Term that has three uses in describing the self (1) the sum
of the characteristics that make up physical and mental being,
including appearance, manners, habits, tastes, and moral character;
(2) the characteristics that distinguish one person from
another (individuality); and (3) the capacity to engage in mental
processes, that is, possessing consciousness (according to
psychical researcher James H. Hyslop).
For psychical researchers, this last definition is of primary
importance. The question of survival after death cannot be decided
until the continuance of personality as a stream of consciousness
is proved. A stream of consciousness is proof of the
presence of a personality.
The identity of this personality, however, is inseparably
bound up with the faculty of remembrance. With a complete
loss of memory a new personality will develop. If the former
memory returns, the new personality tends to disappear. It may
be resuscitated by another attack of amnesia or under hypnosis,
in which case it will act as an independent personality.
The case of Anselm Bourne, investigated by William James
and Richard Hodgson in 1890, is illustrative. Bourne suddenly
lost his memory in 1887 in Providence, Rhode Island, and
eight weeks later awoke in Norristown, Pennsylvania, as a shopkeeper.
He knew nothing of Albert John Brown, the name
under which he lived, nor of the shop or the business. In hypnosis
a secondary personality came forward and Bournes
movements were satisfactorily traced from the moment of his
This was a plainly degenerative case. Bourne suffered from
a postepileptic condition. He had fits of depression from childhood
and in later life presented symptoms suggestive of epilepsy.
Such degenerative instances are numerous. In other cases
the secondary state is an improvement on the primary one.
F. W. H. Myers gave an account of such a case, that of a Dr.
Azams patient, Felida X. She was born in Bordeaux, France,
in 1843, exhibited symptoms of hysteria around age 13, felt
pains in her forehead and fell into a profound sleep, from
which she awoke in a secondary condition. Whereas in her original
condition she exhibited a melancholy disposition, constantly
thought of her maladies, and suffered acute pain in various
parts of her body, in the secondary state she appeared to
be an entirely different person, happy and free from pain.
Such changes at first occurred every five or six days and were
marked by a more complete development of her faculties. Her
memory in the secondary state was continuous. This state was
her lucid one; the primary state was marked by fits of melancholy.
The secondary personality became more frequent and,
relapses of short duration disregarded, slowly suppressed the
A well-developed secondary personality is often followed by
the appearance of other personalities. As many as 11 personalities
were recorded in the case of Mary Barnes (see Journal of
the Society for Psychical Research, vol. 11, p. 231; vol. 12, p.
208). They may come and go, like lodgers in a tenement house.
Among the better-investigated cases of multiple personality in
the literature of psychical research was that of a Miss
Beauchamp, discussed by Morton Prince in Dissociation of a Personality
(1906). Under emotional shocks, Beauchamp developed
four personalities antithetic to her original one. They not
only differed markedly in health, in memories, and in knowledge
of their own life, but they were formally at war with one
another. The third personality, Sally, was the most interesting.
She had all the appearance of an invading, outside entity.
She wrote her autobiography, in which she claimed conscious
but suppressed existence as far back as Beauchamps infancy.
She had a will of her own, could hypnotize the other personalities,
had no notion of time, and exhibited complete tactile anesthesia.
She persistently said that she was a spirit.
Prince attempted with hypnotic suggestion to weld the four
personalities into one. Sally was bitterly resistant. After a long
struggle and much reasoning, however, she agreed to be
squeezed out of existence, and Beauchamp was restored to
one personality commanding the memories of all her former
selves with the exception of Sally.
In the remarkable case of Doris Fischer, Prince had to deal
with five personalities. They were called Real Doris, Margaret,
Sleeping Margaret, Sick Doris, and Sleeping Doris.
Real Doris barely had five minutes conscious existence a day.
The alternating personalities were veritably chasing after one
another for years. After lengthy efforts, Prince finally effected
In the October 1931 issue of the British medical journal The
Lancet, a case of eight distinct personalities is recorded by Robert
M. Riggall, clinical psychologist at the West End Hospital
of Nervous Diseases, London. The personalities were (1)
Mabel, the patient herselfgood, composed, moral, and
economical, without many faults, but usually unhappy; (2)
Miss Dignity, who considered it her duty to do all in her
power to hurt Mabel. Miss Dignity went so far in her hostility
as to write a letter to Mabel, urging her to commit suicide and
saying that she had enclosed a packet of poison; (3) Biddy
bright, cheerful, laughing, and helpful; (4) Hope; (5)
Faith; and (6) Dame Trot, who were harmless and seldom
appeared; (7) Miss Take, so named because she did not know
when she first appeared or what her name was, and added that
she was just a mistake; and (8) another unnamed personality of
an evil stripe.
