M U L T I P L E P E R S O N A L I T Y O R D E R:
An Alternate Paradigm for Understanding Cross‑Gender Experience
by William A. Henkin, Ph.D.
Copyright c 1995, 2008 by William A. Henkin
[I presented this essay in its original form at the First International Congress on Cross‑Dressing, Gender, and Sex, in Northridge, CA, February, 1995, and developed it further for the National Convention of the Society for the Scientific Study of Sexuality, San Francisco, CA, November, 1995. A slightly earlier version of this paper was published as “Multiple Personality Order: A Response to Trauma and the Development of the Cross‑Gender Experience,” in Gender Blending, edited by Bonnie Bullough, Ph.D., Vern Bullough, Ph.D., and James Elias, Ph.D.; Buffalo (1997): Prometheus Books, and an edited version of the full paper I presented was published as “Multiple Personality Order: An Alternate Paradigm for Understanding Cross‑Gender Behavior” in New Concepts in Cross‑Gender Identity: An Interdisciplinary Approach, edited by Dallas Denny; Philadelphia (1997): Garland Publishers, 1997. I am grateful to Rebecca Auge, Ph.D. and Howard Devore, Ph.D., for their critical evaluations of this paper; and I am profoundly indebted to my partner in process, Sybil Holiday, with whom I explored my own personas in a deeply experiential fashion, and with whom I worked out some of the concepts presented here.]
“Nobody knows as yet what is normal – we only know what is customary.”
‑‑ Harry Benjamin, quoted by Christine Jorgensen in A Personal Autobiography
A few months ago I had a telephone call from a prospective client who was a member of the Educational TV Channel, or ETVC*, the San Francisco Bay Area’s principal male‑to‑female (MTF) cross‑gender group. The person wanted to know why, considering how important I find Juliette, my own principal femme persona, I was not transsexual. I explained that, important as she is and important as her contributions are to the whole structure of my personality, Juliette does not control a large enough portion of my inner life that she can effectively command my outer life.
* In the mid-1990s the group renamed itself TGSF – Transgender San Francisco – in recognition of their changing membership and the changing needs of the times.
Perhaps because I spoke of Juliette so readily as if she were a separate person, the caller asked if I had multiple personalities. I answered that I did, but not the way I thought he meant; and I explained that as I understand the process, there’s a sort of continuum of dissociation ranging from Dissociative Identity Disorder at one extreme, or what used to be called Multiple Personality Disorder, to what I’ve come to call Multiple Personality Order at the other.
Multiple Personality Disorder – since mine is somewhat too personal and anecdotal to be considered a formal academic paper, I’m going to continue to use the old terminology; I do so not because I prefer the DSM‑III‑R to the DSM‑IV, and not just because I find the old term more poetic and evocative than the new, but chiefly because the older term more accurately reflects my own experience of the spectrum – Multiple Personality Disorder, or MPD, is a relatively rare condition. Multiple Personality Order, on the other hand, or MPO, seems to me to be extremely common.
Classically, someone whose multiple personalities are disordered has “two or more distinct identities or personality states (each with its own relatively enduring pattern of perceiving, relating to, and thinking about the environment and self). . . . at least two of [whom] recurrently take control of the person’s behavior” (American Psychiatric Association, 1994, p. 487, Diagnostic Criteria A & B).
Classically, too, the individual has an “inability to recall important personal information that is too extensive to be explained by ordinary forgetfulness” (American Psychiatric Association, 1994, p. 487, Diagnostic Criterion C). This form of amnesia is generally experienced as lost time, or as blanks in the person’s life that may, for example, cover a year or two in her history, or may cover a particular time of day over a period of months or years, or may cover a particular event or series of events. She might not remember her ninth year, for instance. Or she may have normal recall for most features of being eight years old: she may remember getting up in the morning and going to school, being in school, and going to bed at night, yet she may not remember ever coming home from school in the afternoon.
