DIFFERENT KINDS OF DISSOCIATION

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How people dissociate is probably as different as anything else. What I describe in the poem below is my experience of one way I dissociate. These days – I can stay around and experience the experience of dissociating – kind of a contradiction in terms (since dissociating for me fills the function of not having to be around). But I stay – and experience it. When I started doing that – it was absolutely terrifying. So, I fled it – into my mind and other versions of me. But I have practiced. A lot, and now I can stay in it. It still makes me feel inadequate. I cannot control it. Only be in it – work with it – anchor myself to the best of my ability. Most people would not pick up on any of what goes on for me.

It feels like failing. Like I let fear govern and control me. When technically I know I am safe. What really helps me out of it – is being with someone I feel very safe with, and whom I can anchor “in”. But I have learned that is not okay. That I need to be able to anchor myself – so I keep on practicing.

I used to be very ashamed of my dissociation. Of how I leave my mind and enter this pure state of sensing – and how when I try to come back – I sometimes can not find where I left off, and don’t know what we were talking about or doing. I have learned to stay in my blank space – not panic – and orientate myself. Leave people waiting. Even letting them see my distraction. Hear the stammers. Hear the pauses when I search for words. Returning to mind is not easy. But it is how we “human” right? We exchange things through our minds. We talk with each other. Reaching to each other’s senses seems not to be okay.

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THE GIRL WHO DID NOT EAT – “ANOREXIA” AS EMANCIPATION

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She is 13, and there is nothing in her life that makes sense. She is both terrified and doesn’t care anymore. People come and go, places shift. She has already invented herself hundreds of times, nothing helps. No one helps. No one sees. No one cares.

She already hates herself intensely. She is growing, growing into a woman. A woman, like her mother. A mother she hates as intensely as she hates herself. But she is also the mother she wants to be, to have the power she has. Power to make it all stop. But also, the mother she never wants to become like. Angry, cruel, selfish, arrogant, judgmental, cold, with a body that demands.

She can’t do it anymore. She has nothing left in her. There is nobody in her anymore and she just waits. For the final blow. Then it all will be over. She does not long for it, but she does not care much either. A part of her is scared. How long will it take? Which day will it be?

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A DIFFERENT WAY OF PERCEIVING THE WORLD AND “SELF”

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 A fair warning – I am going to get theoretical… but also add my own lived experience to this exploration.

What I am exploring here is if the fact that I highly resonate with a way of being and functioning that seems to be aligning with some of the leading theories behind what autism is, and how I see these theories through my own knowledge and experiences of how I have been reacting to early childhood trauma and how that has formed me, and my perception of myself. But I also explore my reactions to the theories behind severe dissociation, which I have never felt explain my own experiences (like the theory of structural dissociation).

I think I ended up using the defenses I did because they came natural to me. And I have defended myself against trauma with them, but also against everything else in the world that I could not cope with, in the same ways, that is using fragmentation and dissociation. What I say is – maybe they are not only psychological defenses that I came to use through being traumatized, but part of my individual, genetic make-up?

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THE STUFF WE DO NOT TALK ABOUT…

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When am I the most happy? The most grounded? The most me? – Those questions are related…

I don’t know about you. But I am a contradictory… almost always have many perspectives on one thing. Many feelings about one thing. Almost nothing is crystal clear to me. Sometimes it makes me indecisive. There are so many things one can take into consideration – and yes – often they are – contradictory – or lead to contradictory solutions.

Sometimes I am contradictory just because of the above… I shift. I take different viewpoints – all seem valid, more or less perhaps, but still. Sometimes I appear contradictory because I simply have changed my mind. I am an ever-changing human.

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An Overactive Social Engagement System

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If a person is stressed, overwhelmed, out of their window of tolerance, is the answer always to help them engage their social engagement system, on the outside, with another person or being? Is it always external co-regulation that is the best answer?

No. Not in my opinion. Especially not if a person is having an overactive Social Engagement System – as part of their defense strategy. Too much of the good is, is, as always, too much.

Or maybe – what looks like a way too overactive social engagement system is not in fact that? Or maybe it is – it depends on how you define a social engagement system. At least if you talk the language of Vagus, where the social engagement system lives in the ventral vagal complex and dissociation in the dorsal vagal complex.

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WHAT CAN I DO? - Mindfulness – Trauma & Dissociation

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I am a mindfulness instructor – and am currently taking an advanced training in Trauma Sensitive Mindfulness (TSM) with David Treleaven (https://davidtreleaven.com/). I took his basic course during the fall. They are great courses!

I am also a person with severe trauma and I can be highly dissociative (although I am getting to be more and more in charge of my dissociation than the other way around – If you are interested in my thoughts on dissociation and trauma, there is plenty to read in my blog at http://livethechange.se/).

