More Than One: A Plural 101
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Plurality (or multiplicity) is the existence of multiple self-aware entities inside one physical brain.
You could think of a plural collective as a group of lifelong roommates, but with a body instead of an apartment.
It's a concept that fascinates many, the idea of always sharing your life with others, never being alone no matter where you go. Yet, for all that, there's a lack of understanding and a great deal of stigma surrounding plurality, and many plurals hide as a result.
There are many dimensions to being plural. This site only scratches the surface of the topic, but we hope that it can go some way towards building understanding, regardless.
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There are many terms related to plurality. These are only the most common ones.
Different plurals have different preferences when it comes to language. Treat this list just as a starting point.
System (or collective): The plural group that resides within a single brain.
Fronting: When an individual controls the collective's shared physical body, sometimes called the “front”.
Headspace: An internal landscape shared by a collective, and often where people go when they are not at front.
Singlet: Someone who is not plural. One being in one brain.
Switching: When collective members exchange control over the front.
It is not fully known what causes plurality, and it is likely there is not a single cause.
The clinical diagnoses of Dissociative Identity Disorder and Other Specified Dissociative Disorder are typically believed to originate from severe childhood trauma.
Outside clinical psychology, some plurals attribute their plurality to non-trauma causes. Some consider it a difference in their brain that they were born with. Others consider it a spiritual phenomenon.
There are even plurals who were not originally plural, but who became plural when their mental creations came to life, accidentally or intentionally.
There are also plural collectives who do not know their origin, who have mixed origins, or who do not see origin as relevant at all.
There are differences in functioning between the various plural origin types. For example, trauma plurals tend to experience more issues with memory and numerous PTSD-related difficulties that many non-trauma plurals do not.
However, they all share the common thread of being more than one.
Myth: Plurality is ultra-rare. The International Society for the Study of Trauma and Dissociation places the prevalence of DID at approximately 1 to 3% worldwide. This is in the same scope as autism or OCD. The number is only higher once you add in OSDD plurals and plurals who do not identify within clinical terms.
While plurals are certainly not a majority, it is highly likely you've encountered at least one over the course of your life without realizing it!
Myth: Plurals are dangerous. This particular myth is likely due to Hollywood's many portrayals of DID plurals as violent axe-murderers. To say the least, don't believe everything you see on the big screen.
According to a statement released by the ISSTD, recent research finds no correlation between having DID and committing crimes. Those with DID are much more likely to be the victims of violent crime than the perpetrators.
Sadly, most violence done by DID plurals is towards themselves. Over 70% of those with DID have attempted suicide at least once, due to (among other things) the weight of past trauma, comorbid health issues, lack of access to competent and compassionate healthcare, and frequent retraumatization from social stigma and ignorance.
There are no statistics released for plurals outside the clinical scope, but it is safe to say that they are unlikely to be violent either, no more than any other marginalized group.
Myth: Plurals are mentally ill and need to merge to become healthy. While it was once commonly believed in psychiatry that plurality was inherently disordered, modern treatment guidelines now acknowledge that it is possible to live successfully and happily as a plural. Informed therapy for DID now focuses more upon resolving past trauma and teaching collectives to work together, with integration (the formal term for merging) optional.
Even after learning cooperation and working through past trauma, some plurals still find being plural difficult and opt for integration. Others can't even fathom the thought, and view the concept with great uneasiness. Still others may partially integrate, while others may attempt integration, only to find that singlethood either isn't possible for them or only makes things more difficult.
Just as with everything else, integration is personal for every plural. The decision to integrate or to remain plural can only be made by them, and them alone.
Myth: Plurality is all made-up. Brain imaging studies have been conducted on DID plurals that have shown significant differences between collective members, differences that were not present in trained actors who were pretending to have DID.
There have been no such studies done on non-clinical plurality yet, but interest has been growing in the field.
Myth: Plurality is a miserable state of being / a gift with no downsides. Plurality is neither inherently better or worse than singlethood (one entity in one body). Some plurals are happy being plural, some are unhappy, and others are in-between.
Never being alone can be a blessing. It can also be a curse. You can be super close to your roommates, or you might fight a lot, or you might just get along. And sometimes you can have things going on that make having roommates easier or harder. Even the best of friends fight sometimes.
All of this is true for plural collectives as well. It can be challenging to make sure every member is heard and taken care of. It can also be rewarding, when everyone supports each other to achieve things they couldn't alone.
What is it like?
There are many ways to be plural, and many dimensions to living as plural.
This page only barely scratches the surface, and is not representative of all plurals. Don't be surprised if you meet a collective who hasn't been described here!
Just as with any other group of people, members within plural collectives vary in how and how well they get along with each other. Some coexist happily while others fight, but in all cases, they must learn how to communicate, compromise, and communicate amongst themselves. On top of the basics are various unique challenges related to sharing a body, such as managing outside time and relationships as a group. It is an experience with both its challenges and rewards.
