Are People with Multiple Personalities Sane?

A recent visitor to this blog, who was raised in a chaotic home with a mother diagnosed with multiple personalities, shared some of the horrors she and her siblings lived through during their childhood. She asked me to address the topic of sanity. Many scholars have spent years contemplating and writing about sanity – their work graces shelves and shelves at libraries around the world, but here I am humbly attempting to address her questions.

I don’t presume to know what sanity is – it’s a cultural definition that changes from country to country, tribe to tribe, and clan to clan. American’s, the British & Canadians, and gurus in India and China may think they have a handle on it but all is subjective. The United States publishes the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) slated to be updated in a few years. That publication is steeped in controversy and politics but is it the authority on mental disorders and sanity? It created heated debates between clinicians who disagree whether or not dissociative identity disorder/multiple personality disorder should be included. Did that fact show the psychology industry that something was wrong? No.The arguments continued, the politics continued. Proponents won. DID/MPD will be included in the forthcoming DSM V. Besides legitimizing a controversial illness, all the DSM does is give clinicians a resource to find symptoms and its assigned number so they can bill an insurance company and collect reimbursement for their time.Unfortunately, many patients misunderstand what this book is and they point to it as proof that dissociative identity disorder exists and is a real condition. Is it, perhaps, a warped argument to say: here, here’s a book that proves I am not insane when I tell you I have this insane, non-existent illness?

To address whether or not multiples are sane is an issue I feel somewhat competent to address but understand my opinion is mine as are my experiences. I can tell you I’ve known many multiples and lived with several of them simultaneously when I was held captive in a psychiatric hospital for a total of 1040 days – yes, I counted. We were together 24/7 and I probably have more accumulated time with them than most people – patients and therapists included (except those who work on psych wards). It’s one thing to chat on the Internet all day with like-minded multiples, and another to wake up with multiples, share meals, therapy sessions, and hang out with them in a hospital lounge waiting for one of our friends to be released from restraints so all of us could go play at the snack bar. I knew their families, grieved their family member’s deaths, celebrated graduations, marriages, and the birth of grandchildren. I mourned with my multiple friends when one of us committed suicide. We hugged, we cried, we erected monuments to them in the woods behind the hospital. We were afraid, wondering which one of us was next.

Yes. I think people with multiple personalities are sane. If they weren’t, arguments, debates, and heated discussions would be different. It’s most difficult to argue with a sane person who believes and clings to insane ideas, theories, and who chooses to embrace a lifestyle fraught with chaos, pain, coercion, and undo influence by practitioners. I do not question the existence of horrific childhood abuse but I vehemently oppose the existence of multiple personalities as a creative way to cope with it.

Talk about insanity: I fled treatment after realizing Dr. Stratford * was cuckoo. I went underground to escape him and his crazy therapy. After finding a place to sleep for the night, I was alone and had a lot of time to think about what I had experienced the previous 6 1/2 years. I knew Dr. Stratford was hell bent on getting me back into treatment so I kept on the move – never staying at the same motel twice – until I finally got on a plane and left Philadelphia entirely. He had invested his professional reputation on my treatment; I was one of his prized guinea pigs who was meant to be transformed into a well person who had beaten childhood sexual abuse and would become a mouth piece for the MPD movement much like Chris Costner Sizemore (AKA Eve) had done. He would be lionized for his brilliance and dedication. What was really happening was that I was being set up to suicide as other patients of his had done. The insanity of the belief in multiple personalities could not have been more evident.

Multiples are sane yet misguided individuals. Switching personalities is nonsense and their emergence is calculated much of the time if they were to be honest with themselves. To me, instead of remaining an adult, the patient, often with prompting or encouragement of a therapist or loved one, changes into a child or other entity as a method of coping with inner turmoil. Why, I ask over and over, does the therapist or significant other refuse to acknowledge the alter personality and not demand the person remain a responsible adult to discuss issues or to cope with daily living.  I think that behavior borders on insanity – but I digress again.

I have only met a few multiples whom I believe had an untreated mental illness beneath the multitude of personalities they presented. Add psychotropic drugs legally administered as chemical straight jackets to control behavior and we have a patient misdiagnosed and untreated. They are denied the mental health treatment they need and deserve.

In conclusion: Yes, people who think they have multiple personalities are sane. What therapists do during treatment is insane and does little more than keep their patients coming back.

*a pseudonym

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22 Comments

  1. K

     /  12/24/2011

    You repeatedly say an individual would stop protraying traits of DID if switching is not encouraged. However, my family highly discourages any of my alters showing themselves to them. Not only do we remain in contact with the family anyway, but we continue to switch in front of them, though we do try to conceal it. I have observed the same phenomena in others with DID; often, the family is unnacepting of DID, but in emotionally abusive or highly stressful families (as are most that have a member who experienced abuse of some type, whether by a family member’s hand or not) alters will switch out anyway in order to defend against a perceived threat. If noticed, the switching is often highly DIScouraged, occasionally with violance. This does not have any negative impact on the individual’s switching at home and in fact causes the host to be present less and less in such a situation.

