Understanding Dissociation: A Balanced Perspective

Dissociation has become a buzzword on social media, with increased focus on mental health struggles. While this heightened awareness is both positive and negative, it’s essential to clarify misconceptions surrounding this term. As an internal therapist, I cringe when I hear dissociation misused. So, let’s delve into its true meaning and foster understanding.

First and foremost, it’s important to acknowledge that EVERYONE dissociates. It’s a normal psychological process. However, it becomes concerning when we lack control over it and it starts negatively impacting our lives. Dissociation is our brain’s response to overwhelming stimuli, causing us to retreat inward. It often aligns with the freeze response of fight, flight, or freeze and is commonly associated with stress. For instance, have you ever driven home after a highly stressful day at work and arrived without remembering the journey? That’s a form of dissociation. It’s often a survival response. When trauma is involved, our fight, flight, or freeze response may be more active, leading to increased instances of freezing.

Manifestations of dissociation can include emotionally “checking out” of relationships, staring at walls for extended periods without realizing the passage of time, or experiencing memory gaps throughout the day. These are recurring themes that arise when working with individuals across the dissociation spectrum.

It’s crucial to recognize that dissociation is a natural biological survival response. Let’s reiterate: a SURVIVAL response. Instead of demonizing it as a frightening mental health issue, we should appreciate its role while also acknowledging when it no longer serves us.

One common way people dissociate is through mindless scrolling on our phones. While we all engage in this behavior, it’s important to realize that it may not always be beneficial. If you find yourself dissociating frequently, consider putting the phone down and using fidget or sensory tools to keep your hands busy while staying present in the moment.

This brings me to the importance of grounding ourselves through sensory tools. Using pleasant scents, warm or cold drinks, peppermint, fidget tools, or textured surfaces can help bring us back into our bodies and out of our heads. Personally, I find taking a hot or cold shower with fragrant body wash to be an excellent grounding tool, as it provides a nearly full sensory experience.

Choosing healthy dissociation tools is crucial. If you notice increased dissociation, take time to meet your body’s needs in a more adaptive way. Engage in activities such as taking a break in a dark room, reading, listening to music, or free doodling. By recognizing our needs and addressing them, we can move forward with our day without feeling overwhelmed or compelled to hide from our experiences.

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