Be self-aware and be amazed

Live Smarter: Learn From Your Multiple Personalities

Peter McCarthy
Live Smarter: Learn From Your Multiple Personalities
CCO Public Domain / Pixabay

Self-help gurus tell us we create our own realities, and although oversimplification turns such claims into juvenile fantasies, new evidence takes us down a logical trail that says they may be on to something.

Something big. For grownups.

We may, in fact, be in control of much more than we ever believed. 

Among other discoveries, sickness and trauma may not always make us the victims of impersonal fate.

The remarkable thing is, we’re learning from the most unlikely of sources — people with multiple personality disorder, clinically known as DID (Dissociative Identity Disorder), and what researchers are finding in the peculiar intricacies of their inner lives.

Don’t let the tongue-twisting professional lingo fool you, though. You have more in common with these bedeviled souls than you think..

As a result, research tells us, you may have more power over your life than you know.

“The medical phenomena being discovered in multiple personalities stretch the imagination, but researchers believe that they represent only the extreme end of a normal continuum. The effects found in these patients, they say, are graphic examples of the power of states of mind to regulate the body’s biology.” -New York Times

What Can We Learn from Sybil?

“We were dating,” he told me, “and she was all sweet and fun to be around. Then, one day, Sybil showed up.”

He was referring to the woman, played by Sally Field in the movie, Sybil, whose multiple personalities made widely familiar the idea that individuals with multiple alternative personalities might acted out in a single, troubled body.

The phenomena might be repeated in the most unexpected places.

At the movies, we learned from Sybil as well as Three Faces of Eve that one body might carry around a dozen or more apparently separate people, each distinct in personality. What we didn’t learn but researchers now know is more fascinating.

  • Alternate personalities may be, not only be of different genders, races and ages, but also different species, like lobsters and ducks.
  • Each personality may have eyesight so different that multiple sets of glasses have to be kept handy.
  • One personality may be allergic to something like orange juice, getting hives whenever he or she drinks it, while the others have no such problem. In fact, when the personality with hives changes over to another, even while drinking the juice, the hives disappear simultaneously.
  • Scars and wounds disappear and reappear between personalities in the same body.
  • Some personalities may be right-handed while others are lefties.
  • Color blindness and even epilepsy can afflicts one personality without being present in others.
  • Maybe most surprising, a juvenile alternate personality reacts differently to the same medication than does an adult personality in the same body.

If this doesn’t rattle your sense of what you and your friends, family and strangers have bouncing around in your skulls, think about it for a few more minutes.

These traits are not restricted to people with disorders. We all have the capacity, if not the disorder.

A Biological Self Interwoven with a State of Consciousness

Consider chewing on something Dr. Frank Putnam, a psychiatrist at the National Institutes of Health and an expert on multiple personalities, says about your “biological self…”

“We have a work self and a play self, for instance, but we are the same person. Each of those selves has its own repertoire of emotional states, memories and, to some extent, an underlying biological pattern.” (Probing the Enigma of Multiple Personality, New York Times 6/28/88)

Dr. Putnam is talking about you and me here, perfectly normal folks that we are, and what’s implied, but not said, is that each of us has multiple personalities as part of our make up. It’s only an issue when it becomes… well, an issue because your emotional dexterity gets discombobulated.

But keep your eye on the ball. The ability to control your biological self isn’t restricted to those with disorders. Awareness may help us create an art of well-being.

If we follow the logical thread from this information to its conclusion, the potential benefits explode with possibility.

All Those People That You Are

For people who never flinch when someone says, “I’m not myself today,” the leap isn’t great to understanding.

We all know what it feels like to be “out of sorts,” like we put on the wrong pair of jammies or got our undies in a bunch. We know what it is to be disconnected. 

But have you ever seriously asked, “If not myself, who am I?”

The answer is an alternate personality that doesn’t feel right. It’s not well-integrated into the whole like your other personalities.

For anyone who just reacted by thinking or maybe even saying, “But I don’t have other personalities,” I’ve got news for you.

Remember Dr. Putnam’s discovery, “We have a work self and play self?” 

There’s more.

  • Your work self probably splits two ways as you relate to both boss and coworkers differently, and that’s the simplest version. Each has different gestures, postures and manner of speaking. Conduct your own objective experiment at the office. Watch and see what you discover as coworkers become employees and drift back again.
  • Most of us are aware that we have a “good side” and a “bad side.” We may joke about it, but how could your angelic character be the same as the one that imagines harming others, whether you ever follow through or not?
  • No doubt, you have a public persona and a private persona. You’ve always known that without thinking much about it as you flex from one to the other, as needed, easily as you go through the day.

Each of these personalities will have, as we’ve discovered with dissociative identity disorders, its own biological profile. In an emotionally healthy person, the difference may not be great.

But keep in mind that almost all of us have emotional scars, we also must have distinctions in personality defined by them. They may not be enough to get us into the clinic, but they’re no small potatoes either.

How Can This Awareness Help Us?

It’s easy to agree that what we’re learning from multiple personalities stretches the imagination. It’s tempting to dismiss it as nonsense, but we do so at our own risk.

For example, Dr. Scott Miller, a psychologist at the University of Utah, reported, “One patient had had his left eye injured in a fight, so that it turned out. But the condition appeared in only one of his personalities. It disappeared in the others.”

A specific biological condition existed and disappeared in the same man, depending on which of his personalities was in charge. 

How strange is that? But it’s also mindbogglingly true.

While this experience may come from the extreme end of the psychological spectrum, it clearly illustrates how our mental states intertwine with our biological states. 

We have the struggles of individuals with DID to thank for showing us something we might not otherwise see.

But maybe you’ve noticed that knot in your gut when you’re worried or felt a headache swell as you dealt with frustration. These obvious personal experiences, familiar to all of us, may be able to teach us something profound.

Are we such mental amateurs that we’ve failed to see that the opposite is true, that a more contented frame of mind or an accepting one might induce better health, even healing?

When we refuse to let worry bring us down and take a more constructive approach, does that knot go away? You bet it does.

If you’re frustrated with a situation, does a more objective approach, like getting the factors out of your head by writing them down, chase the headache away?

The implications are spectacular.

Taking it to the next level, if a state of mind correlates with a biological condition, isn’t it possible that intention can heal as new age practitioners have been telling us? 

By intention, I mean the deliberate, aware change of emotional and/or mental conditions.

The simplest changes in attitude are easy to enact. 

It’s been shown that smiling deliberately under any circumstances will make you feel better. Happiness doesn’t always provoke the smile. It can be the other way around.

Are we looking at a potential art of well-being that may be engineered by more awareness and better management of our multiple personalities?

Shouldn’t we be able to do on purpose what individuals with dissociative identity disorder do without trying and do it for positive purposes? 

Conclusion

Studying people with multiple personality disorders has proven how intimately connected our mental and biological conditions are. 

We’ve always learned a lot about ourselves by looking back after things go wrong to understand how it is that things go right.

We know that negative mental states — sorrow, frustration, anger — can make us sick. It should be obvious that positive emotions either heal or prevent illness in the first place.

By becoming more aware of the best and most beneficial of our multiple personalities and keeping them as our operating selves, we can be healthier and happier with only our intentions as medicine.

David Stone

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