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.

Emotional flashbacks and Law of Attraction

Emotional flashbacks are strong emotional reactions to thoughts or mental representations/cognitions.

The emotional reaction is a perfect match to the cognitive state, but too often we are unable to put the cognitive state into words. If we can’t put it into words, how can we challenge it?

I woke up this morning feeling bad but not knowing why. That’s typical for emotional flashbacks, and may also imply some degree of dissociation.

My usual approach is to focus on the feeling, remind myself it has nothing to do with current circumstances, and try to remember a time in the past when I felt a similar feeling.

This can be difficult because dissociation is designed to block out or disconnect from such memories.

But if I can start to remember the original circumstances it becomes a lot easier to put into words the thoughts or mental representations that were formed through those experiences.

We all live in the present, but our present is coloured and shaped by the thoughts we formed in past circumstances.

So what can we do but notice the emotional flashbacks, put the corresponding thoughts into words, and then begin the work of finding thoughts that feel better?

If the specific memories are too vague or hard to pin down, try to summarise the feeling in words.

“Life is shit!” Might capture the feeling (while again noting that it has nothing to do with current conditions).

Why might I have strong negative belief like “life is shit” running along in the back of my mind? Well, there are very obvious past circumstances that I know really were shit at the time, and I endured those circumstances for many years. So it makes sense that my bad circumstances throughout my formative years would have also informed my thoughts about life and reality.

My life is pretty good now, but with those thoughts still active I continue to have emotional flashbacks that warp my perspective of the present.

The solution is to update that old painful narrative: my life used to be pretty shit. I was surrounded by pretty awful people, and I took to heart a lot of their negativity. But I don’t interact with that kind of person anymore. I’ve made great progress in letting go of negative beliefs and expectations, and resolving these kinds of emotional flashbacks.

These days I only interact with people I love and appreciate. My worst days now are still better than my best days back then. I understand now how my thoughts and mental representations create my reality. And I know clearer than ever what has brought me to where I am today.

I’m looking forward to even clearer self-knowing and an even more satisfying life ahead. Things keep improving, and I witness the process behind that improvement. I’m daily refining my skills, and this translates directly into feeling better and better across all aspects of life.

Life used to be shit but it’s not anymore, and I know why and how it will continue to improve.