And this is how I met Tyler Durden.
August 17, 2010 8:22 AM   Subscribe

"And this is how I met Tyler Durden." Are there any legitimate lines of psychological therapy that encourage people to create alternate or split identities for themselves? As in, "Today is the first day of the rest of your life as another person that happens to share your name, face and past history."

What are the pros and cons of this approach?

I mean, besides the obvious cracks and drawbacks of popular notions about "split personalities."
posted by Cool Papa Bell to Human Relations (11 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
It's called compartmentalization.
An interesting literary example of this can be found in the novel "Mirror Dance" by Lois McMaster Bujold.
posted by grizzled at 8:48 AM on August 17, 2010

There's also the idea that people who work from home should still dress for work or wear a hat only during work or something so that they can make a better distinction between being at work and being at home.

Page of search results from Lifehacker tagged with "work at home."
posted by theichibun at 9:00 AM on August 17, 2010

There is certainly a legitimate critique that many forms of psychotherapy encourage people to wallow in the past and be limited by it, rather than making a clean fresh start and focusing on the future. I don't know of any therapy models that advocate anything extreme enough to be called "split personality."
posted by alms at 9:01 AM on August 17, 2010

What comes to mind for me immediately, besides compartmentalizing (which is considered a normal and common defense mechanism, in psychodynamic theory), is narrative therapy, although it's not an exact correlate of what you're describing in Fight Club.

The idea is that whatever problems/issues one is dealing with can be viewed as a narrative/story that is changeable and controllable by the individual. A problem, when externalized as an outside force that influences a person negatively (as opposed to a character flaw that is a bad/permanent/unmovable part of who s/he is), can be investigated and then sort of deconstructed, and then reconstructed or retold. Once the problem is split apart from who a person IS, the problem is something that could be surmountable because the person can start to imagine a new narrative in which things are different. So the part of the person affected by the old story gets split away, in a sense, in favor of a new story in which the person can conquer the problem.
posted by so_gracefully at 9:12 AM on August 17, 2010

Not really, no.

Compartmentalization is perhaps sometimes taught as a strategy for coping with things, but it isn't really the focus of any particular therapeutic technique. Narrative therapy and externalization are useful, but they certainly don't come close to the level of Fight Club (as I think so-gracefully explains).

I can't really speak to pros and cons, except to say that most therapeutic modalities have some level of focus on what I'll broadly call "integration." Sometimes this can be quite explicit, such as when therapy for someone with multiple personalities (dissociative identity disorder) focuses on integrating the disparate identities into one personality; sometimes it is less explicit but still present, as when Cognitive Behavioral Therapy seeks to reduce absolute thinking with recourse to contextualization and putting things into perspective. Certainly the notion of an "authentic" personality is problematic, but most forms of therapy seek to help people recontextualize outsize symptoms into an expanded understanding of "normal" life.
posted by OmieWise at 9:32 AM on August 17, 2010

Psychosynthesis encourages the exploration and, in some cases, enhancement of subpersonalities with the eventual goal of re-integrating those subpersonalities into a cohesive identity. Part of the theory is that we all have subpersonalities that unconsciously run some aspects of our lives. By making these subpersonalities conscious and "giving them a voice," we can understand ourselves more completely.
posted by hworth at 10:37 AM on August 17, 2010

I'm surprised no one has mentioned 12 step groups, where addicts and alcoholics are encouraged to create a renewed identity completely disassociated from (often terrible) past habits and behaviors by labeling those former thoughts and actions as, "the disease," assisted by the rituals of confession, amends, spiritual conversion, didactics, etc. Hard core steppers will even label any backsliding in thought or deed (besides the acts of abusing drugs or alcohol) as "the disease."
posted by availablelight at 11:41 AM on August 17, 2010

IANAPsycho-anything, but a family member is a psychotherapist. She has done work with something called Internal Family Systems (wikipedia).

From the article: "It combines systems thinking with the view that mind is made up of relatively discrete subpersonalities each with its own viewpoint and qualities."

Through therapy people get in touch with the different subpersonalities and learn to listen to different parts, tell other parts what to do, and ultimately process past trauma.

Might be what you are looking for.
posted by joshers13 at 1:27 PM on August 17, 2010 [1 favorite]

So you're asking if there's a word for "I don't want to kill myself, I just don't want to be myself anymore; how do I kill 'the old me' off and become somebody else"? Not a gradual process of making changes to your existing personality, but a clean break from an old self to a new one?
posted by bartleby at 2:19 PM on August 17, 2010

Internal Family Systems fits well within the integrationist school I outlined. I've been thinking about availablelight's 12-step idea, and it does seem to come close.
posted by OmieWise at 2:44 PM on August 17, 2010

Response by poster: So you're asking if there's a word for "I don't want to kill myself, I just don't want to be myself anymore

More like ... there are plenty of examples in fiction of people making clean and not-so-clean complete psychological breaks with a previous identity...

* Fight Club
* Youth In Revolt
* The Count of Monte Cristo
* Twelfth Night
* The Great Gatsby
* Don Draper

And the thought occurred to me ... dude, does that actually work? As in, would creating a new internal identity from scratch ever be really recommended by a real psychologist as an actual solution to a problem?
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 5:00 PM on August 17, 2010

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