In addition, although it is not stipulated as a diagnostic criterion, at least one personality generally does not know about the existence of some or all of the others (American Psychiatric Association, 1987, 270). As a conservative, church‑going adult who wears only tailored clothes and neither smokes nor drinks, the same person may feel bewildered to find a gaudy gown at the foot of her bed one morning, stained with whiskey and smelling of cigarettes, along with a picture of her in the gown on the arm of a disreputable playboy at the bar of a well‑known night club.
When someone’s multiple personalities are in order he technically may meet the first two diagnostic criteria (A & B) for MPD, but typically his memory is not unusually compromised thereby; and with increasing awareness of the process of his own dissociation, similar to the awareness we all can have of our own processes from moment to moment, he experiences what Morton Prince called co‑consciousness: the various sides of himself are at least somewhat aware of each other, they may converse with one another, and they can come to align themselves so that the single entity in which they are all contained – the individual – functions as a sort of integrated team, which is not the same as integrating into a single personality.
It is well documented in both the clinical and the popular literature that MPD is a creative survival response to what the individual experiences, usually early on, as some kind of trauma (Ross, 1994; Chase, 1987; Castle and Bechtel, 1987; Coons, 1986; Kluft, 1985; Putnam, 1985; Schreiber, 1973). I used to say dissociation was response to “abuse,” instead of to “trauma,” but I was persuaded to change my mind by a 30‑year‑old woman who had been “lovingly” fondled at the age of two or, probably, younger by a close family member, and eventually seduced into a highly sexual love affair that lasted until she was 18. The woman’s memory of the experience and her thoughts about it were clearly positive, and despite a high native intelligence she was unable to connect her extensive psychological problems with these events in her history. But in any case, whether positive or negative, traumatic experiences are overwhelming to some degree: they are traumatic because they are too much to accommodate, too much to adapt to, too much to process for someone who has to find a way to deal with more input than she is really equipped to handle.
Though it is generally acknowledged by students of dissociative disorders that alternate personalities “as they are originally developed are involved directly in survival and thus their modes of operation are necessarily severely focused in order to guarantee survival” (Sliker, 1992, p. 31), I am using severe dissociation only as a model here so that we can see in its boldest relief a process I believe is entirely normal. I am not now talking about the multiple personalities of MPD, but rather of the alternate personalities of MPO, whose development is also, though perhaps not equally, a creative survival strategy.
The process of dissociation as I experience it in myself and as I observe it in other people both in and out of the consulting room is so common that phrases in our colloquial language attest to our individual diversity. For example:
* I’m of two minds about this;
* I’m beside myself with anger;
* Why don’t you act your age?
* I don’t feel like myself today.
Not only our language, but our behavior expresses the most basic forms of dissociation: we do not bring the same personalities to interactions with our parents as we bring to interactions with our children. We do not bring the same personalities to work as we bring to play. We do not bring the same personalities to our spouses as we bring to our golfing buddies, or knitting buddies, or anyone else we pal around with. Perhaps the very fact that we’re so different with different people from time to time reflects our need to allow our multiple parts to emerge, to breathe, and to grow. If so, our different personalities only become problematic when the process by which they come and go is not conscious or when it is out of control.
Since I am suggesting that we literally live multiple lives at once, it may not be surprising that my remarks are consonant with the explanation of reincarnation provided by the Buddhist scholar Walpola Rahula:
It is a series that continues unbroken, but changes every moment.... It is like a flame that burns through the night: it is not the same flame nor is it another. A child grows up to be a man of sixty. Certainly the man of sixty is not the same as the child of sixty years ago, nor is he another person. Similarly, a person who dies here and is reborn elsewhere is neither the same person nor another. It is the continuity of the same series. (Rahula, 34)
Rahula’s words apply equally well to the idea of reincarnation over many lifetimes, to our progress through one lifetime from birth to death, and to what any of us does on any single day.
Since this paper is really about the nature of the self, albeit in a gender framework, I should say a little more about my own self, or selves. First, a story.
