“The Myth of Sanity” by Martha Stout, Ph.D.

Subtitle: Divided Consciousness and the Promise of Awareness; Tales of Multiple Personality in Everyday Life

Recommended to me by: a client

This book contains a therapist’s compassionate, engaging views on people who have Dissociative Identity Disorder (previously known as Multiple Personality Disorder) and how they can heal. Martha Stout discusses both specific cases and general themes of survival, courage, integrity, and the process of healing.

After trauma, she says the core question is, “Shall I choose to die, or shall I choose to live?” Those who choose to live, live fully, passionately. Anything less would not be worth the struggle and pain of healing.

Healing requires going back and revisiting traumatic memories while the whole nervous system shouts, “No! Danger!” They don’t all have to be revisited, and perfect recall is not required, but at least a few frozen traumatic memories have to be transformed into narrative memory.

The key predictor of healing is a sense of responsibility for one’s actions. Conversely, prioritizing self-protection above responsibility acts to keep dissociative mechanisms in place. A sense of integrity, or the lack of it, shines through all the dissociative fragments of a person.

We see dramatic portrayals of Dissociative Identity Disorder in books and movies and believe it to be very rare, but most people with DID switch quietly, unnoticed, in higher numbers than we believe. Martha Stout says it is because most people aren’t such good actors, and I think people also try to camouflage switching as much as possible. She validates the anger, frustration, and bewilderment of coping with someone’s quicksilver changes and lack of memory for their own recent words and actions.

She also says that we all dissociate to some extent, whether arriving at a destination without remembering the drive, or being absorbed in a movie, or suppressing “inconvenient” emotions.

For trauma survivors she recommends:

  • Find help, a steady witness, whether a therapist or a friend.
  • Be as safe as possible in the present. Provide your nervous system with a calm environment.
  • Buy comforts, keep a pet, fall in love with silence.
  • Separate yourself from difficult, crisis-addicted, rageful, and violent people.
  • Have routines. Make them sacred. Sleep every night.
  • Meditate.
  • Keep a journal. Note your dreams.

This book is unreservedly recommended!

Available at Powell’s Books.

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