    As for those with DID getting better, may I recommend the blog of Faith Allen? She was a highly fragmented DID survivor. Currently, I believe she has integrated all but a few of her parts with the help and support of her therapist.

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    • I’ve seen Faith Allen’s blog and as I recall found it far from a healthy lifestyle if we use healthy as a measure of what most people experience or how they want to live. I”ll give it another read.

      Could switching in the presence of family be in-your-face behavior?

      If a person with DID lives in a place where their disorder is recognized and supported, the behavior is reinforced all the time just by being an acceptable alternative to dealing with life’s stressors whether or not that person switches regularly or not.

      In the absence of support, the behavior will decline.

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  2. V

     /  04/19/2011

    Thanks for the post. My mother is definitely mentally ill, although not with DID. I don’t know about the other patients — I visited her in a number of mental hospitals but never spoke to the other patients or anything.

    I wonder if her case was atypical, or maybe each doctor has his own “type” of patient. My mother’s case was very typical in that she was a white woman in her 30s when she was diagnosed with DID.

    I think the issue of “what is sanity” is important because it tells you what the goals of treatment are. With DID, I remember hearing “it will get worse before it gets better” but what did “better” mean? We were trusting a process even though we had no idea where it was going. It was pretty crazy.

    It never did get better. DID therapy made my mother worse. Stopping DID therapy led to some improvement compared to the way she was during the therapy, but things never got to anywhere near normal.

    I was fairly young when my mother was diagnosed so it’s hard for me to be sure about her level of mental health before DID treatment, but I remember a few things which make me think she was already fairly mentally ill. I also know that my parents would not have gone to a psychiatrist for no reason.

    Still, the treatment did her no good emotionally, and left her still mentally ill, broke, jobless, and without any respect from her children or husband or anyone… if you speak in baby voices for 4 years, people stop taking you seriously and think of you as a burden rather than as a person. That is how it happened in my family at least.

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    • “it will get worse before it gets better” This catch phrase almost cost me my life. I believed the doctor and over the years I got worse and worse so I knew I was on the way to getting “better”. What I wasn’t told is that not exercising and lying in bed all day, taking psychotropic drugs, being under high levels of stress every day – all day and eating hospital food is no way to get better. Again, it’s a catch 22. There is no way to win.

      Yes, treatment did the same for me. I was an administrator in a good job. When I fled therapy, I had no money, lost my job, apartment, family, friends, could not eat solid food and had surrendered all my possessions so I could get away.

      Well, yes that baby voice thing is not particularly adult is it?

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      • therapyisacon

         /  04/19/2011

        “It will get worse before it gets better” – thank you! That’s what I was trying to get at with the whole “sea monsters” thing on my post the other day.

        To me that phrase is such a huge cop-out, and in my top 3 reasons just to avoid therapy altogether.

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        • I don’t know if it’s a cop-out, but it sure keeps people in therapy and keeps therapists employed. Odd thing is that I’m not seeing the people who are getting better? Where are they?

          Heck, even someone who has open heart surgery usually gets better every day. All I see with DID therapy is more personalities and splitting and more chaos as time passes. Perhaps getting better is measured in a way that I cannot see.

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  3. Another awesome and moving piece Jeanette.

    I hope your memoir comes out soon!!!

    To life and freedom!
    ~carol

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  4. Terri

     /  04/19/2011

    Your opinion is only valid for what you saw in a dysfunctional and negative ward nearly 30 years ago. So your opinion should be seen in that light.

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    • If you read my post, Who was Jeanette Bartha’s Psychiatrist, I address this issue. To say my treatment is decades old only serves the person making that statement. To discount me and my experiences only serves as an attempt to negate me so your opinions have more weight.

      Yes, my opinions & experiences should be seen in that light as you say. Everything that you experience in therapy (I assume you are MPD or an SO) is built on what began in the 1970s – 1990s when I was treated. So it is impossible to discount the past. DID is built on Freudian theories – that was 112 years ago so I think your point is invalid.

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      • Terri

         /  04/19/2011

        You have made assumptions about my situation which are untrue. All I was doing was putting your experiences into context. That obviously touched a nerve for you.

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        • Sorry, no nerve touched here. What assumptions did I make that are untrue? I don’t even know you.

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          • Terri

             /  04/19/2011

            “I assume you are MPD or an SO” – incorrect assumption.

            Your whole comment seems combative, when all I was pointing out is where your experiences fit within a timeline.

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          • OK, I was wrong. as I indicated – it was an assumption.