Back when I was working in a community mental health facility with a population described as “severely disturbed,” most of my clients came from a county hospital where they had been diagnosed by new residents in psychiatry. Because often the residents were still working out the bugs in their educations, many of my clients carried diagnoses that reflected the residents’ current studies better than they reflected my clients’ symptoms. For instance, I was told by one resident that when a client he had referred with schizophrenia was getting better she knew that the voices she heard came from inside her head; when she was getting worse she believed the voices were coming from some external medium, like the stove. That was neither the way I’d read the literature nor was it my experience of the woman, but it was a kind of understanding that contributed to a lot of odd diagnoses.
In any case, for about a third of the year a large number of people would arrive at our door with diagnoses of chronic paranoid schizophrenia, for about a third of the year a similar number would arrive diagnosed with bipolar disorder, and for about a third of the year as many would arrive diagnosed with borderline personality disorder. Some people who stayed in that particular county’s system for awhile had all three diagnoses earned at different seasons. But if they had been around the system long enough to have a logbook, they generally knew what to say anyway: if they would benefit by hearing voices inside their heads rather than outside, inside was where they’d hear voices.
One young man I remember quite well had just turned eighteen. He was tall, handsome, athletic, and newly diagnosed with schizophrenia. While I was chatting with him in the office one evening he suddenly jumped up and started climbing the wall. Literally. He ran at the wall and ran up four or five feet before he fell down, then ran up the next wall and fell down again. He quickly became enraged and threatening.
We didn’t have any tools to deal with an athletic young man who was out of control in that facility, so I followed protocol and called the police. Two minutes later a couple of officers ran into the house and wrestled the boy to the ground, and as they sat on him and handcuffed him he started to talk in voices. First some loud angry male voice yelled, “Get your fucking hands off me!” Then a young, girlish voice asked, “What’s happening? Please tell me what’s happening! I don’t understand!” Then a child cried and somebody else pled to let him go, and all the while the boy’s face was changing right along with his voices.
By this time I had started to read some of the literature about dissociation, and my partner and I had begun to explore our alternate personas together. Sybil had a lot of hands‑on experience doing make‑overs for transvestites and providing surrogate mommying for infantilists, eliciting the woman within one and the child within the other. Her experience dovetailed with the hypothesis I had generated from my reading and my clinical work.
One afternoon I found myself driving on the freeway in a most unseemly manner. I was speeding, swerving, passing other cars recklessly, and in general endangering myself and dozens of other motorists. Putting to use what I’d been learning, I asked myself who was driving. The image that appeared immediately on my personal little mental television screen was that of a terrified little boy about two years old clutching the steering wheel that was too high for him, stretching for the gas pedal that was too low for him, and driving for all he was worth, trying desperately to follow the orders a youngish man about 27 was barking at him from the passenger seat: “Drive here! Go there! Pass that car! Go faster!” The baby, who wanted nothing but to gain the young man’s love, was doing his best to obey, but really nothing would satisfy and I was in fear for my life. “Get in the back seat,” I told them both: “I'll drive.” And in my mind’s eye I saw them both clamber over the seat back as I felt myself take conscious control of the car. The remainder of the journey was made safely, with no upset either internal or external.
When I concluded that the boy in my facility was not schizophrenic but was, rather, a multiple whose internal alignment had cracked under some kind of stress, I also realized that his personalities and mine had some generic similarities. The way multiples are supposed to develop – from severe, unremitting, unavoidable trauma, usually in very early childhood – then seemed to me to be a paradigm for how all personalities develop. For some people who become classically multiple the trauma was more severe, less remitting, less escapable, than it was for me and perhaps for you, but the structure was the same.
After all, even in the very best of families, with the most ideal childhoods, we all had to do things we didn’t want to do. We had to go to bed when we didn’t want to, learn to use the toilet instead of our diapers, learn to eat our Brussels sprouts, okra, or spinach – there was always some kind of non‑consensual domination that was more than a little kid could tolerate.
