If you think about the word, “dissociate”, what is the first thing that comes to your mind? Maybe it’s nothing more than just wondering what that means exactly, so you hit up Google to find out. Or, if you are a survivor of trauma, it may conjure up fear, confusion, and a feeling of a losing control. If you’re in the latter category, sometimes even hearing that word is enough to make you wish you were thinking of anything else but that.
If you’ve experienced trauma, it’s likely that you dissociated during the event(s) as they unfolded; your brain’s way of protecting you by not allowing you to be fully present because of the severity of what was going on. I know I have experienced it and struggled with the after effects of those events and the dissociation as well, long after my childhood trauma has ended.
HealthyPlace.com describes Dissociation as: a disruptions in aspects of consciousness, identity, memory, physical actions and/or the environment.*
Miriam-Webster defines it as to separate from association or union with another. Dictionary.com definition: to sever the association of (oneself); separate: to withdraw from association. The word is also associated with chemistry, in reference to a molecule, but we won’t go down that path. For the purposes of this content, we’ll focus on the Neuro Linguistic Programming, NLP, utilization of Dissociating.
So why would anyone want to intentionally dissociate? Let’s put it in the context of doing so with the mindset of helping ourselves deal with anxiety. I’ve found it helpful with clients to encourage them to think of dissociating not in the clinical sense, as our brain trying to protect us from a traumatic experience, but rather an intentional way of detaching from our “first person” emotional feelings of anxiety in order to gain perspective by seeing ourselves in a 3rd person point of view, or from a distance.
Anxiety thrives on emotions, it loves take whatever experience you are currently engaged in and blow it way out of proportion, taking you down a path of recalling every invalidating past circumstance and anticipating the very worse in the future. In short, we are stuck in emotional mind and can’t use our rational, clear mind to see what’s really happening.
Intentionally dissociating from an experience allows us to gain perspective and exhibit self-compassion during a time when we are seemingly unable to do so; resorting to spinning out, feeling stuck, and other maladaptive coping thoughts and strategies. Those default responses were likely built up and nurtured over time because it’s all we knew.
So how we do take a step back, gain that perspective, and see ourselves and the situation for what it truly is, rather than anxiety wants us to believe it is?
First off, it’s important to understand that when you are experiencing anxiety about a situation, you are living it in a first person perspective. You are in the moment, completely associated, and living it in real-time through your own eyes. This is where we get stuck; being so caught up in what’s happening that we can’t rationally make sense of it and separate fact from emotional feelings.
Remember, anxiety is the left over fear and emotions from past circumstances and events, or the anticipating of what we think is coming in the future, often times based on the past.
Use your rational mind to see the situation for what it is by pausing and taking a step back from yourself, seeing “you” experiencing the events in real-time and then being able to offer compassion and kindness, and alternative strategies to deal with it.
For example, you are sitting with a friend, listening to them share a story. You are not experiencing it yourself, you are simply an impartial observer, detached and safe. You can see the situation for what it is because you are not emotionally involved real-time. You have clarity and can offer compassion, advice, and support from a perspective that your friend may not be able to give his or her self.
It’s the exact same thing only instead of you seeing your friend share and experience the events, it’s you seeing yourself.
- Is this really as bad as I’m making it out to be?
- Is this an old feeling from a past traumatic event?
- Am I truly unsafe, in danger? If so what can I do to get to safety…or is this my emotions running wild and I really am not in any danger?
- What alternatives can I do right now to stop the unhealthy and invalidating feelings?
- How can I show myself compassion and kindness rather than beating myself up emotionally for doing “the same old thing again”?
By disengaging from the real-time, emotional state, we see things and ourselves, from a whole new perspective. One that gives us options to use healthy coping skills that we’ve developed but perhaps weren’t able to use because we couldn’t see past the anxiety to get to the point of using our skills.
It takes practice but once you grasp the concept, it can be done very quickly and in virtually any situation that would normally cause you to freeze and feel helpless. Be kind to yourself, take your time with it, and see if this might be something that works for you. 🙂
For more NLP Basics, check out my other posts on this topic.
Content on this website is intended for educational and informational purposes only. It is not a substitute for medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment, nor is it a substitute for mental health counseling, therapy, diagnosis, or treatment.