Mental Pluralism [From the Archives]

My “Day I Left Pennsylvania” led me to some archived website posts (before blogs were invented) I had written many years ago. I’m re-posting them now. Bear in mind that most of the content in this series is over 5 years old. I have left the content more or less intact. I have removed some links and added some others — but that’s it. Enjoy!


Hollywood has used the idea of “multiple personality disorder” as a plot device in movies such as “Cape Fear” and “Identity.” MPD  is a general term for, I believe, a form of schizophrenia with amnesiatic barriers. Carl Jung did a lot of work with schizophrenia and also a lot of work within himself with respect to his own inner multiplicity.

At it’s core, mental pluralism (or pluralism of the mind, whatever you want to call it) essentially says that we have an assortment of different personality “shards” or “voices” in our mind. Each individual shard is a different aspect of ourselves, and represents a different way we view the world. Think of it as an inner republic — each voice would be a separate advisor on a different aspect of your life. It lacks the amnesiatic barriers of the sensationalized  ”Multiple Personality Disorder”, though, so this is not considered a pathology.

Part of utilizing mental pluralism in treatment is acknowledging and even personifying these voices — that is, giving each of them their own identity and granting them their sovereignty within your mindscape. While it sounds a little crazy, think about this: An unnamed voice in your personality will “sound” and appear to be exactly the same as any other unnamed voice; But if you can somehow identify those voices separately from one another, then you can profit from being able to hear them individually.

Some psychologists, such as James Hillman, believe that pathologies arise when our voices go unheard for a long length of time (eg. suppressing our anger, which could be seen as suppressing the voice that is “angry.”), which leads to irrational and abnormal behavior. Allowing the voices to speak what they have to say, which you can choose to take or leave, releases the pressure from that aspect. Think of a time when you’ve really wanted to say something but no one would let you talk — many people act out when they are suppressed too long! For example, imagine the stereotypical eager student in elementary school that sits in the back with his hand waving frantically, trying to answer a question, and eventually just calls it out.

Putting it to use

Not only am I an advocate of this school, I’m also a client. In my own work with my counselor, she’s helped me to identify a few of my own voices, and on my own I’ve discovered many others. I don’t see this splintering as a sign of pathology — I’m very much aware of my own identity and I do not ever feel that I am not in the driver’s seat, so to speak. The importance that I have found for me with this is that through identifying and learning about the different voices, I am able to more accurately understand why I react the way I do, and get a handle on my emotions before they get out of hand or I start acting irrationally. Also, there have been times when I’ve had an inner dialogue between two of the voices to try and work out a compromise with some issue. If Voice “A” wants to do something, and Voice “B” says that it would be better to do something different (that is contradictory), having them talk with one another helps to figure out a way to satisfy both voices without having to necessarily give in completely to either. This is particularly difficult, and it’s something I’m still struggling with.

In My Own Republic

Some of the voices that I have discovered within myself (I have done art pieces for some of these as well, to help in the personification process):

The Oracle

She represents my intuitive side; the part of me that gets hunches and is rarely or never wrong. I have her visualized as an aged Native American woman, some feathers in hair, with whited-out eyes. She was the first voice I discovered, and while she may not be very loud or a very frequent speaker, she pops up occasionally, often with me imagining her sighing and saying “I told you so.”

Ishkur

Ishkur (the Sumerian storm god) was named after an old Dungeons & Dragons character I had — a dwarven battlerager. Ishkur is very impulsive, hotheaded, and gets angry easily. Ishkur often speaks up when I subconsciously feel that I’m not being fairly treated or when I feel that someone is trying to take advantage of me. He’s kind of like the bouncer in my mind — when I feel like things are getting out of hand, he comes to make sure things get straightened out.

I don’t hear from him too often anymore, but he was a frequent visitor last year when I was dealing with a lot of repressed anger. Ishkur is a short dwarf, balding with a big beard, and wears spiked chainmail. Think along the lines of Gimoli from Lord of the Rings (although Ishkur was NOT inspired by Gimoli… that’s just a visual aid)

The Skeptic

The skeptic is the voice in me that always believes people have ulterior motives. When I am dealing with someone and I smell something fishy, the skeptic is often the one who detects it. I suppose there is probably some intuition involved here, but the skeptic isn’t always correct.

I am reasonably sure the skeptic was spawned from what most would call “emotional baggage.” Forged from a few relationships where trust was a scarcity and broken often, the Skeptic arose as a means of survival and has stuck around since then. He has his moments of coming in handy — I have become really good at sniffing out when people (potentially) are being dishonest, have ulterior motives, or are lying.

I just recently sketched him out and plan on making an art piece sometime in the near future. He has a very elongated head with pointy ears, very small eyes, and a somewhat aged appearance.

Don Juan

I haven’t decided on “Don Juan” for sure, but that’s the first name that came to mind. The names just kind of randomly pop up and if they feel right, they stick. This voice doesn’t yet have a for-sure name.

He seems to be somewhat elusive and mysterious and I haven’t figured out how to call him up on purpose yet — he just kind of comes out when the time is right or he feels like it. He’s very sensual and passionate — kind of a casanova type of “Don Juan DeMarco” personality (although I refuse to refer to him as something as cliche as “casanova”).

Often when he comes around I feel like an observer, kind of watching what he does. It’s very much more based on instinct than the other voices, he doesn’t take orders or commands — he just does what he does. There have been a few times when I’ve made art and felt it was this voice making it. At this point I don’t have an image assigned to it yet.

Shade(?)

I’m not sure if “shade” is the correct name or not — but that’s the name I’ve been using lately. Shade is the foil to the skeptic — he’s my own deceptive, ulterior-motive-making, sneaky side. I haven’t had a visit from this part of me in a really long time, but I know that I have that in me.

Shade might also be somewhat mischevious although it’s possible I could have that aspect confused with another voice I haven’t identified yet. If I felt like I had to lie to someone, or deceive someone, then Shade would be the voice to do it.

I think Shade and the Skeptic share intelligence sometimes to augment each other’s effectiveness. Crafty little bastards. No imagery for this one yet either.

“A Boy Named It”

This second unnamed voice represents the quiet submissive part of me. I think I have an art piece done to represent him — he looks like a young boy, maybe 10-13 years old, brown hair, pale blue skin, and reddish-brown eyes.

This voice rarely comes out voluntarily, and is often the result of some kind of trigger-stimulus (some people refer to them as “buttons” [as in "you're pushing my buttons"] — trigger stimuli are events and situations that make you flashback to another time in your past emotionally — calling up emotions and feelings that could be a little excessive given the current situation). I can’t think of any off-hand, but I’ve been getting a lot better at identifying it when it happens.

I think this voice may be a dramatic foil to Ishkur — perhaps even that Ishkur is protecting this one, stepping up to the plate when this one won’t. Last year, when Ishkur was coming around a lot, it was often after this voice had been present for a sustained amount of time.

The Analyst

The analyst is the voice in me that demands accuracy and abhors false statements. The analyst deals strictly with facts, details, and raw data. It’s very emotionless, cold, and calculating (literally). Potential threats, dangers, and outcomes are all assessed rapidly, weighted, and contingencies pre-determined. The analyst is rarely caught completely off-guard. I find this voice becomes prominent when in unfamiliar situations, but I can always feel it humming along in the background, ratcheting away at its adding machine.