Have I created my dissociative disorder?

Have I created my dissociative disorder? This really interesting question has been posted in the comments section and I thought it deserves a more in-depth response because I have heard this question asked many times over the years.

The question whether people (either clients or therapists) can create a dissociative disorder has kept the therapeutic community divided for many years now. The good news is that nobody really knows. Whatever people believe is just that: THEIR BELIEF. We don’t know enough about how our marvelous mind works to be able to give a definitive answer.

It might be wise to be cautious and not believe everything therapists (and other people) tell you – including myself here – because we all make up our own reality as we speak or think for that matter. Our perception is so fickle, it’s more about ourselves and our own history and experiences than what we perceive is going on in the world. When you find that you are able to quieten your mind and use the stillness to listen inside to your own wisdom, you will find your truth. That’s the only one that you can live by! Not my one and no-one else’s.

But I am diverting – back to the question: In my personal view it is naive to think someone only has to read a book and then can talk themselves into having a disorder so severe that it causes mental and emotional distress. “Inventing it yourself” implies a purposeful act – like creating a make-belief story that then is lived out. If we watch a movie we might be affected by it, but we still know it’s a movie, a made-up story, it’s not real. That step doesn’t seem possible for people diagnosed with a dissociative disorder (or any other disorder for that matter).

‘Inventing unknowingly’ is a contradiction in itself – it doesn’t make sense and isn’t really a thought-through statement.

I have always perceived dissociative disorders on a continuum of awareness. To use a stereotypical example: the academic in their ivory tower who is not aware of his/her other needs and feelings, and is complete ignorant about leisure, health, family, etc. This kind of ‘life’ is – even though socially acceptable and at times even admired – in my view very dissociative. It is just not recognised as a pathology because the person is not signalling that s/he is suffering.

The person that ended up with a diagnosed dissociative condition seems to me to be a bit further on the way to ‘mental health and inner peace’ because their awareness is awakened to the aspects of their lives that don’t work for them. One way of going through the mental disorders of the DSM is to view all (or most) of the listed disorders as people’s individual way of coping with the problems life is presenting them with. Does the depressed person chose to be depressed? NO. Does the anxious person chose to wake up anxious every day? NO. Neither does the dissociative person chose to see him/herself as fragmented and disconnected. Due to complex circumstances (age, resilience, support, ability to conceptualise, etc.) these people have learnt to respond to life through these specific ways. There is not really a choice as in “I am consciously choosing x”.

If we look at mental disorders from a medical/pharmaceutical perspective, the answer is usually: it’s some form of mental brain malfunction for which – thanks to pharma – we have a pill that can be prescribed and things may or may not improve. Because dissociative disorders itself don’t respond to pharmaceutical interventions, many people lean to thinking they can’t be real and therefore must be a creation of the patient or the therapist! There you have it!

If we look at mental disorders from the perspective of how human experience is created, than all our experiences are due to each individuals way of making sense of life and ability to respond to life. In that sense we do create all our experience – but is it inventing? Certainly not, it is just what every human being is doing, it’s how nature has designed us to exist.

If someone tells you that you are creating your e.g. dissociative disorder, ┬ádepression, or anxiety there is the implication that you’ve been naughty, it’s not real, you shouldn’t have done it, please un-do it quickly. They don’t understand it’s your personal response to life’s circumstances, it’s the best way you could cope with life given your resources, awareness, and thinking at the time. Once your awareness increases you will improve the quality of your responses to life.