Split Personality – A Myth Or a Reality?

Introduction

In this world of today’s’, there are a lot of implausible diseases; one of them is the disease of human’s mind, which is called as split-personality disorder. Not many people around the world believe if this disease really exists or not, or they rather think that the person is acting.

I was on my way from Bangalore, India to Mumbai, India and during the journey I was just chatting with the person sitting next to me and during the process of our conversation we begin to discuss on “Split Personalities”.

I distinctly remember that when I was in college, I had one very good friend of mine and his name was Mr. T. Kiran Kumar. The uniqueness of our relation was our compatibility and depth of understanding. Whether we were with kids, or classmates or elderly people or uneducated people or females or highly intellectuals, hardly mattered; how we might behave, was entirely based on the type of group that we were part of. Believe me or not but our attitude, approach, behavior, and our way to react to a given situation was based on the type of group we were into. Does that imply that we were having split personalities? If that is the case then every one of us are having split personalities. We behave differently with our family members, with our friends, our spouse, and unknown people, right?

Let’s see.

Let us understand the term “Split Personality”.

Definition of Split Personality: “A relatively rare dissociative disorder in which the usual integrity of the personality breaks down and two or more independent personalities emerge”.

Explanation: There is no category or phenomenon in psychiatry called split personality. The term is commonly used in popular language to indicate an ambiguous or radically and spectacularly alternating type of behavior of the “Jekyll and Hyde” type. It is often bewildered with the medical illness of schizophrenia because the etymology of the latter (from the Greek schizein, to split + phren, mind) suggests, misleadingly, that schizophrenia is a type of split personality. In schizophrenia, however, the splitting is within one single personality as the individual’s thoughts, feelings and emotions are seriously and confusingly disconnected from each other in a chaotic and random fashion. Schizophrenic individuals, far from having split or multiple personalities, actually have a great struggle maintaining the coherence and integrity of even a single self.

Before proceeding further let’s try and understand as what we mean by term “Personality”.

HUMAN PERSONALITY

There are three distinct meanings for the term “personality,” two of them general and popular and the third technical and philosophical. The first and most general meaning is that personality is the sum of the characteristics, which make up physical and mental being. These include appearance, manners, habits, tastes and moral character. The second meaning emphasizes the characteristics that distinguish one person from another. The two meanings overlap or merge into each other, as the first considers all characteristics pertaining to the individual, without comparing him with others, while the second sees the same facts in relation to the outside world and fixes attention mainly upon the features that distinguish the subject from his fellows. This second meaning is equivalent to individuality. It represents a widely prevalent conception of the term.

But the third meaning is the most important, and is the only conception of any value to the psychic researcher and the philosopher or psychologist. This conception of personality is concerned only with mental characteristics; it makes no distinction between common and specific marks. In fact it connotes mental processes rather than fixed qualities. The capacity for having mental states, or the fact of having them, constitutes personality for the psychologist and the philosopher. Personality is thus the stream of consciousness, regardless of the question whether any special state is constant or casual, essential or unessential. Physical marks will have no place in this conception, unless they may serve as symbols of mental states. It abstracts from them and denotes only the stream of mental phenomena.

This third meaning is so radically different from the other two that it gives rise to perpetual misunderstandings between the philosopher and the public. These misunderstandings arise particularly in the discussion of survival after death. The layman with his conception of personality looks for physical phenomena of some kind to illustrate or prove it. Consequently, if interested in psychic phenomena at all, he prefers materialization, which best satisfies his conception of personality. He cannot take the point of view of the psychologist or the philosopher, who neglects these purely sensory characteristics, and fixes his attention on mental states as the proper conception of the personality, which may survive. Materialization would supply the very characteristics, which the layman fixes upon to represent personality. But precisely the fact that mental states are not presented to sense, leads the philosopher to conceive of immortality as possible.

If the layman’s conception were correct the philosopher and psychologist would deny the possibility of survival with entire confidence, as a necessary implication of bodily dissolution. The day could be saved only by the doctrine of a “spiritual body,” an It astral body,” or an “ethereal organism,” supposedly a replica of the physical organism in its spatial and other characteristics. These represent personality after the manner or analogy of the physical body. The real spirit may indeed have a transcendental bodily form; but the stream of consciousness remains the same whether there is any “spiritual body” or “ethereal organism” or not. This is the fundamental element in all conceptions of spiritual reality. It is not necessary to decide the question of a “spiritual body” or “ethereal organism” as the condition of believing in the existence of spirits. That is another and perhaps a secondary problem. What we need to know is, whether the stream of consciousness survives, whether the personal memory continues, not how it continues. The fact of survival is to be considered first and the condition of it afterwards.

Historical Review of “Split Personality”

Possible cases of split personality have been reported in the medical literature since the early 19th century, and the condition was formally defined in the first years of the 20th. But until recently it was considered extremely rare–fewer than 200 cases were described before 1980. The diagnosis became much more common in the 80s for several reasons. One was the phenomenal popularity of Flora Schreiber’s 1973 book Sybil, which told of a woman with 16 personalities. Stories of “multiples,” fictionalized or otherwise, were nothing new–The Three Faces of Eve dates from 1954, “The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde” from way back in 1886–but Sybil made a crucial innovation, introducing the idea that multiple personalities stemmed from trauma during early childhood. Around the same time, child protection advocates and feminists began arguing that child abuse, especially sexual abuse, occurred far more often than previously supposed. And in the late 70s, in a phenomenon thought to be linked to the resurgence of Christian fundamentalism, reports of so-called satanic ritual abuse first captured the public’s imagination.

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