Who is the real you?

An ignorant and unsympathetic society often turns cruel to persons who reveal dual or multiple sides of their personality. The `possessional syndrome', which is a type of `Dissociative' hysteria, needs therapy, compassion and is curable, says Dr. C. P. SOMASUNDARAM.

THERE WAS an eerie silence at the village on that dark summer night. Suddenly a cry broke the quiet and a distressed woman came howling and screaming into the open. She was rushed to the hospital, claiming to be being stabbed with a knife by an unidentified person. On arrival she fell unconscious. Her condition seemed stable and there was no wound or injury on her.

After a while, when the patient regained her consciousness, she seemed a different personality. Her emotional and behavioural pattern was different. She showed symptoms of a retroactive amnesia and a narrowing of the consciousness. These were to serve an unconscious purpose by making her unaware of her actions and utterances and thereby protecting her weak ego and personality.

Shanti, as she was known, complained of headache, insomnia, fatigue and vague aches and pains all over her body. As a young woman she aspired to become a professional person. But met with great disappointments and failures. She felt sad, dejected and worried over the future. Conventional treatments brought her no desired effects. Hypnotic treatment helped to remove her vague complaints, to get good sleep at night and improve her general health. As a part of the therapeutic programme, "probing" method, both into her family background and present difficulties, was done to build up the case of her illness.

Extensive counselling revealed that her childhood environment, hereditary factors and a number of traumatic experiences were the causes of her present condition. From her account Shanti's mother was a neurotic. She had inherited her mother's neurosis. Daydreaming and severe mother-dependency had affected Shanti's personality. A violent and insensitive father forced her to live in a make-believe world.

Having attained puberty at the age of 13, Shanti lost her mother at this impressionable stage of her life. She grew superstitious and felt guilty beyond limits. Many a time she would turn delirious with grief, but there were none to console or counsel her during such depression. Her unsympathetic father was of no help and Shanti suffered mental shocks and nervous breakdowns. The onset of persistent headache and excessive fatigue, throughout the rest of the years, made Shanti almost an invalid. She lived with nightmares and often wet her bed. An attempt to molest her by a counsellor was the last straw and her mental defences broke down completely. An imagined incident like the `stabbing one', by Shanti, was symbolic of the traumatic sexual experience. All these turned her into a disintegrated personality.

Then another alternate personality Nisha emerged. In one of her counselling sessions Shanti disclosed about Nisha. Nisha, who had died of burns, was believed to wander through the village yelling and scaring young girls of her age. According to village folk the spirit of the dead girl entered into the body of others. Nisha, while alive, had a great influence on Shanti..

During another hypnotic session Shanti's alternate personality showed up. She began speaking in a changed voice with different facial expressions. A possessed Shanti, impersonating as Nisha said, "I am a dare-devil, a debauchee and I care a tuppence for anyone in this world. I will mix mud and hairs in food, spit upon persons, collect cockroaches and scare everybody. I can strip naked and bring shame to this girl. I can make life wretched for this modest and saintly girly. You are all trying to drive me away. Yes, I will go, but only with the life of this girl," she giggled and looked at us lewdly.

Though these two personalities, Shanti and Nisha were in striking contrast, they existed side by side in the same person, suggesting strongly the underlying "depth-psychology" in all manifested cases of hysteria.

Surprisingly, Shanti never knew for several years the existence of an alternate personality in her. She was only aware that under compulsion she acted in consistence with her normal personality and that she could not help doing so. Nisha had complete access to Shanti's thoughts and memories. She made Shanti to share all her bad experiences by exploitation and force.

Shanti would be amnesic to all these experiences, the kind of amnesia, which Shanti exhibited, was the one true characteristic of all so far recorded cases of double and multiple personality.

In R. L. Stevenson's `Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde', the catalyst transformed the benevolent Dr. Jekyll into a raging Mr. Hyde.

Here in the case of Shanti, the transformation was brought about by psychological problems. The repressed desires and emotions of Shanti loomed large as to form another extensive segment of personality and emerged as Nisha.

Therapy on dual and multiple personalities revealed the desires, disappointments and unfulfilled wishes through this alternate persona. Regular counselling sessions helped the patient give vent to repressed desires and slowly a healthy mind emerged. Thus it was only the repressed emotions, which manifested and unless that was not dealt, the cure of the patient would remain incomplete.

After corrective therapy, Shanti turned into a peaceful woman looking ahead at life with self-esteem. The story of Shanti and Nisha, in clinical terminology, is a type of `Dissociative' hysteria, which is curable, but alas, illiteracy, witchcraft and an unsympathetic public banish such personalities to the fringes of society where they live a doomed existence.

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