Taking this course simultaneously as the Coronavirus is affecting us all on a global scale – is interesting. It becomes even more interesting for me since I have managed to time huge life transitions to this time period too… Very little is certain in my life, this did not start now – but has been a process. But the resolution of the process is happening right now.

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Dissociation – Association Part 2

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Is dissociation both a defense system and a lack of learned skills of association?

Most things I read about dissociation is about how it is/can become a maladaptive coping strategy and later a defense system to handle trauma (or possibly everyday stressors, e.g. boredom or feelings of powerlessness).

But dissociation is so much more – as is its counterpart association. So how do we understand “normal dissociation”? How do we understand how maladaptive dissociation emerges and becomes a pattern of coping (outside the range of “normality”)?

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DISSOCIATION – ASSOCIATION

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Dissociation and Association – are two sides of the same coin. Or you can say – they are in each end of a spectrum. A spectrum we all move along on a daily, hourly, momentarily basis. But try to imagine the spectrum as circular – or spiral shaped – not linear. There aren’t really any ends. Dissociation and association move in and out of each other – and at times part of you are more associated – or is free to associate – and other parts of you are more dissociated – or free to dissociate.

We all associate and dissociate – and we all have parts. Some parts of us other parts of us are more prone to ignore – dissociate away – or more strongly associate with. Some parts of us more easily dissociate or associate in themselves.

Does this sound complicated? It is actually rather simple, but it is of course nuanced. The confusion I think stems from when people talk about dissociation (very few talks about association) – most people talk about different aspects of dissociation, undefined and un-nuanced – and try to fit it into a pre-existing model. Not to on purpose confuse, of course, the study – and the “treatment” – of dissociation – is fairly new. Hence all the misunderstandings, misconceptions, mix-ups, simplifications – and a strong wish to fit it into a paradigm or system. Which in my opion potentially shuts out other ways of seeing it.

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Collective – or swarm intelligence – the Coronavirus crisis in media…

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Maybe being a bit provocative? But we have it is us (all of us) to behave like scared horses - who sometimes defend themselves by hiding in a group (swarm/herd)...


I have been looking at cohesion, swarm intelligence, collective intelligence versus individual decision making in smaller versus bigger groups in horses.

So, what has that to do with the Coronavirus? Today many of us are globally connected on different media platforms, like Facebook e.g. I have followed what different people are writing about the virus and looked into clusters of people and their writings. And I find it fascinating…

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Narcissus and Echo - Narcissism and Echoism...

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You probably heard of Narcissus, from Greek-Roman mythology, who has given name to the personality trait Narcissism. But have you heard of Echo? The wood nymph that fell in love with him, but got rejected and withered away of a broken heart? She represents the other side of the Narcissistic spectrum – where you find Echoism.

The original story goes like this (there are different versions, but with the same main content):

Narcissus is a young and very beautiful demigod, is out hunting in the woods. He is very aware of his beauty and has rejected everyone who has fallen in love with him so far, they are not as beautiful as he is, how could he possibly fall in love with anyone of them?

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TIME IS NOT LINEAR…

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Why bother about your past? Can you just not leave it in the past and “move on”? Who wants to focus on the past anyhow – it is over, done with, can’t be changed?

Or can it?

TIME IS CIRCULAR

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CONTROLLING YOUR EATING TO CONTROL PEOPLE AROUND YOU…

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...and to control the situations you find (found) yourself in…

Restricting, controlling, manipulating your eating works splendidly as a coping strategy to keep your anxiety about people and their doings in check. It very fast makes you not care about what they do or do not do. And you are in a place, a world – a mental space, where you are feeling like you are in control of something. Something is in your power to decide over, and there is finally some predictability in your life, and something to hold on to. Food – and what you use to control your food intake with become both your best friend and your worst enemy. You do not need anyone else. Or at least, that is what you tell yourself. If you only can stay with and keep yourself to your own restrictive eating rules, then, it will all be fine. Then nobody, or what they do, can really touch you, not psychically, not mentally, especially not mentally. All of a sudden – you have super-powers, secret super-powers. They ask you if you want something to eat – and you smile (outwardly a small one – inwardly a big smile) – and they do not know that you are in control, secretly. Even if they demand you to eat – they can’t make you. They can’t make you chew and swallow. Unless they put a gun to your head. Most of the time, they don’t do that.

But… as in all fairytales and dream scenarios, there is an evil stepmother… king, dragon…. After the initial “highs” from your ability to control things, it turns out – you are not in control at all. Now, instead of being controlled by other people, you are controlled by food, your own thoughts about food, your own behaviors. Suddenly you fear food as much as you fear people, and you fear the consequences of eating – too much, too little… everything around food becomes complicated and anxiety provoking. You add more and more rules and restrictions – and probably exercise. The need to move all the time – is entering your life (and has no longer only to do with emotional outlet or emotional regulation).