Identity Plural collectives vary greatly in how separate their members are. A collective might see themselves as one being made of many facets, or many people coinhabiting one head, or even somewhere in-between. Members may also vary greatly in how different their personalities are: there are collectives where the members are extremely similar in terms of beliefs and behaviors, and others where the members are as different as any group of people picked at random off the streets.
The subjective identities and self-images of collective members might not match their body. There are members who may be internally younger or older than their body's age, members who are of different genders, and even nonhuman members.
Communication Communication between members is crucial to a collective's functioning. Establishing internal communication, in fact, is a major part of DID therapy.
Some collectives are able to communicate with each other relatively easily, simply by thinking what they want to say at each other, like internal telepathy. In many cases, they are able to send raw thoughts and feelings to each other in addition to words, making communication somewhat easier (but not infallible).
There are some collectives who cannot communicate mentally at all, and instead communicate by leaving each other notes, keeping schedules and to-do lists, and writing in journals.
There are many collectives who fall somewhere in the middle, being only able to communicate through vague impressions. There are also cases where some members of a collective will be able to communicate easily, while others will have much more difficulty.
Even in collectives who can communicate reliably, communication can be disrupted by life stress, improper medication, or other factors, and so many groups have contingency measures for if this happens.
Headspace Internal worlds vary greatly in terms of scope and function. Some headspaces are extremely simple, being nothing more than a single room or field where people can talk. Others are more elaborate: small villages, great mansions, sprawling forests. Still others are as complex as any fantasy writer's paracosm.
Some collectives do not have internal worlds at all. Instead, when someone is not actively fronting, they sit in the “backseat” or fall asleep.
Switching Plural collectives vary in both the amount of switching they do, and the measure of control they have over it.
There are some collectives who never, or almost never switch. There is one member who stays at front, while the others stay in the headspace.
There are some collectives who switch constantly, handling their physical life in shifts of hours, days, or even weeks. Certain members may have specific jobs: for example, one member may attend school or work, while another handles chores at home, while another steps in only to handle dangerous situations.
For those groups who switch, there is a spectrum in terms of how much control groups have over their switching. Some may be able to switch almost at will, while others have almost no control. Many fall in between: switching can be controlled for the most part, but there are still conditions that will cause members to either involuntarily swap or get “stuck.” As with communication, both establishing a greater degree of control over switching and finding ways to manage involuntary switches are major parts of DID therapy.
Governance There are many ways by which collectives govern themselves, laying down rules for everything from how to interact with people outside, to how to take care of their body, to how to treat each other.
Some collectives, especially smaller ones, are extremely informal about their governance. Like a group of roommates, they decide on some basic guidelines and ask each other when if in doubt.
Some collectives have a single individual, or group of individuals who are trusted to handle everything related to a collective's outer life. Others might have everyone vote on bigger decisions. Some expand this further, creating internal parliaments, and writing up formal charters.
Very few collectives run themselves without any rules at all — some degree of order, even if it's as simple as a shared agreement to harm none outside or inside, is vital to successfully living together.
See also: – MPD For You and Me by LB Lee – Our Plural Experience by Yavari of Sylvans – Non-Binary Plural: Language/Concepts for OSDD and Median Experience by cedars – I am Mr. Robot and additional commentary by pluraldoxa – I am not Sarah and Love by Sarah K. Reece – Essays by Nsashaell System
Every system has their own preferences on how they would like to be treated, but the following tend to be common rules of thumb.
Do not ask if they are dangerous. Hollywood is not a reliable source of information.
Don't ask to meet the “real” person. Everyone in a plural collective is real.
Don't assume that members of the collective have the same opinions, preferences, etc.
Do not out a collective without their permission, even if you think the person you are outing them to would be understanding.
Do not push them into therapy or medication against their will. If they haven't expressed any interest in integration, don't broach the topic with them. (Likewise, if they have decided to pursue care of their own volition, don't push them out of it.)
Do not pry into their trauma history, if applicable. (This includes asking if they have one.)
Remember that a plural collective is a group of beings. Many appreciate it greatly when outsiders refer to individual members with their individual names and pronouns. (After all, it's awkward to refer to someone by their sibling's name.)
If you're not familiar with them as individuals, many plurals will have some preference on how to refer to them as a collective: usually with plural “they/them,” and with their group name. (You might think of this as referring to someone by their surname/family name.)
If in doubt, ask what they prefer, and follow their lead.
Essentially: respect their right to privacy and self-determination. Unless they've identified themselves otherwise, think of them as a group of roommates rather than as one person with multiple personalities. Or a troupe putting on a show of singlethood in order to make ends meet. Being invited backstage is a great act of trust — don't break it.
Am I plural?
(There will be an article of our own writing here at some point in time. In the meantime, please refer to the following excellent links.)