Multiplicity is portrayed in the modern medical literature as invariably a
dissociative disorder -- a highly intelligent creative coping mechanism for
dealing with childhoood trauma. This view is simplistic, disempowering,
patronizing, and downright insulting to multiples who do not fit this limited profile. It implies that multiplicity is damage; that it is intrinsically wrong; that being single is normal and multiplicity is abnormal.
Multiplicity is a way of perceiving and relating to the world. The most
current psychological research shows that it runs in families. The common
thread in these families is not abuse, but creativity.
Considering what we know about the place of multiplicity in Southeast
Asian, African and Afro-Cuban culture, I have focused on the fact that Western
society has no template, no frame of reference, for non-pathological
multiplicity. At least in the aforementioned societies, plurality is
contextualized within the framework of spirituality. Multiplicity is viewed by
African people from many nations, particularly the Yoruba, as "the spirits of
your dead ancestors who give you advice or a push in the right direction".
This is of course not entirely a satisfactory reference point. Relegating
it to the spiritual world puts it in the twilight realms -- not
necessarily altogether ooky, but certainly mysterious and spooky. Even in
societies where belief in the spirit world is a part of routine, everyday
life, there is still a frisson of fear, of worry that all is not as it should
be, that it's not normal.
Still, at least it grants limited cultural permission. Children who show
signs of being multiple are considered spiritual people, and are not killed to
protect the community from evil (as multiple births often are). In
certain native American tribes of the Gulf Coast regions, chiefs and spiritual
leaders are chosen from among "those who have the most spirits living inside
them." They may use meditation as a way of establishing intra-communication,
but also possibly to make contact with an unseen world.
Western society has no such frame of reference, other than the mythology
promulgated by the medical and media communities. Further, the inaccuracies in
most public depictions are likely to generate more negative comparisons than
positive ones. The one exception was Herman's Head, which was mostly
wasted in conventional (albeit witty) sitcom absurdities.
Otherwise, every media portrayal of multiplicity has been
stereotyped toward either helpless victims (women with glassy-eyed stares
talking in a babylike lisp) or violent psychopaths (men with glassy-eyed
stares flatly reciting the awful things George did). If I were multiple and
didn't know it, and I were to see something like that on television, I would
be much more likely to respond with "I'm NOT like that, so I can't possibly be
multiple". Some of the groups who have appeared on talk shows have mentioned
more common multiple experiences. Not the Dissociative Disorders Experience
Scale which measures forgetfulness, but experiences of multiplicity -- talk
to myself, feel someone else is present, know that a given action or thought
is not mine, etc. Geraldo once presented a short list of these; but it's
very difficult to explore them in the time allowed, when the majority of
attention is focused on the morbidly sensational.
Western cultural and religious conditioning agree
through implication that one body may contain one and only person. Calling
this assumption into question will force society to respond with all the
defenses at its disposal (e.g. religious dogma, psychological theory,
legalese, common sense, etc).
I'm often asked why multiples invariably present with a history of
childhood trauma. The answer may be more complex than Cornelia Wilbur (and
Freud) would have liked us to believe.
The concept of multiplicity is so alien to some people that they need to
find a way to fit it into their own worldview; writing it off by saying "Oh,
those are people who were frightfully abused, it's quite unusual", is a
convenient way to push both multiplicity and child abuse under the rug.
In the process, they ignore an important reality. Child abuse is not rare.
Physical and emotional abuse are intrinsic parts of Western culture. If you
want your eyes opened on this subject, read Dr. Alice Miller's book For
Your Own Good.
So, some of the people who present at the doctor's office with issues
stemming from child abuse, turn out to be multiple. In fact, they are the
only multiples to be registered, recognized, diagnosed, in short, the
only multiples who are given cultural permission to exist! Can we say "biased sampling?"
Any life situation, including childhood abuse, must affect the development
of the persons in the group, along with their operating system, that is, their style of management. Some people in the group may decide that it's their job to deal with certain aspects of the abuse, perhaps that they were born for that purpose. Or they may feel that they exist independently and just need to deal with what is happening.
I think this may be one of the origins of the sort of operating system you
read about in the popular literature; a frontrunner who doesn't know she's
multiple, while the rest of the people run things smoothly from behind the
scenes. As life situations change, an operating system might need to be
tweaked, updated, or scrapped completely for a new one. The frontrunner
becomes aware of the others, fears insanity, presents for therapy, and things
proceed a la Truddi Chase. This, of course, is not the scenario for every
multiple who's experienced abuse, or even for every situation in which a
single frontrunner is kept in the dark.
I also don't believe that every multiple in the above
situation was necessarily traumatized or abused in the conventional sense.
Because there is no model for multiplicity in this society other than the
ghastly portrayals in tabloid TV and horror movies, multiples who don't fit
this pattern are, in effect, non-persons. They literally do not exist
according to the current mode of western thought. There is no cultural
permission for them to exist. The mental health industry confirms this by
labeling multiplicity as a disorder. The courts confirm it every time a
multiple in trouble with the law gets a NGRI verdict. So, a frontrunner or two
may not realize they are part of a strong, smoothly functional multiple system
because they have never been informed that such a thing can exist.
Back to abuse for a minute: Chris Costner-Sizemore (the woman whose life
story was the basis for The Three Faces of Eve) showed us that a multiple
can be abused because they are multiple. Children in
multiple systems may have certain experiences and may behave in ways which irritate
authority figures. Lack of consciousness between persons in the group is a
common source of said irritant. So is "I didn't do it, Bobby did it."
Supposedly there is research being done into recognizing childhood
multiplicity, but it's all preventative, eradicatory stuff. Nothing is being
done simply to help children within a group who may be having a little trouble
working out their own functional operating systems.
There is no model for non-pathological multiplicity in Western
society. In fact, there is barely a model for multiplicity at all. Singlet
"experts" like Colin Ross are doing their damnedest to make sure that there
never will be. The situation is redolent of the 1960s headline,
"Homosexuality: Sin or Sickness?"
Whose perceptions of reality are you prepared to give power to?
To be continued. Please revisit this page frequently. It has been
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Last Update Monday, June 27, 2011 08:23 am
Prior Update Monday, June 07, 2010 08:14 am
Prior Update Thursday, April 27, 2006 10:11:39 AM
Prior Update Wednesday, July 03, 2002 3:02 PM
Other Essays by Anthony Temple
Personality and the Media Why are we constantly portrayed as
Why it is neither necessary nor desirable.. and may be impossible.
No More.. A tirade on multiplicity as sickness.
Removing Diagnostic Labels Multiple personality does
not belong in the DSM.
Our Truth To those who would help us recover from
The Kaycee Nicole Thing On the Internet, you are who
you say you are. Use it wisely.
Validation and Language in Multiple Personality An answer to the often-asked question "Does this happen to anyone else?"
Why Activism? We strive to educate the public because other people tend to make it their business -- "You need HELP" -- when you come out of the closet as a multiple.
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