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Norman Bates: Dissociative Identity Disorder

If you’ve ever seen Norman Bats on an Alfred Hitchcock t shirt, you might have been reminded of him as a famous movie villain. In the movie, Psycho, and the novel on which it is based, Norman Bates is a crazed serial killer who murders multiple women. But it is not his main personality who murders them. Instead it is his “mother” personality, Norma, who murders the women he is attracted to. Norman suffers from what was known at the time as multiple personality disorder, but is now known as dissociative identity disorder. But what is dissociative identity disorder? Is it real?

DID is definitely controversial within the psychiatric profession. It’s also very controversial in the legal system, where some lawyers have used it to argue that their clients suffered from temporary or permanent insanity and were thus not culpable for crimes. Most of the people who do this kind of research agree that DID exists, but they disagree a lot over what causes it. Some people think it’s a social thing, that DID sufferers pick it up from watching movies about DID. In India, television and movies are made about DID that show the person switching personalities in their sleep, so they change from personality to personality after sleeping. Surprise, surprise: DID sufferers in India often switch personalities in their sleep, and some psychologists say that that’s because they see it in the movies.

But remember: that doesn’t mean that DID “isn’t real”. If people really suffer from it, and they really can’t just choose to get out of it, then it’s a real thing. It may not be the same kind of real as something like ebola or a cavity in your tooth, but it’s still real. Even if it’s socially constructed, it’s real. Money is a social construct, but just try and act like it isn’t real. See what happens!

That’s the interesting thing about DID. Is it real? And if it is real, then how is it? Now, I’m no shrink. I’m just a guy who reads about this stuff on Wikipedia sometimes. And I have to keep asking myself, “How real is this stuff?” It’s pretty out there and pretty weird, but is it real? Well, I dunno, is hypnosis real? How about schizophrenia? What about dyslexia or ADHD? Is all of that stuff real, or just excuses that people make up for things? What’s the difference? Is it because a person can’t just snap out of it? Or does there have to be some neurological stuff going on?

One final word on this. Psychological diagnoses change a lot. Every few years, there’s another edition of the DSM, or Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. Some diagnoses drop out, some new ones come in, and definitions change with each new edition. The bottom line here is that, when psychologists say that someone has a disorder, there is more art in it than science. So take it all with a grain of salt, because you never know what’s real and what isn’t.


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