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Shawn's Soapbox

Shawn:  Hello, this is Shawn.  I’ve had a lot on my mind lately when it comes to healthy multiplicity and how it’s looked at.  I finally decided that I’m just going to get on my soapbox and talk about these issues for a little while because I think it’s really important for these things to be discussed.

Yeah, so, disclaimer!  I do not speak for all multiple systems.  I can only speak for my own, and our experience, and the experiences we’ve heard others discuss and talk about, which are similar to ours.  My other disclaimer is that I don’t have any fancy degrees.  This is bourn on experience and massive amounts of hours of reading.  The opinions that I have are not necessarily going to conform to anything that The System says is true.  My opinions may be completely wrong and I just don’t know yet, or I may never know.  Just a little disclaimer there that I’m not claiming to know everything and that you shouldn’t blindly assume that I’m right… or wrong.

Well, the first broader topic that I’d like to address would be the more superficial, uneducated stereotypes that there are about multiple systems.  I think we all kind of know at this point that relying completely on stereotypes to immediately judge someone is probably not a good idea.  But in case you don’t know that, or you haven’t thought about it, stereotypes are not a good way of thinking.  It’s a shortcut.  It’s not something that necessarily results in any accuracy whatsoever.  As a matter of fact, you end up missing a lot of things if you stereotype all of the time.  …People assuming all sorts of stuff after they hear the word “multiple” that have nothing to do with my system at all.  And maybe it has to do with some systems, but I doubt there’s a system in the world that fits every single stereotype that there is, because there’s a huge variety of systems but these stereotypes are pretty ridiculous.  So I was going to start by, sort of, debunking a few of those directly in relation to our system.  Again, it doesn’t necessarily mean this is true for everyone.

Okay, so, I guess I’ll start by addressing one of the most pervasive ones that I’ve seen about healthy multiples in particular.  And this is the idea that we’re all faking it, or acting.  I guess I could see how somebody who didn’t know any systems would assume this, but, you know, it’s basically just a cop-out and a dismissal.  It’s not an attempt to understand anything and it’s not a valid belief to have.  I feel like… I don’t understand how exactly you would fake it.   This is something that confuses me because if you were faking, you would have to have a really good memory, for one thing, that you’d somehow logged what each person in your system was like and then you would have to have all of these ideas of how exactly they would act, and you would have to be very deliberately controlling every movement during your daily life, and I don’t really believe anyone could do that effectively 24/7… that doesn’t seem like it would work very well.

In our case, that’s not what happens at all.  We literally just… do what we’re going to do, sort of like anyone else does, it’s just reflective of whoever is in front, you know?  There’s no, like, giant chart in our mind that has it all labeled as to who would think what on what topic or something like that, and then we have to look at it every time we say something.  That would be extremely difficult.  What there is, is a short list of things that we should all probably pretend to be and do and like so that people think we’re consistent enough so that they don’t find out that we’re multiple. 

The only faking that we ever do, the only faking that we have ever done, is faking being one person.  Because it’s dangerous to be multiple.  If people know about it, there’s a very good chance they’re going to treat you like crap.  So, you know, if that’s your natural state, it’s like, you a lot of times want to keep it secret.  Keeping it secret is the part where we end up faking things, you know, like maybe Erif will be out around somebody, and they will have met Susarin or Yadiloh or something, and they’ll think that Erif’s a Pagan and he’ll have to play along.  Being like, “Oh, no, I’m an atheist” would be like, “But the other day you said you were a Pagan!”  You know what I mean?

Any of the faking/acting we have to do is more like a dampening of our natural mannerisms or changing of them so that we can seem more normal around people who don’t know.  We try to avoid doing this very often, and that’s mainly because it takes a lot of mental effort, it makes us tired to be trying to pretend.  And you know, it’s a pain to have to refer to this list of things all the time that so-and-so knows about us.  We have to at least keep vaguely within the realm of consistency if we want this person to not start to suspect something.

