Jekyll and Hyde - A Enduring Legacy (An Essay - Part III)
Updated: Apr 30
The enduring legacy of Robert Louis Stevenson's Gothic novella should be clear evidence of at least one thing: different personas live within us all. This realization is almost automatic, touching our cumulative subconscious profoundly. The idea that erratic behavior is a part of humanity's essential nature is difficult to accept. Yet, at one time or another, we've almost all had the experience of being shocked by our own unrecognizable actions – lest we consider what might sometimes come out of our mouths! While each of us does indeed have these opposing human character traits within us, it seems that some are more capable than others of wearing the public masks of pleasantries while saving the aphotic, clandestine persona for the creeping shadows of night.
Not all of us can isolate and separate these extremes, and that has been a fascination of humanity since before Stevenson penned his famous story. Human beings need answers and seek enthusiastically to eliminate the distress of the unknown – especially when emotions are involved (Konnikova, 2013). Understanding the reasons why some people appear to have a proclivity for emotional extremes, going from ‘zero to 60’ almost instantaneously, for no apparent reason, leaving friends and loved ones bruised and hurt in the melee, is a question that remains unanswered. As the first article in this (three-part) series points out, while people are quick to attribute this behavior to someone having a 'Jekyll and Hyde' personality, the descriptor is often misused, misunderstood as a diagnosis, and an 'easy out' to explain away behavior that may be indicative of a much deeper problem. After all, the uncertainty resolution is one of the most prevalent determinants of human behavior (Kagan, 1972; Konnikova, 2013).
Perhaps the provision of this 'easy out' has allowed us to overlook, brush off, and even forgive – if not tolerate – certain behaviors in others, which at first might seem alarming. After all, when this happens, we are passing a moral evaluation of the offender's character. When it happens to be someone close, there is resistance to believing there may be defects of consciousness. To what extent do we attribute responsibility for our actions to knowledge and intelligence: "They should have known better" versus a deficiency of moral character?
Perhaps there are simply too many convicted criminals to acknowledge which ones to whom we might apply the label 'Jekyll and Hyde'? In this vein, does everyone with repressed deviance not fit the profile? And who said they must be convicted criminals? Many fine, upstanding citizens, politicians, and clergy members might undoubtedly be characterized as having the traits of said ailment, especially when considering those offenses related to sexual assault. These offenders lead the way by a margin of almost three to one for recidivism when it comes to comparisons against other types of crimes (Alper & Durose, 2019).
In the preceding articles, we have considered briefly what Jekyll and Hyde syndrome might or might not be. As Jung so aptly observed, we all have a dark side, but some of us are better at managing them than others. However, there are far more of us that struggle with this malady than one might suspect. When considering what Jekyll and Hyde Syndrome is not; that is, a specific diagnosis, it is more than reasonable to acknowledge that such symptoms may and most often occur in conjunction with other more specific disorders. For example, targeted behavior problems in children (Lehman, 2023), covert emotional or sexual abuse (infobae, 2022; Murphy, 2015), and selfish, coercive behavior management (Mahoney, 2020), not to mention borderline personality disorder (BPD), narcissistic personality disorder (NPD), and mania as we have already discussed in greater depth. Many times, the abused becomes the abuser, and Jekyll and Hyde Syndrome becomes itself a form of emotional abuse. Often, underneath a squeaky clean, successful outward-facing public persona exists Mr. Edward Hyde, to no lesser extent than that described by Stevenson more than 100 years ago.
Merriam-Webster (n.d.)defines 'Syndrome' as
1: a group of signs and symptoms that occur together and characterize a particular abnormality or condition.
2: a set of concurrent things (such as emotions or actions) that usually form an identifiable pattern.
Syndromes (from the Greek syn + dramein, to run, or run together) are groups of symptoms associated with a disease that act as pointers toward a diagnosis (of the disease) (Martin, 2022). Thus, it is an important distinction to make. 'Jekyll and Hyde' is not a disease or diagnosis the way many people seem to believe it is. Jekyll and Hyde is a 'syndrome' – a set of guideposts or markers that point toward other more specific and often treatable afflictions.
Jekyll and Hyde syndrome may be blatant, with a person exhibiting violent and extreme mood swings, or may be more subtle when the individual has a public face for friends and a private face for spouses or family. While 'Mr. Hyde' tends to be abusive and gruff, other times, he may be withdrawn, quiet, or depressed. He doesn't have to be violent. Mood shifts may take place in private or may take place in very public places. With true Jekyll and Hyde’s, the transformation is never usually partial, but rather a separate and distinct persona that overtakes the individual completely (Kagan, 1972; Lacey, 2009).
