Colin Wilson on personality change
I am a big fan of Colin Wilson (pictured right), who’s written numerous books on the theme of The Outsider – people living on the edge of society, misfits who have to find a way to channel their passion into something creative. Otherwise, their passion will turn inwards and destroy them. So unhealthy outsiders become alcoholics, criminals, black magicians, madmen. Healthy outsiders become visionaries, spiritual leaders, artists or humble therapists. The difference is that the latter have connected to a purpose – something beyond self and society that keeps them connected and keeps them sane.
This weekend I read Wilson’s novel ‘The Personality Surgeon‘ again. I first read it in 1989 while I was wondering whether I wanted to become a psychotherapist. Reading that book clinched it for me. And now, when I read it again, I am inspired by its premise: that personality change occurs when we connect to our passion.
How personality makes people ill
The Personality Surgeon is a GP called Charles Peruzzi working in South London, who stumbles upon the reason why people become ill with depression, anxiety and unnecessary conditions. Their false personality has taken them over and squeezed the life out of them. Personality is the fixed identity we have taken over from the way other people see us and which we store in our head. When we identify with it too rigidly the effort required to stay in the strait jacket drains us of vitality. That is especially true if the personality we have adopted is timid, self-denying, conventional, or a people-pleaser.
In the book Peruzzi discovers that a shock or a crisis can be enough to catapult his patients out of false personality. As it breaks down their natural vitality is unleashed and connects them to their passion.
Losing false personality
I had forgotten all the cases Wilson cites and, since he credits some medical doctors with help on the book, it is likely they were taken from real life.
- One man develops urticaria (a painful skin rash) after he retires and no longer has any purpose in life. He is cured when his daughter drives her car into the river, and he goes into shock. Once over it he leaves his humdrum employment and starts up his own business.
- An airline stewardess tries to commit suicide as she can no longer live with the disfiguring facial scars she sustained in an airline accident. She ‘sees’ herself as a freak. On recovery in hospital she loses her poor self-image and starts to assert herself.
- A US Astronaut becomes severely depressed after the Moon landing project ends. But his real problem was that he chose the wrong career to follow next. Instead of following his real love: ecology, he becomes a politician. And once he loses that personality, his depression goes.
If you are ever in need of personality change then read The Personality Surgeon. That alone will be enough to revitalise you. It’s an inspiring work.
“Dr. Miller says we are pessimistic because life seems like a very bad, very screwed-up film. If you ask “What the hell is wrong with the projector?” and go up to the control room, you find it’s empty. You are the projectionist, and you should have been up there all the time.”