            I don’t know that I agree that my statement is combative. I would, however, like to have a discussion with you that takes this entire issue and puts it in a historical context. As I’ve said, this newer generation, if you will, of people being diagnosed with DID are failing to understand the gravity of what has come before.

            With all due respect, what possesses you to come to my blog and make statements regarding a conversation that took place on someone else’s blog? I don’t recall that you were a part of it, were you? I see that as a blatant attempt to keep a fire stoked that many of us do not want to keep going. What’s the point?

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          • Terri

             /  04/20/2011

            You’re making assumptions that this newer generation is uneducated and naive. That’s a very broad generalisation.

            I came to your blog through a link on FaceBook. But as your blog is open to the Internet, I would think that anyone could easily stumble across it. Isn’t that the point of a blog, to inform others and invite comment?

            As for stoking a fire, well as I said in my other comment, I was responding to a post that is on the front page of your blog. Other people are commenting, and are welcome. I don’t see how my responding to a post on the front page of a blog, with this weeks date attached to it, is fanning a conversation that others want to see die out. If you don’t want the conversation there, delete the post or the comments.

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          • I don’t understand your comment about informing others and inviting comment. That’s exactly what I’m doing. Do you think that is wrong?

            We don’t agree on a lot of things. It seems you believe in DID so why would you want the conversation to die out? If I’ve made another assumption about you I apologize ahead of time. You are withholding information about yourself, which is your choice, but know it’s difficult to converse with anyone who will not state their position or let other know who they are.

            DID is not an issue that should ever be allowed to die out. According to Paul McHugh, MD former Director of the John’s Hopkins Department of Psychiatry, MPD is the biggest and most embarrassing event in the history of psychiatry and psychology. I agree with him. If we let it die out, we learn nothing and it will happen again. What about people accused of crimes that never happened? There is no way they can let it die out – that’s just an inhuman thought. Families have been destroyed. My health is shot for the rest of my life. Let it die out?

            It’s not an assumption to say that many of this “younger generation” as you put it is uneducated and naive. Comments & questions made across the Internet are proof of that.

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          • Terri

             /  04/20/2011

            I apologize for any double up comments, my browser kept on crashing.

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          • no problem

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          • Terri

             /  04/21/2011

            I referred to the “newer generation”, based on your comment calling them that. I was trying to keep our language consistent in a hope that we would understand each other. By generalising about this new generation, you are stepping on dangerous ground. Is someone who has a masters or doctorate degree, who is also diagnosed with MPD/DID, uneducated? What makes them uneducated? Them not reaching the same conclusion as you?

            I agree that there are people out there who blog unwisely, but that doesn’t mean they should be treated with scorn. That’s probably the treatment they have received all their lives.

            What information do you need to know about me in order to talk about this? As I stated in my other comment, I am an academic. Does it matter in what subject area, or which school? No. I see that you don’t ask for more information from other commenters, some whom don’t use their real name.

            Again, you’re making assumptions. I never said that I wanted this debate to go away.

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          • Terri I am at a loss of what to say to you and how to respond at this time. Your posts are rants full of accusations, misrepresentations and pejorative statements and are impossible for me to respond to. Your anger is overwhelming and nothing I have said helps you to calm down. I have no confidence that there is anything I can say in the future that will make it possible for you to have a conversation that uses reason and clear thinking and stays on topic.

            With all due respect, I believe you are talking about yourself and your experiences rather than debating issues and topics – which is OK, just own them and don’t push your thoughts and beliefs off as though they are mine.

            I don’t need information about you to talk about anything. But, if you are going to continually accuse me of making “assumptions”, you will need to tell me what you are talking about. You offer readers no information or background regarding your opinions, but then want a response – then, for me, I’m accused of making assumptions about you – that simply makes no sense. From my end, there is a lot of information about me on this blog. Do you see why I am having such difficulty discussing things in this manner?

            I am interested in debating issues, sharing information and having conversations. Of course they will get heated, frustrating, and vulnerable. I can’t respond to rants that are disorganized and mostly off topic.

            Let’s pull this discussion back to original post that is about the question: are multiple personalities sane?

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          • Terri

             /  04/21/2011

            As I have absolutely no anger towards you, there is obviously miscommunication going on. All I have been doing is responding to the comments you have made to me.

            As sanity is a legal issue, rather than purely psychiatric, I’m not qualified to say if anyone is sane or not. It’s dangerous to ask that question about any population. As an example, sociopaths are sometimes found to be insane; but some with that diagnosis can be working successfully at the head of large organisations.

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          • This post was in response to “V”. She is a child of a DID mother and has been sharing her experiences here. I asked her what she might like me to address.

            Sanity is too subjective to be definitive. I don’t, however, find it a dangerous question to ask or to discuss. Why do you find sanity to be mostly a legal issue? I know it can be if someone commits a crime or if there is a decision being made regarding a forced mental health care hold.

            Your point about sociopaths is interesting. Thanks for coming back, Terri.

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