break with reality,' but one can be diagnosed with various types of schizophrenia on pretexts such as 'repetitive, stereotyped movement,' emotional reactions which are perceived as 'too flat,' disorganized speech, and 'prominent grimacing.' Even if no criteria for any of the four main types of schizophrenia are met, one can still be diagnosed with residual-type schizophrenia for having 'odd beliefs.' (Source: DSM-IV diagnostic criteria)
The etiology of schizophrenia is controversial. Popular 20th-century theories involve a genetic origin and a biochemical imbalance in the brain, although no laboratory test has been devised to determine the difference between a schizophrenic biochemistry and a normal one. Medication, mostly neuroleptic (antipsychotic) drugs, is the most common treatment nowadays, although some studies suggest that people displaying what are considered symptoms of schizophrenia have a better prognosis in "Third World" countries where institutionalization and medication are not routine, than in industrialized countries.
The confusion between schizophrenia and multiplicity probably comes from the literal etymology of the term-- 'split mind'-- and the original definition by Eugen Bleuler, a contemporary of Freud's. In his definition, schizophrenics seemed to show a disconnection between their perceptions and their thought processes: they did not respond to situations "as they should." He emphasized the socially 'inappropriate' behavior (including disrespect to superiors at work, wearing garish clothing, smoking cigars in church, and homosexuality) in the patients he considered schizophrenic. (Delusions and hallucinations were not part of Bleuler's criteria.) Psychologists have revised their criteria for it repeatedly over the past century; this seems to us more like manufacturing a new category of person than observing one.
However, it is certain that the phenomena currently referred to as schizophrenia are not multiplicity, and not intrinsically related to multiplicity. Some multiples have been diagnosed with schizophrenia on the basis of their 'bizarre belief' that their body is shared by several people, a trend which seems to be increasing. In addition, the DSM-IV allows for a diagnosis of undifferentiated schizophrenia to be made solely on the basis that "hallucinations consist of a voice keeping up a running commentary on the person's behavior or thoughts, or two or more voices conversing with each other." In practice, few psychiatrists attempt to distinguish between the internal conversations experienced as 'voices in the head' by many multiples, and hallucinations perceived as external stimuli.
MYTH: You can always tell when multiples "switch" personalities.
FACT: Different selves do not always have distinctive traits, speech, or body language. They have as wide a range of reaction and behavior as any "normal" person and do not naturally act in stereotypical, caricatured ways for the convenience of everyone around them. Also, switching is not always that simple-- it often isn't a snap-change from one self to another. Sometimes selves can slowly blend into each other over long periods of time, or several can be present at once (co-consciousness, co-running or co-presence are among the terms used to refer to this).
MYTH: All multiples are easily hypnotizable and susceptible to suggestion.
FACT: This is another one of those myths started by psychologists fascinated with multiplicity, back when MPD first entered the DSM as a formal diagnosis. The idea was that every person had a natural, neurologically based level of hypnotizability, which could be graded on a scale from "grade 1" (not hypnotizable at all) to "grade 5" (extremely hypnotizable). Supposedly, all multiples were Grade 5s, and all multiplicity was was a form of self-hypnosis; multiples were really nothing but "hypnotic virtuosos"-- in other words, gullible dopes who can trick ourselves into believing anything. Interestingly, the 'hypnotic virtuoso' argument was also used by skeptics and critics-- their argument was that nobody started out multiple, but extremely suggestible people were able to trick themselves, under the promptings of a therapist, into believing that there were others in their head.
In our experience, hypnotizability has nothing to do with multiplicity. It has to do with how much control you are willing to give up to a person outside your body. Very few people in this system are hypnotizable at all, and nobody outside the body has ever been able to hypnotize us-- we hardly fit the "grade five" description. In fact, despite what you may have heard, there exists no real consensus among neurologists as to what exactly constitutes a hypnotic state, or if it even exists as a discrete state of consciousness at all. Our experiences lead us to think that it is more like a state of deep meditation.
In a way, multiplicity is a bit like drugs and sex, in that the way you experience it initially will probably have a lot to do with what you've been told it's like and what you've been taught to expect. (Your mileage may vary.)
MYTH: 'Co-consciousness' means everyone in a system (or near the front) is completely aware of what everyone else is thinking and feeling.
FACT: We wanted to address this one because it was starting to drive us nuts, partly because we hear this misconception at least as much from plurals as from singlets. Think about it: what does the word "consciousness" imply? Just being awake, aware and capable of perceiving what's going on around you-- not some kind of mind-meld. So that's all that 'co-conscious' really means-- that it's possible for several people in a system to be active at once and aware of what's going on outside the body.
*A note on the use of the word "alter": Many professionals, books, and websites use the word "alters"-- short for "alternate personalities"-- to refer to selves within a system, specifically anyone who isn't the "host." Actually, using the term "alternate" to refer to a group of more than two things or people is technically incorrect. The Latin root word alter means one, or the other, of two, and "alternate" in English carries the same meaning, though in colloquial speech it's often used incorrectly. The idea of the "alternate personality" is a carryover from the 19th century, when most of the famous reported cases involved two selves.