Multiplicity is experienced on a continuum. Some people have little felt sense of internal complexity, and at the other end of the spectrum we have Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID), where there is such a distance between parts that sometimes one part of the self does not know of the existence of other parts of self. Most of us are somewhere in the middle in our experience of multiple selves.
When stressed, some people are more likely to experience a disjuncture internally. For example, under stress some people can only remember a particular computer password if they are sitting in front of the computer. They need to access their computer brain to get into the computer! That part of them holds the information and a “shift” may need to occur to access a particular type of information. For someone with DID or other dissociative conditions this experience of needing to “shift to another part” is more marked and more frequent. It’s just more of the same, sometimes with memory gaps that are quite significant and, on occasion, inconvenient.
Many people I work with are a little shy about disclosing their sense of multiple selves in therapy, or in clinical supervision. I suspect there is sometimes a fear they will be seen as crazy or loopy. Thus shame often goes hand in hand with awareness of multiple selves, and this fear of exposure can lead to denial about our own lived experience. Whatever we shut off inside is robbing us to clues about how we can live more richly, with greater awareness and acceptance of the richness of our inner landscape.
In this age of fast-moving change and technical know-how, we need to adapt more and more quickly. “Change management” has become its own business because so many of us have to adapt so frequently and to such a degree. Our multiple selves then become useful adjuncts to managing change: we can call on a different part to do a different task, and our brain can efficiently compartmentalise the different selves we have for different roles.
One sunny Tuesday I was catching a nearly empty train to the beach, a rare thing for me to do. It was HSC study break time: and a small group of Year 12 girls were gossiping and giggling across the aisles as the train neared a station. I was enjoying their energy and noise until there was an announcement in true State Rail style: “Important……….passengers……this train is not……..please move to……thank you”. When the message was repeated out popped my retired-for-ten-years teacher voice: “Girls! Girls! Shoosh!” I can still remember their brief stunned silence followed by their shrieks of delight, mimicking me all the way to Cronulla. I smiled and whispered to a nearby woman, “Didn’t know the teacher inside was still alive and well. She came in handy!”
This part of me, clustered somewhere in my brain as a group of neurons, erupted spontaneously when the situation demanded a teacher’s authority so I could hear the instructions from the conductor. I’m thankful that part of me is still there, though she did get in the way in my early years of counselling, especially when I approached a whiteboard!
We need a level of multiplicity so our brains can be more efficient, and so we can call on particular skills for different contexts. Perhaps it is time we became familiar with our multiplicity? Maybe our counselling work will be the richer for it, and our clients’ lives enriched?
Howell, Elizabeth Understanding and Treating DID