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Is it Possible to Stop Dissociating?

Yes, it’s possible to stop dissociating; But first we need to explore the more important question; what is dissociation?

Dissociation is the unconscious use of attention to move away from feelings of emotional or physical discomfort. This comes about though years of conditioning our consciousness to avoid being present to what we feel. This may be hard to grasp for the western mind which holds the ethnocentric view that consciousness and thinking are the same. However consciousness, or the way we pay attention is conditioned as children. So we can be conditioned to direct our attention habitually to not being aware of our own perceptions.

For example: if someone’s in a great deal of physical pain, they have a diagnosis of fibromyalgia for example; they will often struggle against feeling this pain in the background of all their daily activities. Often people that are in a great deal of pain will report that they have gotten used to it. This is another way of saying that they have learned to dissociate from it. In working with such people, when I ask them to begin to pay attention to their body they suddenly discover a lot of discomfort. Discomfort that they have been trying to push out of their attention. It is the same with emotional states.

If you grew up in an environment where love and trust were not given easily and promoted; where physical or emotional abuse or psychological games was the standard treatment, then there is a high probability that you had to learn to dissociate in order to survive. And if that person pretended that you did not exist, if they treated you as an object, then they furthermore reinforced dissociative behavior in you by suggesting that what you feel and what you think really doesn’t matter. If you have been treated as someone who is emotionally invisible, then you have been treated as someone who did not matter in their eyes. This is a very painful realization to be with. It is also very confusing because on the one hand I really want to matter in their eyes as a human being, but on the other hand I do not want to be seen at all if I am being severely abused.

It is important to understand that if we want to stop dissociating we must come to an impasse where we can really see that it is increasing our suffering. It is further disconnecting us from life and from emotional connection with others. We actually use emotional states as information. They help guide us to understand what is true for us as well as what feels safe to us. However, to truly stop dissociating, especially after years of conditioning, we need help. For this reason, I would strongly suggest you to seek out a therapist who is skilled in working with trauma. It will be very hard to do this work on your own as the nature of dissociation is to avoid being conscious of what the problem is.

Another way to understand how dissociation works is through mindfulness. Dissociation is the opposite of mindfulness. Mindfulness refers to a non critical state of self observation. It is a state of observing oneself without evaluating what one is observing. Mindfulness is an active state of concentration on the state of attention itself. It allows one to see, perhaps for the 1st time what one is doing with ones attention consciously. Working with a therapist who uses mindfulness based therapies is essential for someone struggling with dissociation as thinking and talk therapy will not help stop dissociation. This is because dissociation is a habitual state of defensive attention. It is a state of consciousness not a set of thoughts. This is why a lot of clinicians don’t know how to work with DID.

To work with a therapist/counselor who has training in somatic psychology and mindfulness can help us to compassionately see what is happening to us and to guide us into being more conscious of ourselves can be very beneficial.

– Robert Espiau, Counselor/Trauma Therapist, M.A. LMHC.

Reprinted with permission.

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