I am not saying that the process of socializing children is bad or wrong, and I am not saying we should have avoided growing up. I am also not saying the development of alternate personas must be a wholly psychological process, or that there might not be a strong genetic or bio‑chemical basis for it: sometimes I am sure there is.
I am saying that when people are confronted with circumstances that seem to threaten us in some way we cannot accommodate, we tend to split off little facets of ourselves to deal with them until our minds resemble cut gemstones: one heart with many faces.
The personas with whom I spoke in my car were Baby Billy and the Executive. Like Juliette, they had been making their influences felt in my life for decades before I met them. The Executive’s need for control, for example, coupled with his barely contained anger, had kept my friends from riding in my car during several volatile periods in my life. The Baby’s profound need for acceptance, coupled with his inability to judge other people’s trustworthiness, had led me into romantic and business liasons everyone around but me could see were doomed. And Juliette had not only trimmed my tweed‑ and corduroy‑filled closet with cashmeres and silks: she had given me an early career in music, and helped me to gain and maintain my independence with her serenity and strength.
As time went on I learned to identify a dozen major and perhaps two dozen minor players on my internal stage. Arguably, each began as simply a limited ego state. But as I let them talk to me and to each other they fleshed out into something like satellite personalities around my organizing center. And as they took on lives of their own they began to inform me about the nature and meaning of my interests, desires, fears, and so forth. The more real they became, therefore, the fuller and more satisfying my whole life became. The more real they became, in a sense, the more real I became.
Not surprisingly perhaps, at least for those of us in this room, one of the first tacit discussions of Multiple Personality Order – tacit because it did not have any such label at the time – came from within the gender community. When Virginia Prince founded the organization that became the Society for the Second Self in the early 1960s, and acknowledged “the woman within” some morphological males, she anticipated by 30 years “the child within” that many people would discover in their quests to recover from childhood trauma. Where Prince and the recovery movement parted company – or, more properly, where they never met – was that she did not accept the conventional psychiatric definitions of her own experience as pathological, even as she sought to understand that experience with the help of psychotherapy. In other words, she was among the very first modern people to recognize the possibility of non‑pathological multiplicity, or what Roberto Assagioli called a “pluridimensional conception of the human personality” (Assagioli, 1965).
Docter (1988), Fraser (1991), and others have noted people in the gender communities who talk about their cross‑gendered personas as alternate “selves.” In her study of transsexualism Bolin (1988) specifically notes that “[p]ersonal identity is envisaged as a hierarchy of identities such that one identity is primary and others are subidentities around which one organizes the self” (Bolin, 1988, p. 70).
Whether transvestites, transgenderists, transsexuals, gender‑benders, or shape‑shifters of any sort, many people in the gender paraculture experience themselves somewhat differently in their variant than in their usual gender roles. While at first blush the differences may sometimes seem superficial, upon further examination they often turn out to encompass “relatively enduring pattern[s] of perceiving, relating to, and thinking about the environment and one’s self ... exhibited in a wide range of important social and personal contexts” (American Psychiatric Association, 1987, p. 269).
In other words we experience all the components needed to satisfy the psychiatric designation of an alternate personality state, replete with variations from our baselines in feeling, thought, memory, posture, belief system, attitude, behavior patterns, and social relationships that are usually associated with a severe dissociative disorder.
Unlike the experience reported by people with Multiple Personality Disorder, however, transpeople do not generally forget their customary identities while in their cross‑gender personalities; unlike the experience reported by people with Depersonalization Disorder transpeople rarely feel unreal while in their cross‑gender identities; and unlike the experience reported by people with Psychogenic Amnesia or Psychogenic Fugue, while in their cross‑gender states transpeople are ordinarily quite able to recall important personal events of their usual personalities. In other words, despite having a full experience of living in an alternate personality, they satisfy none of the pathological hallmarks of dissociation.
