The “cohabiting” voice within

A couple of clicks away from this Mockingbird post is a fascinating essay by psychotherapist Dr Michael Sinason: “Who is the mad voice inside?”

This essay discusses the intriguing concept of “internal cohabitation”: the idea that we do not have only one mind in our body, but two, one of which (the one most familiar to us) is “relational” in nature, the other “non-relational” and largely hidden from our conscious awareness. (See this Metafilter post for further links and discussion – including some comments that are highly critical of the concept, which is worth bearing in mind in what follows.)

Dr Sinason argues that this concept is hinted at in our language about the mind: the way we talk about being “in two minds”, or being “single-minded”, or having “half a mind” to do something. He then expands on these hints based on psychoanalytical theory and his own experience of treating psychotic patients – for whom “the voice inside” of their “ill-advisor” has become a dominating force in their lives.

Dr Sinason argues that this is not a case of talking about “parts” of a single “personality”. Rather, this should be seen as a genuine “co-residency of two minds in one body”, and this should be taken as the basis for treatment, in which:

…the prior alliance between the patient and his cohabiting other mind is replaced with a new alliance between the patient and the analyst.

One thing I’m not entirely clear of from Dr Sinason’s essay is whether he regards the “cohabiting other mind” as existing in all of us (but becoming a dominating influence in psychotic patients) or whether it only exists in some people. The Metafilter article suggests the former, but unfortunately most of the links from the article are to paywalled sources so it’s difficult to verify the point.

If this “other mind” exists in each of us, though, then why are we not more aware of it? One aspect is its highly “non-relational” character; its intense desire to remain hidden and out of the sight of other people (including our own “relational mind”).

So who is this other mind, this “mad voice within”? At the end of his essay, Dr Sinason gives “a brief sketch” of his answer to this question:

I think that the mad voice inside is someone who is conceived at the same time as the patient and shares the same sex as the patient since they share the same body. Living all of his life out of sight and out of the mind of others the cohabiting other mind becomes attached to his isolation and hates to be seen. […]

The cohabiting other mind has needs which can be met but he would sooner die than acknowledge that he has any needs to meet and he is exercised wherever possible to interfere with the joining of need with provision. Hate is directed equally at people who meet his needs or who fail to provide for them. His hate and negativism never changes and he is therefore totally reliant on the patient for his safety.

The cohabiting other mind will live as long as the patient but has no interest in the life of the patient or his own except as a conduit for sensual experiences. Left to his own devices he will keep the patient subjugated to the service of sexual and physical abuse and its extensions into maiming and death since these are the only ways of relating that he knows about.

This moving and disturbing description reminds me of C.S. Lewis’ description of hell in The Problem of Pain: the remnants of what were once humans eating themselves up inside with hatred and self-centredness. (Dr Sinason quotes Lewis’ The Great Divorce in his essay, which I hope to come to in my next post.)

But Dr Sinason does offer hope from treating patients for whom the other mind has become destructively dominant:

The problem for the patient of learning how to look after the other mind cohabiting in his body is substantial but not as insuperable as his cohabitant would have him believe. With patience and hard work a genuine interest in the otherness of this being can be fostered in the patient to replace the attitudes of confrontation, condemnation and impugning of character and integrity with which he starts and which so exacerbate and inflame the problem.

As noted above, the concept of “internal cohabitation” would appear to be far from uncontroversial, so I’d be interested to know what people think (especially those with some professional knowledge of these matters).

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3 Responses to The “cohabiting” voice within

  1. Phil Walker says:

    It sounds to this utter non-specialist like he’s carrying a reasonable idea rather too far. The idea that there are two sides to a personality, one which is controlled and (for want of a better term) civilised, the other uncontrollable and savage, matches my own recognition of those mad thoughts which come from within but do not come from anything I can comprehend.

    So where do the mad thoughts, those things which appear unbidden, come from? The more supernaturally-inclined would attribute them to some kind of demonic force, but while I don’t deny the possibility (“Our name is Legion, for we are many…”), I deny forthrightly the idea that demonic influence is a normal part of life. (I guess I also assume that I’m normal. We all have our delusions!) I’d be quite friendly to the idea that we are fractured beings, whose personalities have been broken apart by what we would, theologically, term sin. Both sides of that riven personality are affected by sin, but the madman in the mental attic is perhaps the first example each of us comes across of sin’s divisive effects.

    But then to elevate that into two separate persons in one body, as he appears to do, is perhaps pressing that rather too far.

  2. Pingback: Confessing Evangelical » Blog Archive » The Ghost, the Lizard and the Angel

  3. Pingback: Confessing Evangelical » Blog Archive » Here be demons

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