The Power of Naming

By the Vickis

We have heard many people spend a lot of time, energy, and emotion on the question "am I a *real* multiple". We spent a lot of time on it ourselves. Our clan used to almost compulsively disclaim "oh we aren't *really* multiple" when we'd go to the MP mtgs in Sanctuary: one of us joked that we were worried that the "diagnosis police" would get us! We felt we didn't want to claim anything that wasn't true. You can see some of our thinking on this in our essay on labels , elsewhere on this site.

BigVicki, a few years ago, considered asking a therapist for some kind of test, to determine whether she was "really" a multiple. (She decided against it for a number of reasons: not wanting anything on our medical records, and not wanting to feel like a performing circus being the two that come to mind.) For several years, she and others of us frequently asked our friends, both multiple and singleton, "do you think I'm really multiple?" [First answer, from our first mp friend: "I think you're almost multiple. I think that if the abuse had been just a little bit worse, you would have split the rest of the way." Most frequent answer: "you seem as multiple to me as any of the other multiples I've met." Our favorite answer: "Well, if you're *not* multiple, what *is* going on?"]

The point is, we looked for validation elsewhere. We looked for validation from our friends, especially our multiple friends; but even when we received it, that didn't "count" somehow, it wasn't good enough. Only an official label from someone who was officially certified as capable of certifying someone officially "multiple" would suffice. In other words, a doctor or therapist, who would apply the label depending on whether we met the official criteria for MPD/DID.

But wait a minute. Why are doctors and therapists the ones with this kind of power?

And it is a tremendous amount of power. The power to name is the power to define reality.

But who says that multiplicity, per se, is in the domain of doctors and therapists? What is a "real multiple", anyway? Why do doctors and therapists get to decide? (And note that "doctors and therapists" are not a single monolithic opinion: there actually is not a clear consensus within the medical/therapeutic community about where, exactly, one draws the line that says "multiple".)

Doctors and therapists are in the business of mental health. Conditions which are mental or emotional illnesses or disorders are properly in the domain of doctors and therapists to name, define, and treat.

But multiplicity per se need not always be a mental or emotional illness or disorder. It appears that it is not the usual state for there to be more than one individual occupying a single body (or, more generally, for the consciousness associated with a single body to experience itself as plural in some way) , but that does not necessarily mean it's pathological, any more than it is pathological to be ambidextrous, doublejointed, or gay - none of which are the "usual" state for human beings.

If we cede the power of naming only to doctors and therapists, then we establish a context in which multiplicity is a disorder; and furthermore, a context in which only disordered multiples are considered to be "real".

The thing that most strikes us about the DSM criteria for DID is that it seems to describe an adversarial system among "alters" with struggles over power and control. If one assumes that different individuals in a multiple system will necessarily have power struggles, one is led to the (surely, slightly bizarre) conclusion that cooperative individuals are not really individuals: "No power struggles? No lost time? No lack of respect for each other? Then sorry, you aren't a "real" multiple, you're just a confused/misguided/malingering singleton."

Surely, this is a philosophical question -- what constitutes an individual, what defines a person -- rather than a medical question? Personally I find it a fascinating reflection of what our society perceives as the characteristics of an individual: it reminds me of the list of characteristics which, when presented to doctors as describing a man, were diagnosed neurotic, but when presented as describing a woman, were diagnosed healthy. What does it say about a contemporary western view of the individual, when our doctors and therapists seem to require that *real* individuals will compete for control over resources, rather than cooperate? Will have an adversarial relationship, rather than a loving one?

We don't claim that every multiple system/household is a happy loving cooperative one. What we do question is the *identification* of "real multiples" with the characteristics or symptoms of a psychological disorder. We go further: we question by what right or authority doctors and therapists are given sole jurisdiction over the definition of "an individual".

This is one reason our clan encourages use of the word "plural" rather than "multiple". "Multiple", even standing by itself, brings to mind MPD/DID, "multiple personality disorder", "dissociative identity disorder", which are specific diagnoses created by the medical/therapeutic community. "Plural" is a much more neutral word, more commonly heard in the context of grammar than psychiatry. (The other reason, of course, is that plural can be construed to have a broader meaning, applying to anyone(s) anywhere on the continuum who experience themselves as plural in some way.)

The power to name is the power to define reality. I/we claim the power to define and describe our own reality. We do not cede it to external authority figures, however impressively credentialed they may be.

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