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[OB] Shallan and Psychology


Reader Perception Poll  

23 members have voted

  1. 1. When reading Shallan's viewpoint, did you connect her experience with Dissociative Identity / Multiple Personalities Disorder?

    • Yes, I connected Shallan's experience with Dissociative Identity Disorder.
    • No, I did not connect them.

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A friend of mine is a therapist, and was frustrated that Shallan's multiple-personalities-thing misrepresented the experience and problems that real-world people with Dissociative Identity Disorder have.

I never thought of Shallan as actually having DID, but, rather, as having a weird fantasy disorder that was maybe vaguely reminiscent of DID. However, since he pointed it out, I can imagine people thinking that Shallan's experiences were representative of people's experience with DID (minus the illusions), and I suppose that does a disservice to people with DID in that it spreads misinformation about the disorder. Sanderson is generally on-point about accurately representing neuroatypical people (Renarin being on the autism spectrum, and Kaladin having depression disorder, for instance), and I was surprised to hear allegations of misrepresentation.

So: Did you think that Shallan had Dissociative Identity Disorder when you were reading?

and, are there any professionals who care to weigh in on similarities and differences to DID in Shallan's portrayal?

EDIT: Added poll.

Edited by Nethseäar
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I've only studied psychology as my minor.

I have never thought Shallan has DID. Even in Book 1, it looks like she knows what happened but chooses not to think about it. That's just anxiety. When we do learn about her history in Book 2, it looks exactly like PTSD to me. She killed someone and got PTSD. I think it's great that Brandon portrays someone getting PTSD from killing in self-defense, not the more common portrayals of child abuse or witnessing combat. Shallan was also abused, but she had PTSD before her father became abusive. She had it immediately from killing her mother, from a single traumatic event, and didn't even talk for years afterwards.

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She does not have DID


Brandon Sanderson

So, a couple of things here. First off, I'll take any knocks I get--and try to do better. I'm not an expert on Mental Health, and though I do my best, I'm going to get things wrong. I'm going to risk defending myself here--and hopefully not dig myself deeper--as I at least explain my thought process, and why I built Shallan the way I did.

However, one of the rules of thumb I go by is this: Individual experience can defy the standard, if I understand that is what I'm doing. Like how Stephen Leeds is not trying to accurately portray Schizophrenia, Shallan is not trying to accurately portray dissociative identity disorder (if a scholarly consensus on such a thing even exists. I haven't glanced through the DSM5 to see what it says.)

In Legion, I have an easy out. I say, point blank, "He doesn't fit the diagnosis--he's not a schizophrenic, or if he is, he's a very weird one." I don't have the benefit of a modern psychology voice in the Stormlight books to hang a lantern on this, but my intention is the same. What Shallan has is related to her individual interaction with the world, her past, and the magic.

Is this Hollywood MPD? I'm not convinced. Hollywood MPD (with DSM4 backing it up, I believe) tends to involve things like a person feeling like they're possessed, and completely out of control. The different identities don't remember what others did. It's a very werewolf type thing. You wake up, and learn that another version of you took over your body and went out and committed crimes or whatever.

Shallan is coping with her pain in (best I've been able to do) a very realistic way, by boxing off and retreating and putting on a mask of humor and false "everything is okay" attitudes. But she has magical abilities that nobody in this world has, including the ability to put on masks that change the way everyone perceives her. She's playing roles as she puts them on, but I make it very clear (with deliberate slip-ups of self-reference in the prose) that it's always Shallan in there, and she's specifically playing this role because it lets her ignore the things she doesn't want to face.

She's losing control of what is real and what isn't--partially because she can't decide who she wants to be, who she should be, and what the world wants her to be. But it's not like other personalities are creeping in from a fractured psyche. She's hiding behind masks, and creates each role for herself to act in an attempt to solve a perceived shortcoming in herself. She literally sketched out Veil and thought, "Yup, I'm going to become that person now." Because Veil would have never been tricked into caring about her father; she would have been too wise for that.

