Depression, addiction, and the rise of Mr. Hyde subpersonalities

In addiction circles there’s a fairly well-known phenomenon where addicted people grow a Mr. Hyde sort of personality split. I’d like to explain what I think underlies this. While I haven’t personally experienced it, I had something similar back when I developed a creative personality. By burning myself out in an unwise exercise of relentless self-control and self-abnegation, I bottled up a lot of frustration.

Now, when you suppress the needs and fundamental desires of the different parts of yourself to such an extreme level, those subpersonalities can take revenge in the form of depression. I.e. Most of the time, depression is a response to repeated suppression, just as economic depressions generally come from a political minority interest group oppressing the majority’s interests. The majority responds by checking out, and without motivation there’s no locomotion.

If this goes on long enough, one of the subpersonalities will start taking over. It’s not a split personality like in the movies where you don’t remember, it’s more like the kind where you act impulsively in uncharacteristic ways that confuse you and often horrify you in retrospect. Again, you can draw a parallel to politics where some upstart populist movement is having real effects, and possibly engaging in terrorism. Subpersonalities are generally poor executives, just as terrorists generally aren’t very good at running stable governments. Like women, children, and pet dogs, they don’t actually want to be in charge and they’re very bad at it.

It never really goes away, either. In the case of the creative personality, I’ve been negotiating with it and basically been treating it as a minor partner ever since it showed up. As long as it gets enough time and attention, it doesn’t hijack things too badly. I conceive of it as almost a separate person living in my head, that’s how distinct it feels. I picture it as the turtle guy from a really obscure anime called Kurozuka. Though in personality, it’s very different. That’s just the best visualization of the archetype. In the case of an addict, the personality is a devious child. Think of a poltergeist or a similar trickster figure: a rampaging id with a devious and clever mind for getting the one thing it wants.

The Mr. Hyde subpersonality takes advantage of poor executive leadership to hijack the system and further break down executive function. In my somewhat limited experience, I’ve seen that this is related to failures of transference in big life stage transitions. “Transference” refers to things like the Oedipal complex transferring to the more generalized, symbolic “feminine”. I think there are other such transitions, like when a girl’s self-love transfers to motherly love for her baby. She goes from being the center of her own world to the baby being the center of her world.

But transference has a lot of requirements that I don’t think we understand. You have to have stores of willpower, first of all. That’s why Freud gave up on hypnotism. As he described it, his patients achieved insight under hypnosis but failed to achieve emotional catharsis. I think an underexamined factor is you need positive cultural narratives to make the jump. For example, I believe a lot of post-partum depression is due to feminist propaganda that tells women “Your life is over now”. On top of that, you need a sense of safety and security.

These are death-rebirth cycles where you have to let go of the old you. Like we were talking about before, Americans don’t have the cultural software for this. Death represents moral failure. So people manage these transitions with repression instead of allowing natural changes to take place. They haven’t let go of the old way of being. An ex-convict may turn over a new leaf and try to be a completely different person by sheer willpower without balance. He’s going to have trouble because he’s not trying to be his best self, which includes integrating his natural disagreeableness into a mature disagreeable adult archetype. A disagreeable person can perhaps live as a prosocial disagreeable person, but not as an agreeable person. (Conscientiousness is a bit more malleable, though not infinitely.)

It goes back to that negotiation I referred to before. That’s why we call the process “coming to terms”. When we transition to a new phase in life, we have to assimilate the personal history into the new narrative. It’s kind of like expecting a guy who smokes weed and plays video games all day to shape up the day after he gets married. Sure, there’s a change in hormones that occurs. But a change of such magnitude is probably going to backfire unless the needs that drove the original behavior are met some other way. You can’t go from all-day dopamine to all-day self-control overnight and expect anything other than burnout and recidivism. You have to train self-control like a muscle, which means progressive overload and plenty of recovery time, leading to the accumulation of marginal improvements.

In practical terms, the best self-control training we know of is learning to memorize a deck of cards, which unfortunately is kinda gay. But given how important self-control is, it’s worth doing.

About Aeoli Pera

Maybe do this later?
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2 Responses to Depression, addiction, and the rise of Mr. Hyde subpersonalities

  1. Pingback: Aeoli Pera

  2. rillxn says:

    Underrated post. Chock full of powerful insights.

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