Monday, March 6, 2017

Dissociation: Defense mechanisms by Sigmund Freud

What is Dissociation?

Dissociation ca be described by the following three statements/conditions:
1. The splitting off of a group of mental processes from the main body of consciousness, as in amnesia.
2. The act of separating or state of being separated.
3. The separation into two or more fragments.

Dissociation may represent any sort of psychological conditions in a wide array of experiences, starting with mild, insignificant detachment from immediate surroundings into substantially more severe detachment from physical and emotional experience. The major characteristic of all dissociative phenomena involves a detachment from reality, rather than a loss of reality as in psychosis.

Dissociation is commonly displayed on a continuum. In mild cases, dissociation can be regarded as a coping mechanism or defense mechanisms in seeking to master, minimize or tolerate stress – including boredom or conflict. At the non-pathological end of the continuum, dissociation describes common events such as daydreaming while driving a vehicle. Further along the continuum are non-pathological altered states of consciousness.

More pathological dissociation involves dissociative disorders, including dissociative fugue and depersonalization disorder with or without alterations in personal identity or sense of self. These alterations can include: a sense that self or the world is unreal (depersonalization and derealization); a loss of memory (amnesia); forgetting identity or assuming a new self (fugue); and fragmentation of identity or self into separate streams of consciousness (dissociative identity disorder, formerly termed multiple personality disorder) and complex post-traumatic stress disorder.

Dissociative disorders are sometimes triggered by trauma, but may be preceded only by stress, psychoactive substances, or no identifiable trigger at all. The ICD-10 classifies conversion disorder as a dissociative disorder. The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders groups all dissociative disorders into a single category.

Although some dissociative disruptions involve amnesia, other dissociative events do not. Dissociative disorders are typically experienced as startling, autonomous intrusions into the person's usual ways of responding or functioning. Due to their unexpected and largely inexplicable nature, they tend to be quite unsettling.

So, a person who dissociates often loses track of time or themselves and their usual thought processes and memories. People who have a history of any kind of childhood abuse often suffer from some form of dissociation. In extreme cases, dissociation can lead to a person believing they have multiple selves (“multiple personality disorder”). People who use dissociation often have a disconnected view of themselves in their world. Time and their own self-image may not flow continuously, as it does for most people. In this manner, a person who dissociates can “disconnect” from the real world for a time, and live in a different world that is not cluttered with thoughts, feelings or memories that are unbearable.

Dissociation as Defense Mechanism, and Why it is Not Always Helpful

Dissociation is technically a defense mechanism—we separate out of our memory things that we don't want to or can't deal with. In trauma (like abuse or rape), that's helpful at the time. If dissociation becomes your major defense mechanism, it can become a full blown dissociative disorder which are very intense types of disorders. But outside of full blown dissociative disorders, there is still the ability to heavily rely on dissociation even if you don't have the disorder.

We can get trained to dissociate and use it against ourselves! Dissociation is when we separate from our awareness 'details' of an event. This may happen while women start dating with dangerous men, when they subconsciously “choose” to ignore screaming red flags. They are dissociating their messages away from their awareness because if they truly became 'aware,' they should stop the relationship immediately, at the very early stages, while they don't want to.

Dissociation can become a primary defense mechanism if you grew up in a dysfunctional, abusive, addictive, or violent home. That's because children can easily get overwhelmed and check out—or dissociate—because they can't handle what’s going on. If you never learned adult coping skills, then it's likely you use the ones you do know: which are from childhood. And if your primary ones were dissociation, then you're probably using that now, and it probably has gotten you into a lot of trouble in your patterns of relationship selection.

After a while, you don't even know you're dissociating. It's just automatic. So you can dissociate away a lot of important stuff early on: like discrepancies in your partner stories, his or her not-so-nice words, your partner tonality in the voice, or other behaviors that should cause you concern, but don't.

Any time you separate a memory from all its components, you are dissociating from the complete or whole memory which is why remembering ALL the relationship issues are important—not just the good times. The bad times are a part of the memory or the memory is merely a fragment of what really was going on. You can also separate out other parts of the memory like: sensations, words or phrases, physical or sexual pain inherent in the memory, things you tasted/smelled/saw, and various emotions that were prevalent in the relationship. That's why people get these very skewed “snapshots” of just the good times—and long after those times. The whole snapshot would look very different indeed if she incorporated all the senses in the memory.

