Multiplicity : The New Science of You by Rita Carter
Little, Brown, 2008, 270 pp, hardback, ISBN 978-0316730882
Review published in Focus, February 2008, 80
Have you always assumed you were one whole person? That even when one part of you acts quite at variance with another, there’s really an authentic “you” to be found inside? According to Rita Carter’s latest book you may well be wrong, and it’s no good going searching for the “real me”. Instead, she argues, we are all multiplicities. That is, each of us is made up of a mixture of many different personalities – majors, minors and micros – all held together by shared memories.
This book is a new venture for Carter, branching out as it does into therapy and self help. The first part of the book gives the theory and background to dissociation and multiple personality, while the second tells you how to delve into your own mind and find out just who is lurking there.
Carter is not saying that everyone is a split personality, or has “multiple personality disorder”. These conditions are indeed pathological and require treatment. Rather she is urging us to realise that there is a continuum of dissociation, with most of us in the healthy range. According to this view, a little dissociation can be a good thing. Take the example of Lucy – just one of Carter’s many real-life stories. As a little girl she retreated from the sounds of her parents fighting, first by looking at a pretty picture of children in a garden, and then finding herself inside the picture. Once she could do that she found the picture helped her cope, and eventually she didn’t even need the picture, she could just imagine the garden and she would be there. Now she uses a similar skill to cope with a boring job.
Modern life, says Carter, is increasingly demanding, and forces people to use dissociation more than they ever did in the past. She contrasts the typical life of a woman now with the life her mother would have led. Life is richer, faster, more varied, and involves more personal interactions than anything people faced in the past. No wonder we learn to construct different selves to cope with all these varying demands.
What should we do about it? The second part of the book is Carter’s answer. Here she describes the “personality wheel”; a circle with five dimensions on which you can begin to place your own selves, by doing the exercises and filling in the questionnaires. Further examples introduce a whole family of possible selves; the guardian, the driver, the worrier, and the pleaser, to mention just a few. The final section explores ways you can help your family of selves to work together in harmony.
Readers will doubtless recognise themselves, or parts of themselves, in many of these vivid characters, but I was left wondering how much evidence there is that this process really works, or even whether it might be dangerous for some people to delve too deeply into their protective mechanisms. I also doubt whether many readers will have the stamina to complete all the many pages of questions. Even so, this book has something for everyone who wants to learn more about their many selves within.