I hope by now you have all seen the film Split and if you haven’t then you should probably go and watch it because it’s fascinating. A truly captivating performance by James McAvoy who delivered a memorable portrayal of what is deemed a very controversial disorder, as well as a striking performance by Anya Taylor-Joy and the rest of the cast which made for a brilliant film overall. Of course, the film stretched the spectrum beyond possibility (as far as we know…) with The Beast but it is a fictional film after all. What raises interest however, is that other fairly extreme parts (the idea of one of the identities possessing diabetes and needing to inject insulin to stabilize blood sugar levels while another does not) are surprisingly not that far off from what has been demonstrated in patients.
Cases of dissociative identity disorder (DID) have been reported to have different identities displaying significant physiological differences: requiring different eyeglass prescriptions, various responses to medicines, colour blindness in one identity and normal vision in another. There has even been an extreme case where one identity breaks out into hives after drinking orange juice due to an allergic reaction, however when another identity takes over the itching and blisters subside and orange juice can be consumed with no effect (Rathus, 2012). Now, these cases are extreme and the evidence surrounding them isn’t quite sufficient enough to be cemented. However, it can be agreed that each personality’s perception of themselves are manifested in extreme behaviours: different accents & languages, handwriting, creative abilities, headaches, chest pains, extreme sensitivity/tolerance to pain, unpredictable responses to medication, anxiety manifestations and more (Braun, 1986).
I shan’t go into the causes of the disorder as that is a whole other controversial topic with arguments from trauma to purposeful hypnosis. With regards to the fact that there are no convergent neuroimaging findings to solidify a biological basis for DID (a change in neuroanatomy, yes, but not a concrete cause), we have no choice but to remain in awe at the marvel of mind over matter. The changes in neuroanatomy does give patients with DID an advantage of having extremely strong thoughts/beliefs of what they’re capable of, but I see no reason why we cannot adopt this at least on a smaller scale.
Have you ever decided you absolutely cannot get ill (like get a common cold) because you have a holiday coming up or exams? I know I have, it’s almost like my body has completely defended it at all costs, then when the show is over and I can let my body relax, all the toxins come flooding in and my body shuts itself down. Have you ever been in pain, stopped for a second and just decided it doesn’t actually hurt as much as you make it out to, causing said pain to subside a little? Sometimes stress can do that to us because we allow it to. I know with my lower back pain – due to an injury last year – I can bend down and feel pain as I’m stressed, stand up and take a second, decide it really didn’t actually hurt too much, bend down again and I kid you not, feel no pain. Sounds really weird but try it. There are even quite extreme cases whereby meditation techniques have allowed people to go through excruciating dental procedures (i.e. root canal) with no numbing injections and generally not feel much pain. Now, I can’t vouch for that level of tolerance but I can say from my experience as someone who had extreme trouble withstanding even small dental procedures as a kid (and I really mean I was a nightmare, ask my mother…), I’ve learnt to now channel certain thoughts that allow me to sit straight through without much of a whimper. Even my dentist says he got shocked at such a change.
Pause: within reason of course, do not bombard this post with “tell that to those with cancer” kind of nonsense.
“As you think, so shall you become.” – Bruce Lee
At the risk of sounding pseudo-philosophical, you have to completely and utterly convince yourself for change to come to fruition. Not think you think it, not 50%, not 80%. Think it so firmly that it would sound insane if you said it out loud (literally, some of the thoughts I go through during dental procedures I laugh at because I’d be deemed a madman). I prefer the term ‘think’ to ‘believe’ but that’s a personal preference; if you have the balls to think it, your body will be at mercy to your mind. I’m not saying we are Charles Xavier but we should acknowledge this extraordinary ability humans possess, for if we don’t, the negative side of it will take effect. You thought it was all positive, but as with everything, the mind has its downsides too. Your body will not react very well to situations you think negatively about, you can convince yourself you’re in more pain than you are in or that you are unable to physically complete a task when in fact if you really tried, you can. To be clear, it’s not simply a case of just imagining things and they will magically happen, it is a two-way force where your mind and body must work in cooperation; think it and act it.
To conclude this seemingly insane notion, is there really any reason not to accept the mind over matter phenomenon? If we don’t accept it and it’s a fugazi then so be it, but if not we may be at the risk of only succumbing to the negative effects that will happen regardless – a win/lose situation. If we do accept it, we can then take advantage of the possibilities and become a better version of ourselves, a 2.0 if you like. Even if you do accept it and it is a fugazi, what’s the worst that can happen? You still have positive thoughts and a smile on your face, which is better anyway (except in situations which may require a cautious realistic approach, be aware of those, but that’s another topic) – a win/win situation. So, don’t expect to think you’re Arnie and instantly go lift a tank. Start small, when you find yourself complaining or reluctant to try something, pause, take a minute and retry with a correct thinking procedure. Find yourself stressing? Pause, and take a minute to remind yourself that stress does nothing but restrain maximum ability and harms your body in ways you probably wouldn’t believe. Treat things as an emergency and you’ll find yourself voluntarily activating the fight-or-flight response in your nervous system, granting your body access to greater physical activity. A year down the line you may find you are quite a different person, simply due to a change in thought pattern.
Please, do not overestimate your mind, but more importantly do not underestimate the power of your mind.
Peace, Love and all that Jazz
Braun, B. G. (1986). Treatment of multiple personality disorder. American Psychiatric Pub.
Rathus, S. R. (2012). Psychology: concepts and connections, brief version. Wadsworth: Cencage learning