Some people in our system hate it so much that they don’t front around others, especially people we don’t know.  They just don’t generally even come out.  I think that’s kind of sad because it really limits their options, and you know, this is my family, and I care about them.  But it is necessary, because if we were just to openly act like who we are, which we’ve done occasionally and had people actually guess… it’s just one of those things where we’re just trying to live our life, and we’d rather just be left alone by everyone about it, but it’s not the kind of thing where we’d necessarily be left alone if everyone knew.

One that I love is the whole faking it for attention thing.  I think you’d have to be really masochistic in order to fake multiplicity for attention, because the kind of attention you get for being multiple is REALLY BAD attention.  If you were that desperate for attention, there are much better ways you could do it, like, I dunno, getting tattoos and cutting your hair or something.  The kind of attention you would receive is the kind of attention that could literally destroy your life, and so it does not really seem like a reasonable explanation to me, especially when they throw it out there as an explanation for all healthy systems, that we’re faking it for attention, and I’m like, “Do I look like I’m that stupid?”

Another one I’ve heard before is that multiple systems are very self-absorbed.  I think this has its origins in the misunderstanding about how many people are involved here.  Let’s say that me and my entire system all had different bodies, and then, you know, I want to show you a picture of Lila that I drew, that would make me family-oriented, not self-absorbed, because the person who I’m talking about is somebody in my family, someone who isn’t me.  I feel like if you walked into our house and you saw all of the art we have of each other, and you thought we were all one person, you would be like, “Wow, this person is self-absorbed!” because we just have so much art of each other.  But to us, that art is basically the equivalent to other people’s family photo albums, you know?  We can’t take photos of each other inside of our head, so we draw instead. 

I would say we’re extremely family-oriented.  We like to support and validate each other, and the way that we do that is by acknowledging each other through art, in stories and writing, talking a lot to each other, spending a lot of time together, and because we are different people, it’s not self-absorption because it’s literally just spending a lot of time with your family, caring a lot about your family, wanting to make sure your family is healthy.  So I think the whole self-absorbed stereotype just comes out of this misunderstanding of thinking, oh this is one person.

Alright, so the next stereotype I have is that multiple systems are completely out of control.  Like, they don’t control their behavior, they’re not in control of their emotions, they’re not in control of who they are, and all these things.  Again, I think this comes from the idea of thinking of us as one person.  Would it be reasonable for me to actual control my brother or sister’s behavior, my parents’ behavior?  When you’re separate people it’s really not possible.  It’s not reasonable to ask that of somebody.

What is reasonable is to approach the people whose behavior you’re not approving of and ask them to start to work on themselves, and if they agree to, helping them.  That’s how you change someone’s behavior: to be there for them and support them in what they’ve decided to do and how they’ve decided to change, and that’s what we’ve done in our system.

We spent a lot of years trying to control each other, and I can tell you, it does not work.  We’d be very confused that we couldn’t, because we were always told that we weren’t real.  But no, we each have to control our own independent behavior individually.  We can’t control each other.  If I wanted to control Lila, it would be me trying to get into her inner workings and make her do things- that’s not possible.  But if I ask her nicely, “Please don’t run with the scissors!” then she’ll probably stop doing that, because we have a trust relationship, you know, it’s like any other relationship.  You need to establish trust, and then it becomes possible to help each other.  And it’s not a matter of, “I know how our behavior should be and so I’m going to make you conform to it,” or something.  Instead it’s more along the lines of, “This is a goal we have as a group.  Who’s going to contribute?  How are they going to contribute?  You decide, we’ll meet together, we’ll work together.”  It’s a very different dynamic that I would argue actually works, at least for us.  The other way didn’t work.