In 2007, Beverly Engel, an internationally recognized psychotherapist and acclaimed expert on physical, sexual, and emotional abuse, released a book, The Jekyll and Hyde Syndrome – What to Do If Someone in Your Life Has a Dual Personality – or If You Do (John Wiley & Sons, Inc.), suggesting there are delineators that make the syndrome distinct from 'normal' mood shifts and proposes seven distinct types of Jekyll and Hydes.
1. The super nice/abusive person – the person who is loving and charming one minute and abusive the next. The extent of the abuse may range from blind rage to being overt and subtle, with the individual often remorseful for their actions as time passes. This cycle repeats itself over and over again.
2. The unpredictable person – the exquisitely sensitive person with whom you never know what mood they will be in, often changing at the drop of a hat, usually in response to whatever is going on in their mind at that moment in time.
3. The person who truly lives a different and separate life – thought of as the classic Jekyll and Hyde, this is someone who exhibits all the attributes of an exemplary, hardworking citizen with the highest of moral and ethical standards yet may go so far as to establish a completely separate identity and partakes in activities that go entirely against what they stand for.
4. Someone whose personality changes with alcohol, drugs, or other addictive behavior – as with Henry Jekyll, a transformation after consuming his panacea, the person transcends an altered state due to external or chemical stimulation.
5. The imposter – regularly lies, manipulates, and deceives others in a deliberate attempt to fool people into thinking that they are something or someone they are not.
6. Someone whose opinion of others fluctuates drastically – the view of other people is black and white with no in-between; they are either all good or all bad, with no grey areas. As such, the person's attitude toward them is earned and justified.
7. Someone who changes dramatically when challenged in any way – this individual is considerate as long as they are in control; their opinion and position on current affairs are the only ones, but challenge this position, and the person is likely to radically change, becoming insulting, defensive, and cruel.
The impact of a ‘Jekyll and Hyde’ can be somewhat devastating for those who have a relationship (to any degree) with someone who exhibits these traits. Fear, apprehension, confusion, and a constant trepidation while waiting for ‘the other shoe to drop.’ Most times, the offender is not even aware of the transformation, although their actions and behavior are conscious. The damage caused by a Jekyll and Hyde can be devastating, causing some to even question their own sanity. "Is there something wrong with me?"
Perhaps one of the most challenging realities for those impacted by a Jekyll and Hyde is understanding that the other person IS aware of what they are doing. They may not be aware of an apparent shift in their personality, but the actions that proceed the shift are intentional, regardless of the – sometimes irreparable – harm they are inflicting.
This condition is not unusual, afflicting tens of thousands of people around the globe. We have recognized that Jekyll and Hyde Syndrome is representative of several underlying disorders and there is no specific diagnosis: 'Jekyll and Hyde,' but the need for humans to understand lends itself to the quick out; "They're such a Jekyll and Hyde!" We have recognized that specific underlying psychological diagnoses accompany this syndrome, and several different Jekyll and Hyde types exist. While the catch-all descriptor is often misused by those impacted looking to understand or rationalize another person's behavior, there are also commonalities.
People who suffer from Jekyll and Hyde syndrome are, more often than not, deeply conflicted people. While some people are able to deal with strife and turmoil rationally, evenly, and logically, it sends others into an emotional spiral, the result of deep, inner, and often unresolved conflict.
For example, those who exhibit anger, or appear to others to have ‘anger issues’ may be expressing their frustration with a given situation because, in their mind, things are not proceeding the way they should be, or they have already imagined them to be. Such actions may result from upbringing or environment and the learned behavior of withholding or repressing deep emotions and desires (Engel, 2007; Murphy, 2015). Or, more simply, a shift may be the result of drugs, alcohol, or a change in emotional equilibrium. On the other hand, there is the person overly invested in being seen by others as "ultra-good." Mr. Hyde doesn’t always have to be bad!
As is often the case, a memory of the past acts will act as a trigger, causing the altered personality to reveal itself.
These urges, these altered states, exist in us all. We all have thoughts and opinions – some of them forbidden. Why does it appear that some people struggle with these urges and thoughts while others do not? How do we deal with them – struggling or not?
Courting the Shadow
The first step in facing our shortcomings is acknowledging that there is a dark side to us all. Unfortunately, in too many cases, this awareness is not something we come to ourselves but is often the result of situations in which we are forced to confront our own behavior. This confrontation does not have to come as the result of a legal consequence, it may perhaps be something as simple and innocent as seeing ourselves in the mirror of a loved one or a child.