I’ll come back to alternate personas and gender identity shortly, but I mentioned Baby Billy and the Executive because I don’t want to suggest that alternate personas or Multiple Personalities, whether Ordered or Disordered, are only a matter of gender. The Society for the Second Self evokes by its very name the reality of alternate personalities, but if a man can have an inner woman, as Virginia Prince proposed, or if a woman can have an inner man, as Lou Sullivan asserted correlatively (Sullivan, 1988), and if anyone can have an inner child or even multiple inner children, as some theorists have proposed (e.g., Pearson, 1991), why can’t one have a sort of whole inner family?
Myth and religion provide intimations that multiple personalities have been common throughout history, since the many goddesses and gods of every pluralistic pantheon can be understood to represent different aspects of their cultures’ people. In modern America we can look to sports and media stars to see reflections of ourselves, as those of us of Western extraction can look to the Greek and Roman traditions with which we’re still at least nominally familiar. There it may be easy to see how a person can be dominated by the rational characteristics thought of as Apollonian or the passionate ones we call Dionysian, for example, and still exhibit others relating to the virginal qualities of Artemis, or the sexually seductive ones of Aphrodite.
Both in our New Age and in the Old Ages to which it throws back we can see similar patterns of understanding expressed in tarot, astrology, past‑life regression, channeling and spirit guidance, palmistry, and other arenas. Indeed, any discipline that breaks the incorporeal human entity into component parts reflects different aspects of a human personality. In the modern West we’ve accommodated this process in the psychological tradition, and not only through Freud’s concept of the triune mind made up of id, ego, and superego.
Dissociation was a fairly common notion in the West during the 19th and early 20th centuries. It underlay the development of mesmerism, hypnosis, and various other trance‑induced cures for mental and emotional problems (Ellenberger, 1970). Around the turn of the last century Alfred Binet and William James both described cases of multiple personality, and both regarded dissociation as a likely model by which the enigma of the human mind might be understood and studied (James, 1980 ; Binet, 1886).
Jean Charcot, a seminal figure in Freud’s development even though they worked together for only five months, saw features of dissociation in hysteria, but his mechanical view of the human being would not admit principles of non‑physiological psychology (Ellenberger, 1970). Another of Freud’s teachers, Pierre Janet, was among the very first to examine dissociation and wrote about “secondary personalities” alternating with or operating behind what Assagioli calls the “everyday personality” and what I call the “front” personality (Janet, 1889, cited in Assagioli, 1965; Janet, 1907). Some dozen additional cases of multiple personalities were written up in the United States before World War I; in all, some 90 cases of what we would understand today as Multiple Personality Disorder were reported in the Index Medicus and Psychological Abstracts between 1820 and 1960 (Baldwin, 1984).
Not everything about dissociation was considered pathological a century ago. In the Principles of Psychology James (1980 ) described a hierarchy of selves whose multitude constituted the “empirical me.” Soon thereafter, his friend and colleague Boris Sidis became co‑author of a textbook on the subject that was more philosophy than medicine (Sidis and Goodheart, 1905). As a boy Carl Jung was aware of having two personalities, and in his middle years he discovered several more including a female named Salome (Sliker, 1992). Roberto Assagioli, whose theories of psychosynthesis underlie a great deal of subpersonality work today, claimed that “Everyone has different selves – it is normal” (Allesandro Berti, as quoted in Sliker, 1992, p. 13).
By report, in Multiple Personality Disorder some personalities display allergic reactions to substances that other personalities in the same body do not exhibit. I have seen eye color change from persona to persona, and I have a client whose chiropractor reports that while the male host personality’s legs are of unequal length, the legs of his leading female personality are quite even (Berry, 1993).
Despite the interest of his teachers and colleagues, Freud based his work on a model of repression rather than pursue dissociation (Freud, 1955 ). Although first regarded as outrageous and radical, his views soon became psychological orthodoxy, and, as their stature waxed, attention to dissociation waned: there were almost no cases of dissociation or MPD reported in the literature between 1920 and the 1950s. Even though one of the most important psychological texts of its day, William McDougall’s Outline of Abnormal Psychology (1926), contained references to numerous cases of “coconscious personalities,” the dissociative model was already anomalous, fallen into a state of clinical disregard from which it did not begin to emerge for more than 30 years, when two psychiatrists, Corbett Thigpen and Hervey Cleckley, published a popular account of their treatment of an MPD patient as The Three Faces of Eve (Thigpen and Cleckley, 1957).