So, I would argue that it’s a lot healthier to treat people as individuals, because if you don’t, you’re closing this door to them controlling their own behavior, which is ultimately what a lot of mental health treatment is meant to do, you know?  It’s supposed to make it, whether medication or therapy, to where you can control your own behavior.  That’s the point.  And so if this was applied to systemmates individually, I think it would work a lot better than trying to tell one to try to control everyone else.

The other piece of this “out of control” sort of stereotype is that if you don’t keep everybody tamped down and under control then you’re going to go completely nuts, you’re not going to know what’s going to happen, everyone’s gonna freak out, you’re gonna have all sorts of horrible things happen.  Well, if you’re trying to tamp down control on other people, then that does eventually occur.  But I mean, for us, we trust each other so well that when we do have what we call “technical difficulty days” where we can’t control who’s in the front quite as well as we normally do- someone will end up in front, we’ll be trying to get them out of the front, and it won’t really work, they’ll be stuck doing something they don’t like, you know, whatever.  It’s not a cause for panic because we have a trust relationship with each other.  So even if Lila were to show up at work or something, we trust her that she knows how to act like an adult, she knows to be quiet, she knows that if she does a good job we’re going to give her something fun to do later, we’re all going to be really happy if she does well.  She’s motivated by our relationship of love and trust to do a good job if she finds herself stuck in the front for some reason.  But because of that, if we ever lose control of the front, we don’t worry about it nearly as much anymore, because we have this trust relationship where we can talk to each other and whoever would be in the front can talk to the person who is in the front, and they can sort of direct them and tell them what to do, but it’s not in a “You do this now!” sort of way, it’s in a “I suggest you do this because that’s what I normally do in this situation, which is usually my situation.”  And the person will be like, “Okay, sure.”

It’s just a much calmer atmosphere even when something goes terribly wrong, which occasionally happens with our brain.  This whole idea of trust leading to control I think could go really far.

Okay, well, another stereotype that I’ve seen tossed around is that multiples are daydreamers who are detached from reality.  I would argue here that this depends on your definition of reality, which has probably been argued many times before.  I think it’s a really relevant thing to point out because we do do what you could call daydreaming or imagining often, but it’s sort of out of necessity because this is how we communicate with each other.  If we had more than one body, we could just stand there and talk like normal people, but because we don’t, it helps to be able to visualize each other. 

If we didn’t have the headspace, it would be a lot more difficult to distinguish who’s closest to the front and who’s farthest from the front, and that’s very practically important for us.  If someone’s too close to the front, then they end up controlling various body parts in contrast to the person who’s actually fronting.  They end up controlling, you know, an arm or a leg.  God forbid that someone has one leg and somebody else has the other because trust me, the human body is not meant to be controlled in that sort of a fashion.  Running into things, tripping over things, falling into things, terrible balance…  Because we want to avoid that in our practical daily lives, it really helps to visualize the front as different from the back and making the back into a sort of imaginary little world really helps us to distinguish the two.

I think the other argument for imagination being a good thing as opposed to a bad thing, being an asset, would be that… it’s FUN.  If you’re gonna have sort of this bizarre mental configuration that’s not the norm and is difficult to deal with sometimes, you have to find some ways to cope with all the bad stereotypes and all the stigma and all of the, you know, “You’re faking!” and “You’re stupid!” or “Why don’t you get help?” or “Why don’t you check yourself into a hospital?” or blahblahblah.  The best way to deal with it for us is to make a really fancy awesome castle in our head and be like, “I have a castle you stupid assholes!” * laughs *

Sometimes you just have to laugh.  Sometimes you have to have fun.  If our imagination is so good because of how much we’ve practiced using it in order to communicate with each other, why not use it to make an epic headspace?  So I would argue that for multiples, imagination is a tool, sort of like how language is a tool for people who aren’t sharing a brain.  If you have a good imagination, whether visual or auditory or whatever other senses you need to use in there, if you use them to your best effect, it can actually really help how well you function.  And I’m not just talking about in your head, I’m talking about outside your head in the real world. 