The mind wants freedom; it does not want a cage, and it does not want to be restrained (Katie, 2021). The Shadow should not be feared. There is power in the Shadow, and facing, courting, nurturing, romancing, and integrating the Shadow into our conscious lives forces us to acknowledge and face both the good and the bad.
When our Shadow becomes a part of our conscious lives, we give ourselves the ability to choose. To act in a certain way or to refrain. To deny the Shadow, relegating it to the dark recesses in which we have been taught to constrain such thoughts, serves no purpose other than to cause consternation, frustration, and guilt. Acknowledging that we have these dark thoughts at least allows us an opportunity to face them, deal with them, address them, and take whatever steps may be appropriate to manage them. The successful person can integrate all facets of their personality into their daily lives – the whole person.
Denial serves only to delay the inevitable. The Shadow will find a way to break free of its cage. This may not mean that an individual will act out on a dangerous impulse as such, but the mental effort it takes to live in denial of these thoughts and feelings and keep one from doing so can only cause exhaustion, depression, frustration, and pain. Until perhaps, one day, we snap.
Most importantly, realizing that 'Jekyll and Hyde' is a syndrome, not a diagnosis, is essential. As significantly, taking the 'easy out' to excuse another's behavior may contribute to someone not seeking the help they desperately need. Allowed to grow and be repeated, morally questionable behavior becomes normalized, the abused eventually becomes the abuser, or isolation and loneliness become the order of the day. If nothing else, not addressing questionable behavior adds another layer to the wall of the mental prison that so many people are building around themselves today, no matter which side of the situation – or wall – you happen to be on.
We all have a dark side, a Shadow. We all have opinions about sex, religion, society at large – and other people. The way we are raised, the type of parenting, the reinforcement of certain behaviors, the exclusion of others, and our natural human curiosity, there is a part within us that we hide away from the light. Forbidden feelings, violent and sexual tendencies, lust, rage, jealousy, shame, resentment, and greed, there is a Jekyll and Hyde in each of us – and we are always judging. We think we are aware of the desires of our Shadow, but more often, we are not. By daylighting these thoughts and desires, we at least give ourselves a chance to make the right decision – the decision to get help, if need be – otherwise, our uncontrollable urges or desires will often decide what is right or wrong for us regardless.
Alper, M., & Durose, M. (2019). Recidivism of sex offenders released from State prison: A 9-Year follow-up (2005-14). Bureau of Justice Statistics. Retrieved from https://bjs.ojp.gov/
Engel, B. (2007). The Jekyll and Hyde Syndrome: What to Do If Someone in Your Life Has a Dual Personality - or If You Do. New york, NY: John Wiley & Sons.
infobae. (2022, April 7). “It was as scary as Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde”: young man narrated his experience as a victim of sexual abuse. Retrieved from https://www.infobae.com/
Kagan, J. (1972). Motives and development. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 22(1), 51-66. doi:10.1037/h0032356
Katie, B. (2021). Loving What Is - Four Questions That Can Change Your Life (2nd ed.). New York, New York: Penguin Random House.
Konnikova, M. (2013). Why We Need Answers. Informational. Retrieved January 25, 2023, from https://www.newyorker.com/
Lacey, N. (2009). Psychologising Jekyll, Demonising Hyde: The Strange Case of Criminal Responsibility Law Society Economy (Working Papers), 18. Retrieved from http://ssrn.com/abstract=1491625.
Lehman, J. (2023). The Jekyll and Hyde Child: Targeted Behavior Problems. Empowering Parents. Retrieved February 5, 2023, from Empowering Parents: https://www.empoweringparents.com/
Mahoney, S. (Producer). (2020, January 25). Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde: Managing the Narcissistic, Coercive and Controlling DV Offender. [Slide Deck Presentation] Retrieved from https://www.justiceclearinghouse.com/
Martin, C. (2022, October 27). What Is the Difference Between a Disease and a Disorder? verywell health. Retrieved from https://www.verywellhealth.com/
Merriam-Webster. (Ed.) (n.d.) Merriam-Webster.com dictionary. online: Merriam-Webster. Retrieved February 25, 2023, from Merriam-Webster https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/syndrome
Murphy, C. (2015). Jekyll and Hyde: Will the ‘real abuser’ please stand up. Male perpetrators SAFETY of Women & Children Why does he do it. Retrieved January 30, 2023, from Learn About Coercive Control And Psychological Abuse: https://speakoutloud.net/