Look back over your childhood for patterns of dissociation. Look back over your adult relationships and see how influenced your choices were by dissociation. Look at your life today for signs of when you check out, become aware, drift off, or stuff feelings at the speed of light so you don't have to make a decision about something. These are all aspects of dissociation. While it might have helped you in a time of trauma, as an adult your recovery is about growing into healthier and stronger coping skills than mere dissociation.

Good Sides of Dissociation

Well, do not get an idea, that dissociation is decisively bad for your body and for your soul. It can also be a great gift for you. Here are some examples of how it can be applied to your life quality enhancement:

* Dissociation can be learning self-hypnosis to turn off your experience of pain during a dental visit.
* Dissociation can be letting go of the bad memories for a while, so you can have new experiences.
* Dissociation can be the ability to attend university and study, despite homelessness and self-harm, and support responsibilities, your car stolen, and your dog dying.
* Dissociation can be discovering that you have a part who has not experienced any of the loss or heartache, a part who loves like their heart has never been broken, who hopes and dreams and cares and helps to lead your whole system to better places.
* Dissociation can be sobbing into the night, overwhelmed with grief at the loss of your child, and still being able to get up the next day to hug and cook breakfast for your other child.
* Dissociation can be disconnecting from the panic and terror and the overwhelming smell of blood to be able to help out at the car accident.
* Dissociation can be laying in your partner’s arms and touching the face and feeling the minutes stretch out to whole days, to years that you’ve lain here like this, alone together with no world intruding.
* Dissociation can be not noticing you haven’t eaten all day because the book you’re reading is absolutely brilliant and captivating and you can see all the characters in your mind and hear them talking to each other and at night you dream about them.
* Dissociation can be walking away from every cruel and unkind thing ever said about you and finding new ways to think about yourself.
* Dissociation can be having other parts to ask for help, not being alone anymore through any of the hard things.
* Dissociation can be a four-year-old inside singing you to sleep when you’re lying awake worrying about the world.
* Dissociation can be going numb when you’re feeling suicidal.
* Dissociation can be reliving the most wonderful, exciting, hopeful, inspiring moments of your life as if they happened this morning.
* Dissociation can be smelling a perfume and vividly remembering your Grandma’s garden and the feel of her hugs.
* Dissociation can be having a conversation on the phone with a sick friend, getting the lunch boxes packed, finding your shoes, filling up the cat food bowl, helping knot a tie, and getting out of the house on time to catch the bus.
* Dissociation can be the way, for just a moment, while you’re swimming, or drawing, or listening to your favorite music, or watching him play, everything in the whole world is okay.

The ability to compartmentalize is what helps us to do our best in a situation. For a doctor to concentrate on a patient needs even though their marriage is rocky and they’re stressed and anxious about it.

Dissociation can be part of the experience of artists who lose time when they paint, and athletes who forget they are tired when they’re running, and happy nerds who don’t notice someone calling their name when they’re lost in a good book.

Dissociation can be about mindfulness. The ability to be captured by the movement of the breeze in the lavender bush, to taste every drop of beer and be immersed in the smell and laughter of other humans.
You can learn how to use your dissociation. If you can turn it on, you can turn it off again. You can learn how to trigger it, how to use anchors, how to dial it up and down, how to go with the flow. When to trust it, when to shape it, when to learn other skills. We have so much to learn! Something that can help you put aside overwhelming feelings, or not feel physical pain is simply amazing! We have this idea that you have to lose all of those things in order to be well, in order to not be overwhelmed by dissociation in a way that steals life. Maybe this is true for some of us. But I’d caution making that assumption for everyone. And if you’re stuck (at least for now) with some of the downsides of being highly dissociative, why not at least explore the upsides? Maybe we don’t overcome everything by fighting it.

Examples of Dissociation

It is easier to understand the subject through the practical examples. Please see a collection of self-disclosures, which may represent the dissociation in its versatile appearance to the wide range of spectrum. I am pretty sure, that you may find some situation, you can easily identify with, but as soon as this defense mechanism does not cause you any complications in the physical functioning or cognitive process, you should not be worried.