I feel it's as close as I can get to realism, while the same time acknowledging that as a fantasy author, one of my primary goals is to explore the human interaction with the supernatural. The "What ifs" of magic. What if a person who had suffered a great deal of abuse as a child COULD create a mask for themselves, changing themselves into someone stronger (or more street-smart who wouldn't have been betrayed that way. Would they do it, and hide behind that mask? What would that do to them and the world around them?

DID is indeed controversial, but I really like this portrayal. Not of a disease, but of who this character is. And I've had had enough positive responses from people who feel their own psychology is similar that I'm confident a non-insignificant number of people out there identify with what she's doing in the same way people with depression identify with Kaladin.


Edit: to clarify, instead of just dropping a WoB, she not dissociating. She remembers everything she does as Veil and Radiant. 

She definitely has some major psychological issues, but it's a matter of compartmentalization, not dissociation. 

Edited by Calderis
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Indeed! Thank you for your responses! Not dissociating, therefore not DID; closer to PTSD and avoidant anxiety, plus magic. That confirms what I was thinking, and I feel good defending it. 

Potential very slight spoilers for Mistborn: The Final Empire


It's the same thing Vin learned to do when infiltrating the noble court -- pretend to be a different person, so that she could avoid embarrassment and anxiety. It's just that Shallan can take it much, much further with her illusions.

Still very curious whether anyone read Shallan and thought she had DID, and what that might entail for treatment of people with DID. (Even if Sanderson makes it clear this isn't DID, the perception that it is might still exist).

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3 hours ago, Nethseäar said:

Still very curious whether anyone read Shallan and thought she had DID, and what that might entail for treatment of people with DID. (Even if Sanderson makes it clear this isn't DID, the perception that it is might still exist).

This seems like a bit of an unfounded worry.  If anyone is judging a real life condition based on a characters behaviour in a book that never gets named as that condition, then they might want to avoid fiction in general.

I don't see why anyone would seriously read it and go "Well, I'm not a trained psychologist, but I'm going to diagnose this fictional character and then make judgements about real people with the condition I attributed to her". 

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I actually brought this up with Brandon at a signing in Provo (I'm a psychology major and was extremely interested in this point). He pretty much said the same thing in the quote shown above, only much more condensed. He was very quick to point out that he wasn't specifically trying to portray DID with Shallan but there were some similarities involved. He also mentioned that because magic is involved it messes up a specific diagnosis like that anyways.

That being said, DID is such a widely debated disorder within the psychological community that it would be impossible to get a consensus from professionals. It is so controversial that one of the major debates is whether or not it is a "real" disorder (what they mean by "real" is kind of complicated, I'd look up more information online if you want to know what that means). Some argue that memories can be, but not necessarily are, retained during personality shifts. Others argue their must be forgetfulness involved. Long story short, the characteristics and nature of this disorder are probably the most disagreed upon than any other disorder in the DSM.

One of the things that is mostly agreed upon regarding DID is that of those with the disorder or displaying symptoms of the disorder (for opponents of DID), 95% report serious childhood trauma related to abuse. Shallan definitely falls under this category, and so the adoption of new personas to cope with increased stress is a realistic route this character could take. There are some definite differences, but with magic involved I think we can agree that variations would definitely exist in any mental disorder taking place in these books. So my overall feeling is that I am impressed in how well Brandon did in his research and how skillfully he is able to portray mental illness in his books.

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You may want to change the wording of the poll;  "connect her experience with DID" is pretty vague if you really mean "thought she actually had DID."  I voted yes, not because I thought she actually had DID (which there's some debate as to whether it even really exists), but because it seemed like a magical issue that clearly drew inspiration from DID (or at least Hollywood's representation); or, as you put it: "having a weird fantasy disorder that was maybe vaguely reminiscent of DID."  

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While I am not any kind of psych expert, I have done a fair bit of acting. To completely become a different person and change your head space is essentially what method acting is so that part never concerned me. That is just getting into character. But when she lies to herself so thoroughly that she isn't sure what is real and when she doesn't want to be herself so she stays in character to avoid it, that is what gets all psychologically bad. I interpreted it as repressing memories and taking on personas to avoid facing the painful realities of her actions. She pretends to be someone else, drinks heavily, and refuses to speak truths. She is the classic tortured artist who wins a bunch of oscars and dies tragically young, her mentality is not healthy but I completely understand it.

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