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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WORD!

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My autistic perspective.

Word! This is what people sometimes write in a comment – or exclaims when they feel someone said something they deeply resonate or agree with.

I thought a lot about the difference between words and meaning.

How I often used the metaphor of me coming into a room where they speak Korean (because I don’t understand a word of Korean – which is why I picked this language for my metaphor) – and I am assumed to understand and speak it. I used this metaphor to try to catch the essence of how I often feel in conversations with people.

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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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CAUGHT BETWEEN OVERSTIMULATION AND SENSORY “BLINDNESS”- AND THE "INTENSE WORLD THEORY"

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I am out on a self-discovery journey. And I end up not really knowing where what I experience belong. Is all that I experience due to severe and recurring childhood trauma complicated by attachment issues? Or is there a genetic component of neurodivergence?

I have gone to therapy. And I have tried to “explain myself”. But I understand that it is not easy to understand me, I have not understood me.

I want to try to explain what I experience with sensory input. And how that relates to other things with me and how I function.

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WHAT IS WRONG WITH ME???

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Or is there something wrong with me? Or am I just being this particular and unique version of being a human? I don’t know. I simply don’t know.

I have been thinking a lot lately on how neurodivergence describes or do not describe my struggles in life. I have been told all my problems are due to trauma. And maybe that is so. But what I see is me having the same kind of problems that many neurodivergent people describe they have. With e.g. ADHD, ADD and being on the autism spectrum.

I don’t have any kind of neurodivergent diagnose, and I am not asking for it either. I am just trying to understand how I can be I the world. Help myself. Help others understand where and with what I struggle.

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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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Self-Care - Step no 1 - Be YOU

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I am reflecting over what self-care means, to me. 

I define it as a will and practice to give yourself what you need. To fill your own needs, but also be able to ask for those things you cannot do (for) yourself, or on your own, that is – to let yourself ask for – and receive help.

That definition rests on the assumption that you know yourself. If you do not know yourself, you cannot know what your needs are.

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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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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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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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I will know my Name...

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”In the beginning I was so young and such a stranger to myself I hardly existed. I had to go out into the world and se it and hear it and react to it, before I knew at all who I was, what I was, what I wanted to be […] Attention is the beginning of devotion. […]" Adults can change their circumstances; children cannot. Children are powerless, and in difficult situations they are the victims of every sorrow and mischance and rage around them, for children feel all of these tings but without any of the ability that adults have to change them. Whatever can take a child beyond such circumstances, therefore, is an alleviation and a blessing.

"I quickly found for myself two such blessings – the natural world, and the world of writing: literature. These were the gates through which I vanished from a difficult place”. (Mary Oliver in “Upstream”)

I too disappeared through these gates. Nature and Books – where also my “sanity saviors” – and my imagination, my fantasy, that I put into both those worlds, to make them come alive. They still are my friends, Nature and Books – and my imagination – my ability to fantasize.

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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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One abuser… one crosser of boundaries… at a time… and the collective freeze response

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I have been part of an international business network for 3½ years now. We meet once a week, have breakfast and help each other do business, network, collaborate and find new opportunities. It is a good network group, with good people, all of them, almost…

A year ago – I held a short presentation on how to be trauma sensitive in the business world. I gave a couple of tips on how you can think when you meet new people. How you can show respect for diversity and boundaries. For some it was a bit of an eye opener. They never thought about if there are people uncomfortable with hugging as a way of greeting each other, or other kinds of touching. They never thought about letting people choose how close they want to be to you, and other people, or where they want to position themselves in the room, if and what they would like to eat and so on. Most people assume most people are like themselves. In my country we nowadays hug strangers, squeeze ourselves into tiny meeting rooms and sit shoulder to shoulder with complete strangers, we all drink coffee and eat buns… like we are all alike…

In that presentation that day I told them I spoke out of my own experiences, as having been traumatized, I struggle with some of this. I do not wish to hug strangers, or even acquaintances, I want to chose where to be in a room and with whom, I want to decide how close I am to people and I don’t appreciate being touched without consent, and I am picky with what I eat and drink.

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Authenticity – Being Trauma Informing...

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If you have been traumatized and deal with consequences from that, how can you show up authentically in the world? Despite the fears you have, the psychological defenses you use against these fears? How can you maintain being YOU?

Today I had two appointments. One for a business network meeting, and one for a screening at the hospital.

The business meeting had a change of rooms today, which meant we were going to be really crammed, with very little space and the probability for bumping into somebody, or being bumped into were high. It meant an all-over higher degree of closeness. This is something I have a hard time coping with, so I announced to the leaders of the meeting that I would take part in the meeting, standing in the doorway. I assured them I was perfectly fine with that, during my business presentation I also brought it up. I did not explain why, just told them this was hard, but that this solution worked fine for me, and that I was okay being me, in this situation.

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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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