“When I become engrossed in a good book, I lose all track of time.” –Alice M., 33, travel consultant.

I feel that somehow my body is not doing what my head wants it to be doing.” –Ernest P., 51, engineer.

“My mind wanders, and I go in and out. I just go away to myself. Nowhere, really, just not there.” –Sandra N., 19, college student.

“I have trouble remembering what I said in a presentation after I’ve made it.” –John T., 41, sales director for internet firm.

“I was at home with my mother, and the whole thing was unreal. I knew she was my mother, but i just had a feeling that she wasn’t really my mother.” –Cindy M., 32, television producer.

“I’m like a filter, who I am on a particular day depends on what’s coming into me and what’s going out. I don’t feel connected internally all the time.” – Jean W., 41, battered women’s counselor.

“I’ll explode at my husband, and afterward I can’t remember what I said.” –Gayle T., 32, aerobics instructor.

“It’s not feeling real or feeling that I’m just doing things automatically.” –Jim Z., 37, alcohol counselor.

“I feel like a girl most of the time; other times I feel more like a guy.” –Carly B., 19, college student.

“It’s like watching a movie in my head. You know, like when you’re watching a movie and you get all absorbed in the movie. And you forget who you are, where you are, what time it is, what’s going on in your life.” –Donna E., 41, nurse.

“I can become so totally concerned about what people are thinking of me or expecting from me when I’m talking to them that I become lost. I lose me.” –George N., 53, financial planner.

“I couldn’t remember whether it really happened or I imagined it.” –Suzanne O., 35, homemaker.

“It’s like being shell-shocked, you know that you’re doing something, but you feel that somebody else is doing it. You’re watching yourself from a distance. Doesn’t everyone have that feeling sometimes?” –Robert A., 51, school administrator.

“I don’t feel like myself; I feel like some other person inside me.” –Vicki B., 44, medical technician.

“I didn’t let myself feel anything about my divorce until after I was divorced. The emotional side of me just shuts down under stress.” –Fred D., 42, bond ratings analyst.

“I’ve been in a shell, and I feel empty inside.” –Linda A., 33, teacher.

“A very powerful wave of emotion comes over me, and I don’t feel in control of myself. I feel that this person is going to do what she wants and I’m over in a corner, helpless, waiting to see what happens.”
–Penelope J., 54, free-lance writer.

“I act differently with different people.” –Marsha G., 36, fashion consultant.

So, as you see, the dissociation is not always the worst case scenario, you may mistakenly think it is after watching some artistic thrillers. It definitely runs along a continuum. Most of us experience mild symptoms of it in our everyday life, like Alice, the travel consultant, who loses all track of time when she becomes engrossed in a good book - a mild form of amnesia. Then there are many other people who experience a moderate degree of symptoms but do not necessarily have a dissociative illness unless their symptoms are associated with distress or dysfunction. Of course, “moderates” who’ve adapted to their symptoms and compensated for them –sometimes unhealthily–may not regard them as distressing or realize their damaging effects. Fred, the bond ratings analyst, is a cautionary example. A man who doesn’t let himself feel anything, a manifestation of a dissociative symptom, may adapt by burying himself in his work and not experience distress in an intimate relationship until it has ended.

Severe symptoms are found mainly in people who have a dissociative disorder, but even at its most extreme this illness is not the catastrophic affliction that it’s often made out to be. In the most basic terms dissociative identity disorder, or DID, formerly called multiple personality disorder, is what happens when your “inner child” or some other hidden part of yourself operates independently, seizes control, and makes you act inappropriately or impairs your ability to function. Vicki, the medical technician, who says, “I don’t feel like myself; I feel like some other person inside me,” is describing a severe dissociative symptom because in her case that internal “other person” is a separate personality state. If that’s true for you, like Vicki, you can have DID and still complete your college education, hold down a responsible job, get married, be a good parent, and have a circle of close friends. And best of all, you can recover.

Dissociative symptoms and disorders are far more prevalent in the general population than previously recognized for a good reason: a great many people don’t report their symptoms to therapists because they can’t identify them! Research has shown that these symptoms are as common as those of depression and anxiety, but the person who is unfamiliar with them may not regard them as significant.

Sources and Additional Information:

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