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Secondary Personality





So much attention has recently been directed to the subject of
secondary personality by the startling phenomena described in numerous
books and articles on the subject, that a certain class of "nervous"
patients have permitted themselves to be influenced by the
auto-suggestion, flattering the vanity, that they, too, have a
secondary personality. They even do not hesitate to hint that this
condition is responsible for many of the failures on their part
to do what they ought to do, or at least what they think they would
like to do; but self-control and self-discipline require such constant
attention and effort that they fail. Even when these patients have not
quite reached the persuasion of a complete secondary personality, they
at least think that the subconscious (or their subliminal self) plays
a large role in their conduct. As a consequence, they assert, it is
more or less beyond their power to control themselves, and their
responsibility for certain acts is surely somewhat impaired. This is a
rather satisfying doctrine for those who do not feel quite equal to
the effort of conquering vicious or unfortunate tendencies. Those who
like to have some excuse for self-indulgence take refuge in this
supposedly scientific explanation to absolve them from blame, and from
the necessity of self-control. The drug habitue, the inebriate, the
victim of other habits, sometimes hug this flattering invention to
their souls, especially when they are of the class who delight in the
study of the abnormal. Reform becomes well-nigh impossible as long as
such an auto-suggestion of inherent weakness and lack of will-power is
at work.


The Other Self.--From the beginning of written history, man has always
been inclined to find some scapegoat for his failings. The story of
Adam blaming the first fault on the woman and the woman blaming it on
the serpent, is a lively symbol of what their descendants have been
doing ever since. The less personal the blame is, the better, and the
more it can be foisted over on some inevitable condition of human
nature, the more generally satisfying it is. A secondary personality
can scarcely resent being blamed for its acts by the primary
personality to which it is attached, and so the field of
auto-suggestion as to the blameless inevitability of certain acts is
likely to widen if it is given a quasi-scientific basis. Long ago St.
Paul spoke of the law in his members opposed to the higher authority,
and declared that the things he would do he did not, while what he
would not do he sometimes did. There is no doubt that there are two
natures in the curious personality of man. Everyone at times has the
uncanny feeling that there is something within almost apart from
himself, leading him in ways that he does not quite understand.
Usually the leading is away from what is considered best in us. But
those who have dwelt much on the better side of man and have tried to
climb above mere selfish aims, have realized that there is also a
power within them leading to higher paths. Indeed, some of the
greatest thoughts that men think, and the resolves that lift them up
to heroic heights, are apparently so far beyond ordinary human powers,
that the hero and the poet and even the more ordinary literary man, is
quite ready to proclaim inspiration as the source of his best
ideas--as if they were breathed into him from without and above.


Personal Responsibility.--For ordinary normal individuals, this
question of secondary personality has scant interest. Normal persons
go about their work realizing that what they want to do, they may do,
and what they do not want to do they can keep from doing, unless some
contrary physical force intervenes. There are many metaphysical
arguments for free will, but none of them is so convincing as the
observation that every sane man, with regard to his own actions, has
the power to choose between two things that attract him. He may be
much drawn to one thing, yet choose another. He may allow himself to
be ruled by baser motives; he may sternly follow the dictates of
reason, or he may do neither and hold himself inactive. In any case,
he realizes his power to choose. While this power may be impaired by
many external conditions, his consciousness of its actuality makes him
appreciate his responsibility. He realizes that punishment for wrong
done is not only a part of the law, but it is also a proper
vindication of that consciousness of free will which all men have, and
which does not deceive them. The question has been obscured by much
talk, but the reality is there, and the common-sense of mankind has
proclaimed its truth. All our laws are founded on it. Without it
punishment as meted out is an awful injustice and crime is a misnomer.


Hysterical Phenomena.--Most of the cases of secondary personality that
have been discussed at greatest length have been in persons who were
as desirous of attracting attention, and as pleased over being the
subject of special study as were the hysterical patients who used to
delight in investigation two generations ago. That most of the
phenomena of so-called dual personalities are mainly hysterical seems
now to be clear. In a few cases, where the patient has found that the
existence of a double personality was of special interest, a definite
tendency to the formation of further personalities has been noted.
Some triple personalities have been discussed and, in a few cases, a
group of personalities, even up to five or more, began to assert
themselves. This reductio ad absurdum, of the hypothesis of
supernumerary personality has revealed the real hysteric character of
the phenomena.

The whole story of secondary personality in recent years vividly
recalls commonplaces in the older medical literature that gathered
around the study of hysteria, and that afford a striking confirmation
of the conclusion as to the relation of the conditions ascribed to
hysteria. Physicians of a generation or two ago who found their
hysterical patients interesting, because of certain marvelous symptoms
which they presented, were usually astonished to learn that their
patients could, under suggestion, develop still further and more
surprising symptoms. Each new visit, especially when other physicians
were brought to see the patient, showed the existence of still further
symptoms and revealed new depths of interesting disease. Indeed, the
soil was found to be inexhaustible in its power to produce ever new
and interesting crops of symptoms.

