Dissociation is Bliss, the Body is Pain
When addressing trauma, one must be aware that dissociation is a safety mechanism, a way of dealing with the overwhelming experience of a traumatic event or period in life.
Practitioners who ignore this survival mechanism and push for release are potentially making the symptomatic conditions of PTSD or Complex Trauma worse rather than better.
Reversing the Dissociation Processes in Order Heal PTSD and Complex Trauma
Dissociation shows as feeling disconnected from bodily sensations or the body in general, and it often goes with excessive thinking and pressure in the head. Being disconnected from “feelings” and being in the head is perceived to be “safe”. To reconnect with the body and its sensations is likely to be perceived as “unsafe”.
These mechanisms involved in dissociation must be brought into awareness while working with a client during the unfolding of a therapeutic process. Only then can an attempt be made to explore the boundaries of “safe” and “unsafe” with the aim in mind of processing traumatic residue.
Telling the story of what happened while gradually increasing connection to body sensations will help process and release the high energy charge in the nervous system. It is by careful monitoring, when one can venture into “unsafe” emotional territory while at the same time building increased capacity to contain and hold the space for the accompanying body sensations, that release and resolving PTSD can be successful.
Building up Resilience by Containing Traumatic Wounds
For the purpose of clarification, let’s present an example: James recounts an incidence of torture in his early teens. As he tells his story, I notice there is no emotional presence in what he is recounting, which I point out to him. He is aware of this and we talk about dissociation, safety and being in the head rather than the body.
Once we have addressed these mechanisms, we start working with this by exploring the boundaries of “feeling” into the body and being “unsafe” and being in the head and disconnected. Through swinging back and forth, we increasingly build his capacity to stay with unpleasant body sensations. Once James gets back in touch and senses the helplessness and “freeze” response, we can start working to complete the biological fight and flight response by using his anger as a constructive, empowering force, helping him to reestablish healthy boundaries and containment.