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Empowerment and Mental Illness

In the few short years that internet use has been common, it has become a haven for all kinds of unusual people. Fans of independent music, members of uncommon religions, and those who simply place themselves outside the bounds of “normal” all can meet online and share input with others like themselves. The internet has been a godsend for many subcultures that would otherwise be scattered and disorganized.

Some groups that have become connected on the net might never have found other people otherwise. The perceived anonymity online allows people to come out and say things using free webpages and hotmail addresses that they’d never say face to face. Online support groups allow people facing many severe health problems to get into contact. Out of these support groups has grown one of the most fascinating movements online right now: empowerment.

Empowerment itself is not a new idea. Homosexuals used it in the 50s and 60s to pursue the idea that homosexuality was not a mental disorder, but rather a mental state no less valid than heterosexuality. (Samar) In the late 90s, as support groups online increased in size, some members of these groups came to the conclusion that they were uncomfortable seeing themselves as “victims” of these disorders. Because of the online environment, people were comfortable sharing details of their problems with others, and sharing ideas that most people, even those in the support groups, did not agree with.

The strongest empowerment movement is among those traditionally seen as suffering from MPD (multiple personality disorder) or DID (dissociative identity disorder). DID has in recent years replaced MPD in terminology within the psychological profession. DID is currently defined in the DSM-IV as “The presence of two or more distinct identities or personality states (each with its own relatively enduring pattern of perceiving, relating to, and thinking about the environment and self).” Many multiples, as the people with this disorder call themselves, reject the change from the MPD to DID as a statement from the psychological community at large that their mental state is nothing more than a big game of pretend: “it is derogatory to refer to us as mere identities or “personality states”. Such terms are used to make multiples appear delusional. A line like this comes across as one person “thinking” they are more than one person, rather than the reality of several people being in one body.” (V)

Empowered multiples believe that there is nothing inherently wrong with having more than one being in a body, and a key tenet of this community is that integration is not necessary. Integration, the merging of all personalities in a body, is the goal of almost all DID therapy. Sharon, one of the alters (personalities) of the webmaster of Dark Personalities, says in an essay: “Many multiples have proven themselves capable of living happy, productive lives WITHOUT INTEGRATING. There is no cure for being a multiple…it is a state of being, and just as natural as being left-handed.” This belief is stated again and again in the empowered multiple community.

There has been a strong backlash by empowered multiples against the traditional support group mentality. Support groups rely heavily on ratings, trigger warnings, and other restrictions of what is said and how. For example, SplitAngels.org uses a trigger warning system ranging from “General Use” through “Potentially triggering” and “Caution, Should refrain till the system is stronger” to “(Satanic)Ritual abuse Content”. (splitangels.org) In the same essay on Dark Personalities, Sharon says, “I know I have a disillusioned opinion of survivor groups, but I have had enough! Survivor groups believe that being a multiple means that you have a mental disorder, you cannot live on your own and you need to integrate in order to be cured’.” Many of the empowered multiples were rejected by the traditional survivor groups for their unorthodox opinions on integration, abuse, and other issues. They feel that support groups coddle members, and reinforce the belief that multiples need “dependence on experts and pills and hospitals and, essentially, external controls on multiples, simply because they are multiple,” as two members of a system say in “The Empowered Multiple”. Instead of depending on others outside themselves, “an empowered multiple stays aware of the twin dangers of blind acceptance and denial.”

Multiples are not the only group that uses the internet to speak against the way they are treated by the medical and mental health communities. Autistics have also used it to promote the idea that autism is not a disease that needs to be cured. Jim Sinclair, an autistic man who is the coordinator of Autism Network International, described autism as, “a way of being. It is pervasive; it colors every experience, every sensation, perception, thought, emotion, and encounter, every aspect of existence.” Throughout the Autistics.org website, the webmistress expresses her anger at being seen as something that needs to be cured. “For most of us, cure’ sounds exactly like kill the person you are, but animate your body with some alien force.’ For most of us prevention’ sounds exactly like genocide’.”

As one essay on the site puts it, “If you love us, don’t try to cure us, and don’t try to prevent us.” (Baggs) These people are arguing that what they are is not wrong, but different.

The point of this essay is not for me to decide whether I agree with empowered multiples and autistics about their mental state, but to draw attention to the way in which people who are traditionally powerless in society can reclaim that power using the internet, to find others who feel the same way as themselves and to explain themselves to others.

Bibliography

American Psychiatric Association. Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders, fourth edition. Washington, DC: American Psychiatric Association,1994.
Baggs, Amanda. “Love, Devotion, Prevention, and Cure”.
“Five Conflicting Views About MPD and DID”
Samar, Vincent J. The Gay Rights Movement. Fitzroy Dearborn Publishers, 2001.
Sinclair, Jim. “Don’t Mourn for Us.” Our Voice: Autism Network International Newsletter, Volume 1, Number 3, 1993
SplitAngels
Teresa and JJ. “The Empowered Multiple”.
Tisoncik, Laura. Autistics.org: Resources by and for Persons on the Autistic Spectrum.
V. “Why We Are Not MPD/DID”.