Slight causes such as hunger, fatigue, or fever are sometimes
sufficient to produce a transient but violent perturbation of
personality. The novelist Robert Louis Stevenson, if ill or feverish,
always felt possessed in part of his mind by another personality.
According to Frank Podmore, overindulgence in daydreams
is probably the first indication of a tendency to isolated
and unregulated psychic activity, which, in its extreme form,
may develop into a fixed idea or an obsession. Theodore
As a crystal splits under the blow of a hammer when struck
according to certain definite lines of cleavage, in the same way
the human personality under the shock of excessive emotions
is sometimes broken along the lines of least resistance or the
great structural lines of his temperament. A cleavage is produced
between the opposite selveswhose harmonious equilibrium
would constitute the normal conditionseriousness
and gaiety; optimistic tendencies and pessimistic; goodness
and egoism; instincts of prudery and lasciviousness; the taste
for solitude and the love of Nature, and the attractions of civilization,
etc. The differences, in which the spiritists see a striking
proof of an absolute distinction between the spirits and their
so-called instruments, awaken, on the contrary, in the mind of
the psychologist the irresistible suspicion that these pretended
spirits can be nothing but the products of the subconsciousness
of the medium himself.
F. W. H. Myers argued that the first symptom of disintegration
of personality is an idée fixe, the persistence of an uncontrolled
and unmodifiable group of thoughts or emotions,
which, from their brooding isolation, from lack of interchange
with the general current of thought, become alien and intruPersonality
Encyclopedia of Occultism & Parapsychology 5th Ed.
sive, so that some special idea or image presses into consciousness
with undue and painful infrequency. (Such a fixed idea has
also, of course, led to some of the major new contributions by
individuals to society.)
In the second stage, Myers maintained, there is a confluence
of these obsessive notions overrunning the whole personality,
often accompanied by something of a somnambulic change.
This is the birth of the secondary personality from emotionally
selected elements of the primary personality. It may attain a
morbid intensity, and it may lead to so-called demonic possession.
In other cases, arbitrary development of a scrap of personality
is responsible for the dissociation. Its most common
mode of origin, Myers believed, is in sleepwalking that is repeated
until the mind acquires a chain of memories related exclusively
to the sleepwalking state; this chain then alternates
with the primary chain.
Sleepwalkers may display a secondary personality as the acts
in repeated spontaneous somnambulism form a chain of memory.
Considering the wide power and tenacious memory of the
subconscious, Myers suggested that the conscious personality
should be regarded as a privileged case of personality, a special
phase, easiest to study because it is accessible. Its powers of perception
he similarly considered a special case of the subliminal
The question of secondary personalities is unanswered, in
spite of continued research over the decades. No single explanation
has emerged as dominant. Within the psychic community,
interest has centered on cases that seem to provide some evidence
of possession or obsession by spirit entities or
reincarnation. Many cases appear to be a matter of abnormal
psychology in which artificial personalities are created from repressed
desires, anxieties, or traumas. The question has been
the center of a new debate within the psychological community
with the emergence of a new set of multiple personality cases
claiming origin in childhood trauma from ritual sexual abuse.
Much obscurity surrounds the development of normal personality
in individuals, a situation likely to remain the case
given the aversion of psychologists to researching personality
using models with large groups of people. Character traits
often change during the course of time. Many apparently normal
individuals sometimes present different personalities in
public from those exhibited in private.
The maintenance of a recognizable personality depends
heavily on accumulated experiences and memories (the most
obvious attribute of an individual personality) and the reassurance
of a familiar body and sensory perception. If one grants
the possibility of survival after death, the sudden removal of
memories, sensory associations, and bodily presence must be a
traumatic experience. The confusing or vague messages relating
to identity received at many séances could be explained on
this basis. Even the triviality of many communications seems
explicable, since the departed spirit might place great value on
such trivialities as reassurance of a continuation of personality.
How real are our personalities Fantasy plays a great part in
the maintenance of personality, nourished by the myriad fictions
of novels, movies, and television shows. Our personalities
have been shaped by fashion and role models that have had
powerful influence through the modern mass media society.
Talented actors and actresses have shown that it is possible to
change roles night after night in a physical and psychological
masquerade that becomes an intensely shared experience with
The larger implications of personality involve philosophies
and religions, which often differ markedly in their understanding
of personality. The imperfections and contradictions of
earthly personality constitute unfinished chapters in the fascinating
story of life, and it is reasonable to postulate sequels in
an afterlife involving progressive evolution of personality.
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