When the real significance of hysteria as a mental condition in which
patients devoted themselves to the task of furnishing new symptoms for
the physician began to be realized, one of the most potent objections
against this explanation was that it would have been impossible for
the patients to have studied out their symptoms enough to furnish the
new material for study which physicians found so interesting. The
patients were supposed to be mentally incapable of fooling the
physicians. When, however, a person devotes entire attention to the
one subject of making phenomena in themselves appear interesting to
others, some very startling results are usually produced.

After having attracted the sensational attention so common with any
novel observation and having been exaggerated out of all proportion to
its due significance, the phenomenon is now settling down to its
proper place--a rather obscure neurotic phenomenon of memory in
hysteric individuals.


Other Neurotic Symptoms.--Janet's studies at the Salpetriere seem to
show that the alterations of memory which bring about what we call
secondary personality (the forgetting of certain phases of
existence and the maintenance for a time of a small portion of
consciousness and memory quite apart from the rest) correspond with
alterations in the physical basis of memory, that is, in the
circulation to certain portions of the brain, and probably also in the
modes of association of brain cells. They occur, particularly, in
connection with certain phenomena of hystero-epilepsy so-called, or
with the deeper forms of epilepsy in which there are various
paresthesias, hyperesthesias and anesthesias as a consequence of a
disturbance of the circulation in the central nervous system; and
probably also of the connections made by neurons and the movements of
neuroglia cells in making and breaking these connections. These
alterations of memory are represented physically by such cases as
those in which patients so lose their consciousness of sensation that
they are unable to tell even where their feet are. As they themselves
say, "they have lost their legs." In these cases, patients are often
very deaf or have a limited auditory power, and their fields of vision
are extremely narrowed. In most of these cases, recovery of the
original personality takes place after hypnosis. This probably
represents a relaxation of that short-circuiting, within the nervous
system, which brought about the curious phenomenon studied as
secondary personality.


Dual Dispositions.--The studies of secondary personality that we have
had seem to show us persons under the influence of some strong
suggestion, in what is practically a hypnotic condition. There are
many similarities between the actions and the mentality of hypnotics
and of those in secondary-personality conditions. The individuals are,
for the moment, unable to recall what happened in other states. They
may be very different in disposition, gentle and tractable in one
state, but morose and difficult to get along with in another. Such
differences are, however, only exaggerations of the variations of
normal personality. There are times when, under the stress of
circumstances, even the mildest of men and women become querulous and
difficult. It is often noted that people are much more gentle and
careful in their relations with some people than with others. Men who
are known in their business relations to be quiet, easy to get along
with, are at times bears in their homes. This is a matter of the
exercise of inhibition for certain mental qualities, and this
inhibition is neglected for some places and persons. An American
humorist said not long since that a young girl passing a weekend at
the house of a friend, should remember that she is expected to be
unselfish, thoughtful for others, and ready to help her hostess to
make it pleasant for others, so that the party may be successful. He
adds that, of course, as soon as she returns home she should be
perfectly natural again.

At least in a limited sense, all of us have buried in us secondary
personalities that are due to a lack of control of ourselves, or
occasionally to a lack of such initiative as makes possible the best
that is in us. The secondary personality of some people, that side of
their characters that their friends see only rarely, is the best side
of them. Many people, under the demand of some great purpose, rise up
to be really heroic in quality, yet in the commonplace relations of
life they are quite ordinary. The secondary personality in either of
these cases is not something abnormal. It is due to a tapping of
deeper levels in personality than most people realize that they
possess. When taken in connection with hypnotism and the power of
suggestion over susceptible individuals, these adumbrations of
the deeper problem of secondary personality as the psychologists have
discussed it, furnish the best data for its fuller explanation.
Excuses for actions founded on secondary personality must either rest
ultimately on insanity, or else on that lack of inhibition which
constitutes the source of so many of our actions that we regret.

People who are susceptible to hypnotism may remember absolutely
nothing of what occurs to them in the hypnotic condition, though they
will recall it without any difficulty if during hypnosis it is
suggested to them that they should remember it. This represents the
most prominent feature of secondary personality; the individuals who
are affected by it do not recall in one state of personality what
happens to them in the other. In the two states they are very
different in character. These differences have been much emphasized
with regard to a few cases that are especially abnormal and have not
attracted much attention in cases where the differences are slight.
Indeed, in a number of the cases where secondary personality asserted
itself, the differences in the character of the individual in the two
states were practically nil. The only difference was a lapse of memory
for certain important events. Considerations such as these help in the
understanding and psychotherapy of what are sometimes puzzling cases
of apparent dualism of disposition.

What we have to do with here are the suggestions of secondary
personality which neurotic patients have been inclined to make to
themselves as a consequence of the interest in the subject in recent
years. The investigations of Head and of Gordon Holmes have
undoubtedly shown, however, that there are true pathological
conditions associated with certain definite and very marked
manifestations of dualism of disposition consequent upon lesions in
the optic thalamus. These cases so far as can be judged at the present
time, at least, are quite rare and at most would account for duality
and not for the plurality of personality that has come to be discussed
by certain enthusiastic neurologists in recent years. The magnificent
work done on this shows how much may yet be accomplished in the
elucidation of nervous diseases by faithful study and investigation of
selected cases.





Next: Hypnotism

Previous: Distant Mental Influence



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