For the next 16 years isolated reports of multiplicity once again trickled into the professional journals. In 1973 a second popular book, Sybil (Schreiber, 1973), alerted the public to this most dramatic dissociative condition. At about the same time other psychologists began to acknowledge the possibility of MPD, and cases started to be reviewed again in the journals (Baldwin, 1984).
During the middle of the twentieth century plural identity was explored more by spiritual philosophers than by academically trained psychologists; many saw it as the normative human mode. For example,
Man is a plural being. When we speak of ourselves ordinarily we speak of “I”.... [but] There is no such “I,” or rather there are hundreds, thousands of little “I’s” in every one of us.... At one moment it is one “I” that acts, at the next moment it is another “I.” It is because the “I’s” in ourselves are contradictory that we do not function harmoniously (Gurdjieff, 1973).
We think that if a man is called Ivan he is always Ivan. Nothing of the kind. Now he is Ivan, in another minute he is Peter, and a minute later he is Nicholas, Sergius, Matthew, Simon.... You will be astonished when you realize what a multitude of these Ivans and Nicholases live in one man (Ouspensky, 1949).
Artists, too, began to address the multiple facets of the human being early in the century, though it is hard to imagine that Picasso, Braque, other cubists, or the Dadaists intended such a psychological exegesis consciously. The great acting coach Constantin Stanislavki did intend it, however, as the basis for method acting. In An Actor Prepares, published in 1936, Stanislavski writes extensively about the need for an actor to find the essence of any character he is going to play within himself, then to imbue his character with that part of himself on stage. This is, of course, what Marlon Brando and other members of Lee Strasberg’s Actor’s Theatre became famous for in the 1950s and 1960s, at just the time dissociative psychology began to make its rather theatrical comeback.
The 1920s and 30s are also the years when Jacob Moreno developed psychodrama, a theatrical approach to psychotherapy which assumes that psychologically the protagonist contains all her antagonists; and the late 1950s and early 1960s are the years when Fritz Perls brought forth Gestalt therapy, many of whose techniques are closely related to psychodrama In “empty chair” work, for example, the client talks to parts of herself imaginatively seated in a chair across from her, then moves over to the formerly empty chair and talks back to the part of herself that she was to begin with. In Gestalt dream work Perls asserted that the client was everything in a dream: not only all the people, but all the animals and all the objects as well, including the kitchen sink. If you are that kitchen sink in your dream, what do you feel as the sink?
In 1964, Eric Berne, the founder of Transactional Analysis, published a simplified explanation of his theories called Games People Play, which became an extremely popular best‑seller. In his book Berne provided dramatic examples, with explanations, of ways two people typically interact when they are expressing three major components of their personalities, demonstrating how those interactions typically emerged as manipulations rather than clear communication. The component parts of the personality, in his model, were the parent, adult, and child; this was not dissimilar from Freud’s model using the superego, ego, and id.
Also in the 1960s, Gregory Bateson, Virginia Satir, Jay Haley and the other members of what came to be known as the Palo Alto group started to work with family systems. One exemplary technique they developed was Family Sculpting, in which the client uses human or clay models to display the members of his family, talks about his issues with them, and moves the pieces around to change the outcome of his own story. In this way Family Sculpting works very much like psychodrama.
The Three faces of Eve, Sybil, and the other developments in clinical psychology brought new attention to multiplicity and dissociation as psychological and pathological experiences. In the 1970s alone, about 50 cases of Multiple Personality Disorder were reported in the clinical literature. By 1980, the DSM‑III included MPD as a diagnostic category; today, some controversy about the nature of the disorder notwithstanding, thousands of cases have been documented.
