Written by Wendy Cope, Personal-Growth & Recovery Coach, www.healthytothecore.net
Have you ever noticed when a friend comes to you for advice about a situation it is so easy to offer great ideas and solutions to them, yet, when confronted with our own it is much harder to see clearly and come up with practical answers? The reason is we are generally observers for our friends and when we observe, we can think more rationally. We are disassociated with our friends’ challenges. In our own situations we often become our situations. We feel everything, and we get stuck. We are associated with our own dilemmas.
When we disassociate with something, we are more detached. We have the ability to observe. It’s like watching ourselves on t.v. or from afar. We only see and hear what is going on. We experience feelings about the situation, but not like the characters we are observing who are feeling the powerful sensations.
Be mindful that disassociation has nothing to do with the mental health diagnosis of “dissociative disorder”. Dissociative disorder is characterized by:
* The splitting off from consciousness, as in amnesia or mental blocking.
* Not remembering or connecting to a feeling as a coping or defense mechanism.
Disassociation in this article means to observe a situation to gain a different perspective and decrease the intensity of negative feelings associated with it, both mentally and physically.
Association is when we relive an experience. We are in it and see everything around us from that perspective. We feel the feelings in what seems like real time. We have other sensory experiences. What we see, hear, smell, even taste, as if it were happening right now. Association is when we are being the active participant.
Think of a time you were very happy, like a graduation. What pictures do you see? Are you watching yourself walking across the stage to get your diploma or are you walking across the stage to get it? Whichever one you answered, try to see it from the alternative perspective. Which one feels more intense? Is it happier? Does it feel different physically? Which feeling would you rather have? If you are like most people, association feels much happier. It is usually more sensory, and physically triggers endorphins that add to the emotional experience.
Now think of something that was disappointing, maybe not getting a job you really wanted. What picture do you see now? Are you watching yourself open the mail and reading some type of notice or are you standing there with the reject notice in front of you? Whichever you answered, try it from the other perspective. Which seems less intense? Is there a difference in how you experience it physically? If you are like most people, disassociation takes the sting out of rejection and makes it easier to look at it logically.
When is it best to be Associated or Disassociated?
Unfortunately, research has found that many people disassociate with happy memories and associate with unpleasant ones. That is backwards!!! When we are thinking of something pleasant, we will view it more positively when we are associated in it. It will create positive thoughts which will make us feel happier. When we feel happier, we physically become healthier. Our heart beat settles and our blood pressure calms. If we take a moment to slow down and experience other sensations, (sounds, smells, sights…) it will enhance the feeling even deeper. This can be a powerful tool when trying to get motivated.
Dissociating from unpleasant memories or experiences decreases the emotional pain, depression, and anxiety that often accompany them. When we become an observer (vs. participant) we can see things from an objective viewpoint, and release emotion attached to an event. In my experience, this release has a positive impact both emotionally and physically as well. I have combined this with other techniques to decrease the intensity such as “dimming the lights” and “lowering the volume” (heck, hit the mute button) and “making the screen smaller and fade out”. These tools are powerful because they decrease or eliminate the sensory connections, which is what the unconscious is more likely to hold on to.
It’s never wise to get stuck in one mode or the other. Pain is not comfortable, but it can be part of an important learning and growth experience. When person gets stuck in disassociated mode, they analyze everything rationally but will not experience a range of emotion and are not better off. They should learn how to associate into their feelings, at least some of the time. When someone is so associated with their pain, they relive it over and over, even if unconsciously, and it becomes problematic. It can increase anxiety, depression, and lead to self-destructive behaviors. They would then benefit from learning how to disassociate from painful experiences.
Brown, S.. Psychology Today. Retrieved fromhttps://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/pathological-relationships/201211/dissociation-isnt-life-skill
Hall, L. M. . NLP Mentor. Retrieved from https://nlp-mentor.com/association-dissociation/
Author unknown, World Trans. Retrieved fromhttp://www.worldtrans.org/TP/TP1/TP1-119.HTML