Why does a gifted psychiatrist suddenly begin to torment his own beloved wife? How can a ninety-pound woman carry a massive air conditioner to the second floor of her home, install it in a window unassisted, and then not remember how it got there? Why would a brilliant feminist law student ask her fianc� to treat her like a helpless little girl? How can an ordinary, violence-fearing businessman once have been a gun-packing vigilante prowling the crime districts for a fight?
A startling new study in human consciousness, The Myth of Sanity is a landmark book about forgotten trauma, dissociated mental states, and multiple personality in everyday life. In its groundbreaking analysis of childhood trauma and dissociation and their far-reaching implications in adult life, it reveals that moderate dissociation is a normal mental reaction to pain and that even the most extreme dissociative reaction-multiple personality-is more common than we think. Through astonishing stories of people whose lives have been shattered by trauma and then remade, The Myth of Sanity shows us how to recognize these altered mental states in friends and family, even in ourselves.
Stout, a clinical psychiatrist at Massachusetts General Hospital and an instructor at Harvard Medical School, writes here about her experiences working with abuse survivors who exhibit dissociative behavior--blacking out, losing time, even developing "alters" or multiple personalities. Engaging in the fashionable practice of analyzing psychiatric disorders in terms of the culture at large, Stout claims that in our repeated exposure to media violence, we have become a "shell-shocked species." In other words, the everyday experiences of distraction and escape ("spacing out" during a meeting, losing oneself in a movie) are not that different--in terms of physiology and behavior--from an abused individual's experiences of dissociation and hypnotic trance, which she illustrates through fascinating accounts of her patients' lives, such as the boy who witnesses his brother being kicked to death by a sexually abusive uncle and the girl whose mother threatens, during a terrifying game of hide and seek, to cut off her thumbs. Stout describes dissociative experiences in compassionate and moving prose ("Julia did not remember her childhood because she was not present for it"; "Garrett's childhood was too terrifying for any child to survive... he became several children, and these children divvied up the horror, and made it survivable"). However, readers may be surprised to find that, title aside, this engaging book never delivers on its initial promise to show us how dissociative individuals have harnessed a particular ability to live life to its fullest; most of the people here seem pretty happy just to have survived. Agent, Susan Lee Cohen.
Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information, Inc.
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February 21, 2002
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