In 1895 Freud and Josef Breuer, following Charcot, had identified as hysteria behaviors that might also have been understood as dissociative, and psychiatrists still diagnosed dissociation as a form of hysteria more than 70 years later (American Psychiatric Association, 1968). By the time dissociation was recategorized as a disorder on its own it encompassed depersonalization, psychogenic amnesia, psychogenic fugure, and multiple personality (American Psychiatric Association, 1980). In its next revision the DSM‑III‑R acknowledged that MPD may also be present when someone does not exhibit fully‑rounded personalities, but only exhibits two or more “personality states” or fragments which may or may not be aware of one another, if they are amnesic and aware of having lost time (American Psychiatric Association, 1987).
We are closer and closer to acknowledging a form of dissociation that does not meet diagnostic criteria for psychopathology. Certainly that is how the “ladder of selves” may be understood, upon which an individual may locate himself and climb through consciousness as the mystic scholar Colin Wilson (1978) describes, and it is also how Ken Wilber’s “Spectrum of Consciousness” may be seen to extend the dissociative model to the whole of human evolution (Wilber, 1980, 1986).
As my partner and I developed our concept of alternate personas with ourselves and with each other, we thought we had discovered something new. I remember one evening when I actually encouraged her not to talk about it too much until we could write for publication, because I thought we were onto something really hot with our concept of normal dissociation.
It was both a pleasure and a trial, then, to learn that we had reinvented the wheel. It was a trial for the same reasons Columbus would have found it a trial to return to Spain only to learn that 20 or 30 other explorers had already charted and mapped the New World. And it was a pleasure because we now discovered that we had a lot of support for what we were doing, as well as a tradition and a framework against which to measure our work.
Even though there are still psychotherapists who do not accept even the concept, let alone the diagnosis, of multiplicity, among others the basic tenets of both customary and unusual dissociation seem to be more common. John Rowan, a British psychologist with a growing American following, bases his work on Assagioli’s pioneering theories of psychosynthesis. For more than a decade Hal Stone and Sidra Winkleman have been teaching their technique of Voice Dialogue, which has very palpable roots in Moreno’s and Perls’s work. In the late 1980s and early 1990s Carol Pearson published several books that are concerned with distinguishing different parts of the personality structure in archetypal terms as components of the Hero’s Journey.
For me, Multiple Personality Order, or alternate personas, is simply normative; it is, for me, common. I have a psychologist friend who does not accept dissociative diagnoses and who for the longest time seemed to me to really have only one personality: he became my test. I’d become convinced that everyone had multiple personalities, but every time I saw this man he was exactly the same guy. And I figured if he was the same guy, my notion didn’t hold. Then one day, in true California style, Sybil and I got into a hot tub with him and his wife, and he became a little baby, flapping around in the water with wonder, delight, and abandon. His face opened up and I could all but hear him burbling Goo and Gaa. He was a baby just like the grownup, but he was a baby nonetheless, and his transformation freed me to embrace my hypothesis.
So out in the world I try to keep in mind that when I’m talking to someone who looks like an adult, I may actually be talking to a child who doesn’t know she is a child. When I’m talking to a man I may actually be talking to the woman within, or when I’m talking to a woman I may be talking to the man within. I may be talking to a dog or a bird or a bear or, as people sometimes do with me, to a lion. It’s important to pay attention to whoever is really behind the curtain of the body because otherwise, as Berne demonstrated, communications can get hopelessly bolluxed up.
Sometimes I’ll mention alternate personalities to a client and the client will draw a blank; then we’ll work in some other direction. Sometimes the client will lay out a whole inner family without any further prompting. I remember telling one man, who had been very sedate for our first few meetings, that I work with these sorts of personas and he immediately presented three kids, a couple of teenagers, some women, some men, and some animals, and we spent the next large piece of our work together drawing each of his parts and letting them talk back and forth through the drawings.