So, the next topic I was going to discuss is the idea of multiplicity causing distress to the people who are experiencing it.  I’m going to state my disclaimer yet again, that not all systems are like us.  Some systems are extremely distressed by their state, and we acknowledge that, we support them, we hope that things get better for them.

We aren’t caused a lot of distress, in general, by the fact that there’s more than one of us here, because these days, we enjoy each others’ company and we have a good solid, trust, loving relationship with each other.  To us, that is not the distress.  We have experienced and do experience distress on other fronts, which I will go into. 

In the past, we had so many instances- we have so many memories of this throughout our entire childhood, young adulthood, etc.- of being in a situation where we had done well at something before, so we felt confident, and then we go into the same situation to do the same activity again, and we do a really bad job.  We fail at it, we don’t know what we’re doing, we feel like we can’t do it right.  And then having everyone around us be surprised and dismayed by this, and feeling extreme shame.  This sort of like, four-step pattern would happen all the time.  It did horrible things to our self-confidence, individually and as a group.  I mean, this would happen with any academic subject, it would happen with any sports-related thing, it would happen with driving, it would happen with art, music- just anything.  Anything we tried to do, it was like we were set up for failure, because we didn’t know that in order to be good at one thing, we had to have a specific person doing it in order to have the maximum effect.

Knowing that now, it’s easy.  It’s like we suddenly switched gears from failing at everything all the time to being extremely good at everything all the time.  Because as soon as we figured out what was going on, and we were able to say, “Oh, we need Erif to read this really boring textbook”, or “We need Azulu to do this math” or “We need Arion to draw this picture.”  Suddenly we were able to be good at everything.  So it has a flip side, if you place the right people in the right situations.  But because we weren’t doing that it was awful.

So that would be our main pre-discovery distress.  Our other distress, which has always followed us and continues to follow us, is our fear of being found out as multiple. 

Being found out by people around us- people we work with, people who we go to school with- it makes us really scared to think about people close to us finding out, who don’t know, who we feel would react badly.  Because we’ve been burned, quite a few times in the past.  We’ve had some very negative things said, we’ve experienced some very negative reactions.  And it hurts, you know.  You don’t want to hear that. 

We get very concerned.  You know, we hear horror stories about multiples being found out and losing their jobs and things like that.  It’s a societal problem.  It’s one of those things where if you’re mentally ill, you’re not taken seriously, you’re told that what you think is probably wrong.  You know, I mean there are just so many terrible societal stigmas about mental illness, and the fact that multiplicity is lumped in with that, it really makes it dangerous, physically dangerous, to be multiple.

That fear will probably always follow us, even as tides shift and change, even if people become a little bit better about it in the future… we’ll still have this fear, because we’ve had it for our entire lives.  We’ve always known we were different, we’ve always known that there was something going on.  We figured out pretty much as soon as we entered adolescence that what we were was not okay.  It wasn’t allowed anymore.  We were supposed to be “over” this after we grew out of being a child.  And the fact that we’re still here- it was shame.  A source of incredible shame.

You can’t just say, “Oh, well screw what other people think!”  It takes years and years to get to that point, and you still have that shame clinging to you somewhere inside, and you can’t shake it, because you’re always getting bombarded with these messages about how it’s wrong: “You’re wrong.  You shouldn’t be here!”

It’s upsetting, and I think that we’ll always have that sort of distress, but we have each other, and I think that that is more important than anything anyone else says about us.  I think that’s why we’re all in agreement that it’s okay for us to be a system.  Having each other… if the whole rest of the world hated us, that would be okay.

Alright, so, the next thing I was going to talk about is the issue of delusions.  Before I had done any reading, I just kind of assumed- which I think is what many people tend to assume- that delusions are literally any strange belief that people have that most other people don’t have.  That’s not actually what they are.  Look it up, look up the actual definitions, read up on it, before you assume that you are deluded because you’re different.