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Eating disorders… as language

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And the meaning of food and food-sharing as a bonding mechanism in humans – or food as attachment…

We humans bond over/by/with food. From infancy to the grave – food and food-sharing is in the center in our lives and in between people. All our holidays center around food and food-sharing, as well as birthdays, funerals, weddings – every ritual ceremony that mark a transition in life. Also new jobs, a baby on its way, an engagement, a published book – everything celebrates with food and food-sharing. We have food-places we go to; we watch programs on how to cook, we buy books with instructions, magazines with glossy pictures of food. In many cultures, the first thing that happens when you step into a home is that you will be served something edible and, in many cultures, it is seen as a great insult when you don’t accept (more) food.

So, what happens when a human starts to restrict his/her food intake? Refuses to take part in the bonding rituals of going to cafés, restaurants, dinner parties, business lunches? What happens in the individual? In the others that this individual has relationships with? Meets in different circumstances?

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Equine Assisted Psychotherapy is not linear – not one-directional…

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One of the explanations I often hear in EAP, as to why we have horses in the treatment – is that it is easier for many people to relate to – to build a relationship with a horse (or a dog, or any other therapy animal). In my own experience as a client, that is true, and not…

And even if it is – this topic too, is very complex. So here I am merely sharing some of my thoughts on it.

Yes, a horse can be perceived as less judgmental and more honest, than a human. And you can touch, pet, hug, smell etc. a horse in a way you would never get away with, with a human (this is a deliberate way of expressing it, I am not saying all clients are emotional invasive towards therapy animals – but many come with very big unmet emotional needs of closeness, warmth, affection etc.).

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The Wheel of Tolerance

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I am learning to write from my own perspective and experiences only. Acknowledging that they are not universal. I am also learning no to be ashamed of them, or to be ashamed or feel like a “misfit” because I do not fit into the common theories about how a mind works, or is supposed to work, neither in psychologically healthy – nor unhealthy states. Neither in the everyday life, nor in traumatic situations (or in reliving them).

I don’t like labels. I have been heavily labeled all my life. It has never been helpful to me. I have stopped trying to squeeze myself into existing theories and models. With that said – on to the topic of the Window of Tolerance – or as I call it – to better fit me and my experiences the Weel of Tolerance, I want to share my perspectives and thougts.

The window of tolerance assumes you can only be in one state at a time. It says either you are in your window – or out of it. Either you are in fight, flight, freeze or fawn, but not in two or several states at the same time. It does not acknowledge either (as I understand it) that you can go into freeze, then out of it again into e.g. fight. It pictures freeze as the “end station”, the last resort, a place we go to when all other options are exhausted. It also states that there is no choosing in going into either of these states.

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Grounding – to keep myself here… and now…

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I do a lot of grounding. Every day, several times a day. Almost constantly I have something around me or with me that I can use to ground myself. Nothing of what I wear is random. Most of it you can see, some of it not. I wear clothes that disturb me the least, but also can help me, textures and colors that are good for me. I wear jewelry that help me feel myself and that I can touch, often they carry some symbolic meaning as well. I often paint my toenails so I can find my feet – see them on the ground easier – especially in the warm season when I go barefoot a lot. I also put the date of the day and this year on my hand – each morning, so I can always check what day it is, as what year it is. I also put a little symbol on my hand each day that keeps on reminding me that I am not a victim in the now. That now, today, I have choices. And if I end up in emotional overwhelm, I can step away, and try to assess the situation and think, before I act, all to help me not react according to old patterns.

Some of the “clothes or equipment” I use – is invisible. I use my imagination. I have my protective cloak, I put it on when I will be in environments where people will touch me (often in social settings). I have invisible flowers I can smell when there are triggering smells around, I have calming sounds I listen to internally, I have comforting things I put on – that I do not want people to see, so I use the invisible ones.

In my front pockets (my real ones 😊), I carry some small stones and a couple of marbles – so I have something I can touch and play with – fidget with. In my back pocket I carry a couple of notes with some writing that I can read, that reminds me of that I have support, that I am not alone.

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What is dissociation?

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(From an” expert…” on dissociation – from the lived “inside” perspective – a VERY short introduction)

There are multiple ways of dissociating. You can dissociate from your body, from your mind, from your emotions/feelings, from your memories, from the environment, from time, from parts of yourself (ego states/identity) – from one of these, from several – in different combinations – or from all of them – at once and for shorter or longer periods of time… And the process of dissociation can be all from completely unknown to you – to completely known. It can be a seemingly 100 % involuntary action to dissociate and a 100 % deliberate action – and everything in between.

Dissociation is the opposite of association. You dissociate to keep things, events, situations in your life apart. Because kept together they would overwhelm you. Everybody dissociates. Maybe you daydream, procrastinate, plan your dream vacation, play computer games, shop yourself happy. Everything you do to keep yourself away from your current state – inside – or outside – of you – is dissociation, but the focus is on the inside – the outside situation is often just a reflection of your inside situation. Dissociation is you – hiding from – you.

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