The Ecphorizer

Letting Ourselves Be Us
Kenneth Balliet

Issue #67 (June 1987)

The joys of multiple personality

Having had a minor interest in psychology, I'd always been under the impression that the appearance of more than one personality in a single body was to be regarded as an undesirable disorder. We've read of people with multiple personalities and how the resulting conflicts managed to keep their

Having more than one personality is not at all unusual.

lives in a constant state of confusing, if not interesting, disarray. We are [quoteright]cautioned by experts to be on the lookout for abrupt behavioral changes in our children as possible harbingers of any number of serious problems. We are concerned with even minor changes in family, friends, or coworkers. At worst, an unstable psyche is associated with the potential of bizarre or violent behavior. Small wonder that we perceive of multiple personalities in a less than positive light.

You can imagine my dismay at having acknowledged the existence of several personalities within someone I'd always considered to be otherwise relatively well-balanced — me. Different people have been walking in to assume command at various times ever since I can recall. I have, in fact, probably expended a great deal of misguided effort attempting to conceal this supposed psychological shortcoming from my peers.

Over the years, though, my observations of human behavior have alleviated my anxiety over the matter. One may conclude, in fact, that the appearance of multiple personalities is a commonplace (if not altogether desirable) condition. Consider the soft-spoken, gentle, and generally benevolent fellow who works at the desk next to you. At the end of the day, somewhere between the office door and the parking garage, he begins to metamorphosize. By the time he reaches his automobile, he has completed the change from submissive to fiendishly aggressive, and launches, with clenched jaws and a steely grip on the wheel, a violent assault on rush-hour traffic that would shame Attila the Hun.

Having more than one personality is not at all unusual. Everyone experiences personality changes to some degree, including the most stable and consistent among us. It makes perfect sense; as we mature and grow, we become different people. Our thoughts and actions of a year ago, or perhaps even yesterday, might seem immature or be an embarrassment to us now. We even alter our behavior on a daily basis, sometimes significantly, to suit the situation at hand. In short, there is nothing trivial about us; we are, each and every one, a complex array of many people.

How is a person to function in the midst of such a crowd? Dealing successfully with multiple personalities is simply a matter of cooperation among the parties involved. Things must be managed so that visitors arrive in an orderly sequence and that no two are present at the same time. It's also important that any one not interfere with another in such a way as to severely disrupt the harmonious operation of the whole. The trick, then, is not to be faultlessly unified and consistent, but to insure that whoever is in charge is at least relatively appropriate for the moment and behaves in accordance with a minimum set of standards.

This, however, is not always a trivial accomplishment. As for myself, I can usually keep arrivals of separate personalities timed in sequence, but I cannot guarantee who it is that will show up, or how long he will stay. As a result, life can occasionally be a bit tricky. It's not an entirely unpleasant situation, though; there is an interesting medley of visitors.

First there is the irreverent, unpredictable, and somewhat rebellious personality. He is a trifling sort who prefers to let his mind wander from one seemingly unconnected thought to another rather than do any practical work. He cares little for what others think is important. He considers rules of convention and logic mere inconveniences to be ignored; he despises ritual, order, excessive neatness, budgets, and timetables. He appears at any time to displace the current resident, stays as long as he pleases, and leaves as abruptly and mysteriously as he appeared. He is patently inappropriate to my usual station in life. It is he who is always late for appointments. It is he who never follows directions. It is he who recently purchased a thoroughly impractical sports car with a red stripe. I never know what to expect next. Despite the turmoil he causes, though, I never turn him away. His freewheeling imagination has been the source of almost every useful idea I've ever had.

One of my favorites, though, is the quiet, sensitive daydreamer. He is shy and appears only in the presence of solitude and tranquility. He is acutely observant of things I would rarely see on my own. On a walk through a field of bleached dried grasses, he spots a solitary wildflower bursting with color and keeps it on my mind for hours. On the beach in the evening, he sees exotic desert islands in the violet clouds framing an orange sunset. He shows me the beauty of simple things. With him, small pleasures grow evident and intensify. He brings a feeling of peace and inner harmony. He is welcome any time.

Then there is the very useful social creature who is kind enough to appear whenever he is summoned. He flits from person to person at cocktail parties and business luncheons and chats animatedly about this and that. He has a very good time, but he tires easily and never gets much of anything done.

Finally, there is the stable, conservative, and tediously predictable engineer that most people know me to be. Thank goodness for him. He gets me to work on time and efficiently organizes the daily activities. I depend on him to keep the other personalities at bay and to maintain a professional bearing in the office and at meetings and conferences. He considers himself to be the overriding authority on my major life issues, often delivering decisive proclamations. If I occasionally seem to waiver in my resolve, though, it is because the others care little for what he thinks, and make their feelings known as soon as they appear.

Me? I pick up the dry-cleaning and return the books to the library. Some would insist that professional therapy might be in order to rid me of the extra personalities. And I must admit, there are times when I've admired others for their apparent consistency. But after considered thought, I've decided that my way is much more interesting. In the long run, I wouldn't have it any other way.

At any rate, it appears that something less than perfect psychological unity has become acceptable. It's quite refreshing to have this matter out of the closet and in the open. Now we can finally relax and let ourselves be us. 

KENNETH BALLIET writes us that he likes "people, reading, writing, jogging, backpacking, the ocean, solitude, rowdy social gatherings..." Wait a minute! Solitude? How do achieve solitude when you have a multiple personality?

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