Some people do have delusions, and for some people it’s an actual, physical brain malfunctioning moment.  But I think you’ll find, if you read up on it, that that’s very different from acknowledging that there’s something different about yourself that most other people can’t see.  If you’re believing that you’re delusional because you think something about yourself that other people don’t, I think you’ll find that that’s not technically what a delusion is.

Which is why I have a huge problem with people who say that people who believe that there’s more than one person sharing their body are necessarily delusional.  This was something that we used to believe, and it didn’t help us to think that everything we thought was probably wrong and that we should listen to others.  Basically, thinking that you’re deluded prevents you from applying any critical thinking to your own situation. 

I have a problem with that, because I think critical thinking is like the opposite of delusion.  Delusion is believing something despite huge amounts of evidence to the contrary.  Something that doesn’t make any sense compared to the real, physical world around you.  And critical thinking is being skeptical about your beliefs, looking closely, sorting through them, looking at your underlying assumptions and thinking, “Is this assumption valid?  Does this assumption fit with my values?  Do the thoughts I’m having have a bad impact on my behavior or a good impact on my behavior?  Has my life improved since I started to believe this, or has it declined since I began to believe this?”

You should always critically examine your beliefs.  I believe that I’m one person in a body that has 21, at this time, separate consciousnesses in it, who are controlling the body at different times.  This is a pretty odd belief, but I came to it based on a lot of thinking about what I was seeing, observing my own behavior, taking our own experience seriously and thinking about it.  This was not something we arrived at because someone told us to or because we read it on the internet one time, you know?

You gotta think.  And if you come to a conclusion that’s unconventional, continue to think about it, but don’t assume that that means that you’re wrong.  Because you might not be.  The thing is, no one knows the truth about the mind at this point.  Just make sure that it’s your perspective.  Make sure that it’s you who’s making the decision to believe something.  And make sure that belief, whatever it is, is positively impacting your life.  Don’t believe what someone else said without thinking it through first, figuring out if they would actually know, how they would actually know, where they’re coming from.  It’s a lot of work, but it pays off, because then you feel solid about what you think, and then it’s more difficult to have doubts about things that actually improve your life, even if they’re unconventional.

We live in a culture, and ours has norms like every other culture has norms, and these norms are enforced, sometimes very overtly, sometimes in very hidden, sneaky sorts of ways.  If you don’t fit them, especially, you have to watch out for them, because they can wreck your self-esteem and they can wreck your life.  And if you are bucking one, it’s very good to think about where that norm came from, why people believe it, and if you find that doesn’t apply to you, it’s a lot easier to think, “Oh well, maybe it’s okay to trust myself.”

There’s the norm of thinking a body equals a person, and the definition of personhood is very important for us multiple systems, because basically all that we are is devalued by this norm.  You have to realize that it’s all a matter of philosophy, you know?  There isn’t some great stone tablet somewhere with the ultimate truth: “One Person Equals One Body.”  This is just something people think.  If you want to not believe it, you don’t have to.

Personhood is something that has been defined many different ways by many different times and places, so if you want to have your own definition and that helps you, then you should.  In our case, we have different definitions obviously between us.  For example, there are people in our system who would say one person equals one soul, and they believe that we are different souls.  In my personal thoughts on the matter, I would say that a person is a combination of a whole lot of different things: preferences, consciousness, awareness, beliefs, values, and can also, I would argue, differentially react to things that happen in the outside world.  I believe that it’s sort of an amalgamation of things which ultimately add up to that we’re each different people.  I don’t believe that one body is involved.

But there are a lot of people who do, and it’s really just a philosophical difference, not that what the majority believes is The Truth.   Beliefs come from somewhere.  Societal, overarching beliefs come from somewhere.  Read about history and you’ll figure out where they come from, and you’ll feel better.  You’ll feel like, this belief came from this which came from that, but it’s all just theories.

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