Have you ever been at a movie conversing with someone or been a witness to some experience to which you’d rather not feel connected? For example, I’ve experienced discomfort watching scenes in movies so that I could get information about the plot but didn’t want to relive a gory scene in my dreams. I’ve listened to clients share past experiences that I didn’t want to take on emotionally and I’ve witnessed accidents where I’ve needed to be aware and alert in order to provide help but without feeling the trauma of the situation. There is a tool that can help you have control over your experiences and emotions that is so easy to use, children use it without being taught about it. I’m talking about dissociation. Dissociation is the phenomenon of “viewing” an event from a third-person perspective, outside of yourself, in your mind’s eye.
We all know what it is like to be associated in an experience and remember vivid details as if the experience was happening again (your first kiss, buying a new car, your wedding, holding your newborn baby for the first time). Many experiences like these are enjoyable. Unfortunately most people also have traumatic life experiences including abuse memories that they relive, repeatedly, in an associative frame of mind. In my years of work with individuals who were sexually and physically abused (either as children or adults or both) I taught my clients how to use the tool of dissociation for their benefit. In pop psychology, it is often said that it is “bad” to disassociate. I think it is bad to not have a choice! I’d rather individuals have the choice to remember something, whether it be a good or bad experience, either associated or disassociated, depending in the circumstances and usefulness at the time. Often children and adults who experienced abuse naturally disassociated during the abusive episodes as a means of survival. What a brilliant way to protect oneself mentally when physically they could not stop the abuse! If a young child can make use of this wonderful tool, why can’t you?
Just recently my family was watching a children’s movie where an animal was being separated from its sibling and my son began to cry. After my husband reassured him that in the end they would be reunited, my three-year old stretched and reached his arms back over his head. This piece of behavior is one of the classic postures of dissociation. He naturally moved away from his sadness and continued watching the movie. We have never directly taught him how to do this but if you’d find it useful, someone at Bright Mind would be happy to teach you!
- Buried memories key to sexual abuse cases (scnow.com)
- Childhood adversity affects adult brain and body functions, researchers find (guardian.co.uk)