In Between a Personality and a Mood
Fr. Dale Matson
I once worked as a mental health counselor with a nurse on a psychiatric unit. She seemed rather moody to the staff. One day she would be full of compassion and grace and the next time she would be angry and vindictive. She eventually experienced a psychotic episode and needed to be admitted to the very unit she supervised. As it turned out, she was later diagnosed with Multiple Personality Disorder (currently referred to as Dissociative Identity Disorder). It is theorized that individuals with MPD experienced severe trauma as young children. This was in the form of severe sexual and or physical abuse. In order to survive, the individual developed additional personalities that absorb the abuse and distance the original personality from the reality of the trauma. When the other personality or alter ego emerges, the original personality is seemingly unaware and in what is called a fugue (amnestic) state.
Moods are different than personalities in that they are transitory emotional states and not enduring identities like a personality. Moods are usually brief but sometimes last considerably longer than the situation that provoked the mood. Someone can be angry or sad for days, refusing to give up the mood and giving it lodging. Moods are however not necessarily a pathognomonic sign that there is an underlying additional personality.
I believe that there is a third condition that while someone does not adopt an additional personality or personalities, they shift from their usual self to what Eric Berne would call the parent self. In reality the parent self could also be called the “Critical Parent”. Many people have experienced abuse by parents. This abuse did not rise to the level that it caused another personality to develop but it did create a scripted response that is evoked by a situation where a person feels threatened in some way. It is a kind of dissociative state, in that the individual usually does not realize that they have become the critical parent to another person. This third condition is unfortunately all too common in social and work situations. I have been the critical parent and been scolded by the critical parent of someone else. It is most harmful when we hand this down to our own children who carry on the family tradition. It is an unconscious dominant trait. It is reinforced by secondary gain because we reduce the perceived threat.
So how do we deal with this in between state? Perhaps the first step as a Christian is repentance. We know that we do not build ourselves up or even protect ourselves by tearing others down. This is a failure to love others as we should. The second step is coming to grips with how we feel about our parents. If we have forgiven them then we need to be intentional about loving them also, whether they are living or deceased. We need to make peace with our parents who will live forever in our minds and hearts. I believe this frees up good memories that can be held captive by vindictive, self-destructive anger. Finally, we need to be re-parented. What does this mean? It means finding a mentor, spiritual guide counselor or clergyperson who is a good parent. They are adults and treat us as adults, encouraging us and seeing our healthy selves. They model for us how adults relate to and love one another. It also means understanding the love of God the Father through His Son Jesus Christ and Mary our spiritual mother. Amen