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The Myth of Sanity: Divided Consciousness and the Promise of Awareness Paperback – February 26, 2002


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 272 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Books; Reissue edition (February 26, 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0142000558
  • ISBN-13: 978-0142000557
  • Product Dimensions: 7.8 x 5.1 x 0.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 9.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (63 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #70,717 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

No one likes being called crazy. But Dr. Martha Stout, a psychological trauma specialist, invites all to question their own level of mental acumen in The Myth of Sanity. Her logic makes sense: all humans experience fear, especially during youth; individuals' response systems determine how their brains catalogue traumatic experiences and trigger "dissociative" coping strategies. Those who experience horrific situations like abuse, catastrophe, or grueling medical procedures fare the worst over time; their dissociative behaviors can manifest themselves as situational fatigue, "lost" hours or days, or split personalities.

Drawing from 20 years of treating such patients, Stout presents several composite characters to illustrate all levels of dissociative behavior: from the very serious DID (dissociative identity disorder, or "switching" among distinct personalities) to the nearly universal "brief phasing out" (losing a thought or getting "caught up" in something). As each patient undergoes psychoanalysis, Stout highlights clues for identifying trauma sufferers and lends advice to their loved ones. Tending away from scientific data or supportive research findings--while tending toward a fiction-lover's prose--The Myth of Sanity focuses on personal stories and Stout's zealous admiration for responsible therapy patients who wake to a sanity unclouded by past fears. --Liane Thomas --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Publishers Weekly

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.

--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

More About the Author

Martha Stout, Ph.D., a clinical psychologist in private practice, served on the faculty in psychology in the department of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School for twenty-five years. She is also the author of "The Myth of Sanity" and "The Paranoia Switch." She lives on Cape Ann in Massachusetts.

Customer Reviews

It took me a long time to find a book like this.
Michelle Pettit
"The Myth of Sanity" is one of the best analysis on dissociated mental states, forgotten memories of childhood or adult trauma, and multiple personality disorders.
Zadius Sky
Very interesting book that gave me an insight on disassociation.
P. pike

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

153 of 155 people found the following review helpful By Michelle Pettit VINE VOICE on June 14, 2002
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
It took me a long time to find a book like this. Dr. Martha Stout provides deeply-moving insights into the vulnerabilities of people affected by trauma. She describes the relativity of trauma and its effects through three common situations. Child abuse has been a common reason given for dissociation - but Stout shows there are many other reasons. (for example, a small boy "disconnects" from his fear when he isn't picked up at the bus stop. For a five-year-old in an unfamiliar place that is a traumatic situation) Using interesting and realistic case stories, she develops a compassionate picture of the gradations of symptoms on the dissociative continuum -- everything from temporarily zoning out while driving and disconnecting from yourself while watching a movie to the extreme dissociation of a man with multiple personalities. I read it all in one sitting (up until 6a.m.) and felt enthusiastic -- wanting to purchase one for all my family members and friends. A major point Stout makes is we all experience dissociation in varying degrees. Dissociation doesn't necessarily involve having "multiple personalities" Well-written, intelligent, accessible. Reveals the large and small traumas that cause us to separate ourselves from our experience of living.
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76 of 78 people found the following review helpful By Daniel Jolley HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on December 8, 2003
Format: Paperback
Martha Stout has written a cogent, eminently readable book on the wide range of dissociative reactions we have to different stimuli, providing meaningful insight into the behavior of ourselves and those around us. We are all a little bit crazy, she declares. This book was something of an eye opener for me, as I had never considered dissociation as a common condition in society. Dissociation is actually a natural survival mechanism that has helped man survive for thousands of years on this planet; in cases of extreme, disturbing stimuli, the human mind may be unable to handle what it is witnessing, so it compartmentalizes the trauma into self-contained groupings within it. The person may withdraw his/her own awareness from the situation at hand, and he/she may well have no conscious memory of it after the fact. The effects of significant trauma cannot be self-contained in such a way forever, though, and so eventually the individual begins having nightmares or flashbacks, begins to space out or lose himself/herself at different times, exhibits dramatic mood swings, etc. In the most serious cases, the person may well harm himself or someone else, transform into a completely new person, lose control of his own conscious self, or exhibit what used to be called multiple personalities. It has been my understanding for some time that the number of actual multiple personality cases is extremely small, but Stout points to a small but significant number of cases of dissociative identity disorder (DID), an unknown number of which go undiagnosed.
Pointing to vivid examples from her own case files as well as anecdotal accounts of nonprofessional acquaintances, Stout identifies the points along the dissociative spectrum.
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72 of 78 people found the following review helpful By Carol M. Kauffman, Ph.D. on February 9, 2001
Format: Hardcover
Are we all a little crazy? Dr. Martha Stout has written a compelling and controversial book about the true nature of human consciousness and identity. It is as beautifully written, as it is informative. Are we all slightly multiple? Do you experience yourself as "switching" from one you to another? Does that description fit someone you know? Dr. Stout examines the phenomenon of "Dissociation" -- the psychological defense that allows individuals to survive intense trauma. But it isn't just the Dissociative Identity Disorder (formerly Multiple Personality Disorder) who utilize it. We all do.
In the Myth of Sanity, Dr. Stout shares provocative and horrifying stories of the true "survivors" of our time. Step by step she walks you through the nuts and bolts of the intangible processes the brain uses to keep terror at bay and allow the human being to function despite adverse circumstances. Did you know that trauma affects the brain? Have you wondered about how memories could possibly be "repressed"? How can people possibly want to cut themselves, and not seem to feel it when they do? Why is it sweet caring people can seem to molt into rageful tormentors? Would you like to be a fly on the wall during psychotherapy sessions with trauma survivors or those diagnosed with Multiple Personality Disorder? The Myth of Sanity will not just teach you about the psyche of people at the extreme edge of human experience. It will teach you about yourself.
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27 of 27 people found the following review helpful By Jennifer Robinson on March 3, 2002
Format: Hardcover
This book explains dissocation as what it really is, a coping mechanism which often leads into chaos and difficulties that then qualify it as a disorder. Martha Stout exposes the myth that DID is extremely rare for what it really is, a myth based on ignorance and misconception that popular media with books and movies such as Sybil and the Troops of Trudi Chase describe the lives of the majority of people with Dissociative Identity Disorder (formerly known as Multiple Personality Disorder). Such books and films with their portraits of obvious displays of extreme changes in personality lead people to believe that you can spot anyone with DID from ten miles away and they will most likely look like raving lunatics or hysterical women. Martha Stout describes the way real people who have DID often are affected in ways that are not quite so noticeable to others and how many people with dissociative disorders are often misunderstood, misdiagnosed, or never diagnosed at all.
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