Outgrowing dissociation

Wikipedia describes dissociation as:

“any of a wide array of experiences, ranging from a mild emotional detachment from the immediate surroundings, to a more severe disconnection from physical and emotional experiences”

Dissociation has a protective purpose: it stops us from focusing on painful experiences, thoughts, or memories.

But it doesn’t negate or nullify the painful experience etc. Rather, akin to distraction, it takes our attention elsewhere until the negative stimulus is numbed.

I don’t know the exact mechanism of dissociation or distraction or even deliberate attention and focusing; but whatever the mechanism, dissociation presupposes cognitive states that favour dissociation over attention. In other words, we dissociate because we believe it’s better to dissociate than to face the unwanted stimulus.

Sometimes we just have to endure unwanted situations, even if it’s as innocuous as playing with your phone while stuck in a waiting room or a long line.

But for children especially, traumatic situations can seem impossible to escape. Dissociation is often the only accessible mechanism for reducing the stress and burden of abusive or traumatic or neglectful conditions.

Is it possible to stop dissociating by changing the thoughts or beliefs that made dissociation the most viable option in the first place?

Thoughts like:

– there’s nothing I can do to stop this

– it’s easier if I just go along with it

– if I fight or resist it will only make things worse

– there’s nowhere else to go

– at least I can block these awful people out

– even if I’m powerless, I’m still free inside my head

– I can control how I feel

– I won’t give them the satisfaction of getting angry or upset

These kinds of thoughts aren’t bad; they highlight the fact that dissociation is a coping mechanism.

But if I’m no longer in a place where “coping” is necessary, dissociation in fact keeps me from more efficiently processing and replacing old thoughts with new ones. It makes sense to change these thoughts and put an end to dissociation.

The fact is that “coping” and enduring no longer serve me. Enjoyment is a much more relevant skill now; enjoying life has replaced enduring abuse and neglect.

Dissociation assumes that I must be always enduring something unwanted. It’s a skill based on avoidance and the expectation of bad things, and this expectation shapes my reality.

So even if our lives are otherwise wonderful, the habit of dissociation can make it seem like there are still ambiguous threats or problems to deal with.

I don’t need to use dissociation anymore, because I have much better ways of dealing with unwanted situations – and that begins with not attracting them in the first place.

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