There’s an ongoing debate in parts of the gender community which I encounter particularly with some of my own clients who are exploring transsexuality. The question is, “Where does the man go when the woman takes over?” or “Where does the woman go when the man takes over?” I never want to answer this question for anybody else, but in my own experience and observation nobody disappears. I’ve never met a persona who died or really vanished, though I have come across some who seem to have gone to sleep.
One of my own, who was sort of the keeper of despair, managed to take a nap four years ago and hasn’t awakened since. This was a great relief, because once upon a time, when I was very much younger, that persona used to take over for months at a time, and I walked around under a constant black cloud. As I worked with this part of myself, its domination dropped to weeks at a time, then days at a time. My last major experience with it lasted about eight hours. I watched this persona take over and I went out in the evening having spent the entire day in bleak despair, knowing who the persona was but not being able to affect it. I took a walk and ended up on a little beach by San Francisco Bay, sitting on some concrete steps watching the black water and feeling utterly dead. I have no idea how long I sat there; I really didn’t care, and eventually I got up and walked home because there was no reason not to: I had no other motivation than that I’d sort of sat there long enough.
Then about four years ago that same persona showed up at an inappropriate time – I was in an erotic situation with my lover – and the persona that was supposed to be present initiated a conversation with the interloper that lasted about 15 minutes. The conversation went approximately like this:
“Do you know you don’t belong here?”
“Yes, I know that.”
“Are you happy here?”
“No, I’m not happy here.”
“Are you ever happy?”
“Would you like to go someplace else?”
“I don’t know and I don’t care.”
“Where would you like to go?”
“I don’t know and I don’t care.”
“Would you like to go to sleep?”
The end. That personality has certainly stirred in its sleep since then, and I have certainly experienced sorrow, grief, and even intermittent depression since then as well. But though it hasn’t returned with its earlier full force, its stirrings let me know it is still a part of me; it didn’t disappear.
One of the great breakthroughs I witnessed with an MTF client only weeks before her scheduled SRS was the re‑emergence of her full male personality. His appearance allowed her to make peace with her past and to thank him for living the life he had had to live, against his will, until she was ready to take over.
In answer to the gender question, “Where does the man go when the woman takes over?” or “Where does the woman go when the man takes over?” I opine that one recedes as the other steps forward, but that neither is or ever was altogether absent or dead. In Billy Milligan’s image one steps into the spotlight and the other steps out (Keyes, 1981). Or in my own framework, it’s a matter of weight.
Going back to the conversation I had with my prospective client, if Juliette were larger in my inner pantheon, if she carried more weight than she does, she’d be out a lot more than she is and merely advising me a lot less. If she were very large I might have been transsexual and started taking estrogen long ago. As it is, she comes out now and then, and from behind the scenes she influences all my other parts one way or another. Of course she conveys considerable insight to the therapist when he works with gender clients.
One of the things Juliette’s been best at reminding me about has been the utter normalcy of alternate personalities, including those who cross gender lines. Another is the vital importance of their being accompanied, within the system, by co‑consciousness: of being simultaneously self‑aware and aware of other personalities, as well as discovering how all the system’s parts are aligned so that each one contributes to the purposes of the whole, and the individual doesn’t have to suffer the kind of anxiety that results from feeling torn in many directions at once. Just as in “real” life or family systems, this alignment results in teamwork, with every part working toward a common goal, even if all parts don’t fully agree with it.
I don’t mean, strictly speaking, that everybody has a vote: this is not a matter of democracy. Otherwise I might have a majority minus one on many of my life decisions, leaving me unhappy with everything I did. What we seek is consensus: a weight of support from the people inside agreeing with what the system is doing, while those parts that don’t agree, agree to support the team and not to get in the way. When that happens, in my experience, anxiety diminishes, because I’m not being pulled, I’m not being torn in different directions.
In this way, instead of defining cross‑gender and other alternate personalities as examples of psychopathology, I find evidence of their original expressions as creative strategies, and as very living testimony to the richness of the human spirit.
* * * * *
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