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.

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