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,  depression, 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.

New: Moving Past Sexual Abuse Seminar

Raeburn House is running again a sexual abuse survivor group. In previous years the survivor groups were ongoing support groups that accommodated survivors to attend for several terms. They were designed following the three stages of Judith Herman’s model described in Trauma and Recovery (1992). Since then our understanding of recovery has evolved and the new group will take place with an emphasis on learning rather than sharing one’s experiences.

We will explore the three principles that are behind our psychological experience so that people can overcome the debilitating symptoms often found in the aftermath of sexual abuse. That involves gaining an understanding of how our feelings are created, how to deal with low moods, how to discern between low quality of thinking and high quality of thinking, and how to cope/deal with distressing feelings.

When: Wednesdays, 8 weeks, Starts 2 May 2012
Time:·12:30pm – 2:30pm
Total Cost: $60
Facilitator: Gudrun Frerichs
Venue: Raeburn House, 138 Shakespeare Road, Milford

To enrol contact Raeburn House directly on (09) 441 8989 or email learning@raeburnhouse.org.nz.

So Simple – So Powerful

I have lately written a number of posts that reflected my understanding of the 3 Principles. I posted the trailer here for those who might be interested in getting an idea what this is all about. My understanding is still at a beginner’s level – yet as it deepens more and more, things make sense to me now that have been puzzling me as long as I can remember. For example:

How come I can look at clients and see the beautiful, good, and caring persons while they can see only ugliness, broken-ness, and fault when they look in the mirror?

We are both looking at the same person. The only difference is how we both think about him or her.

How come recovery leaps ahead when people realise abuse wasn’t their fault, that they are OK, that they are capable etc.?

The difference is the shift in thinking. Letting go of the habitual thinking from (early) childhood and looking with love and compassion at oneself through uncontaminated spectacles enables the shift.

I could come up with many more examples. What stays with me this morning as I am writing this is the importance of looking at oneself (and I mean all parts of oneself) with deep love and compassion, knowing that at any point in time people do the best they can with the resources they have and under the circumstances they are under. Knowing that deep inside every person is a part that is whole, resilient, and unbreakable. You may call is soul, or spirit, or something else altogether – it is there and it is magnificent!

Right or Wrong?

My post about ‘Discounting the Past’ has generated  comments that got me thinking about the nature of human existence.  Let’s start with the biological fact that none of us is capable of experiencing a reality ‘out there’ that is shaped and made meaning of independently from what is already ‘in here’. “In Here” meaning our mental filters that consist of personal history, beliefs, values, gender, education, energy, and many more in addition to mental processes of deletion, distortion, and generalisation which our brain does automatically.

This means what’s real to me will be different to what’s real to you because you have different ‘stuff’ in your head. Hence the notion of different realities people operate from!

That means whatever we observe in the world around us can never be separated from the person that does the observing. There is no such thing as objectivity. Taking the example of doing research: the simple process of researching is already changing the subject that is investigated. Foucault did a great experiment that highlighted how people change their behaviours when they know they are observed. There is no such thing as objective research because choice of subjects, research design, way of questioning, way of interpreting the data etc. will already influence the outcome. That’s why there is no such thing as ‘research has proven’ because for every finding made there will be an equal amount of research that proves the opposite.

Does that mean that PTSD research is wrong? It may be, it may be not. It’s like the Dodo verdict from Alice in Wonderland: Everybody wins, everybody deserves a price! It all depends on where you stand. There is no right or wrong. Who am I to say that my reality is better or ‘righter’ than yours? I am simply sharing my truth – at this moment in time. The reader does not have to agree with me. If my posts have stirred up things, that’s good, I suppose. It gives people the opportunity to reflect on what this ‘being stirred up’ is all about.

Thinking about recovery from childhood sexual abuse within the framework of the 3 Principles of Mind, Thought, and Consciousness, whereby the focus is on the innate, unbreakable health present in each person that can be accessed once we become conscious of our negative thinking about ourselves and our lives and let go of that mode of thinking, makes a lot of common sense to me. It holds a lot of hope and the promise of regaining control of one’s life. Please, don’t take these 4 lines as a ‘treatment approach’, rather look at what my words are pointing at.

Is processing trauma for years better or worse than ‘leaving it alone’? Who’s to know. The proof really is in the pudding, as they say. If it works for the individual to go deeply into revisiting the past, if it makes life easier, if it makes people’s life more joyful, then there is your answer. If life remains difficult with numerous hospital admissions, suicidal thoughts, low self-worth, frequent anxiety attacks, long depressive episodes, isolation, and little joy it might be worthwhile to try on the ‘leaving it alone’ approach. See what happens when you take a holiday from your problems! The good news is that every survivor can find out for him or herself. There are several links in the sidebar of my website of sites that offer resources about the application of the 3 Principle understanding. Have a look around! If you like what you see and would like to explore this concept for your recovery, you can also contact me. 

Discounting the Past

Today I would like to respond to comments made earlier this month on the ‘home’ page here. My first impulse was being saddened by the confusion and despair readers felt by some of my latest post. However, it didn’t take long for me to get excited. Every time someone presents a challenge it gives me – and I suppose everyone – the opportunity to widen our understanding and deepen our insight. So I am very grateful for people to take the time and formulate their opinion and point out that what they are reading is not gelling for them.

It’s a tricky topic, the topic of “it’s just thought”, isn’t it? It’s hard to get one’s head around the fact that the world we experience is rather more a hologram created by our own thinking then a representation of what’s really OUT THERE. Especially when we end up with a badly bruised body or mind by our encounters with “out there”, be it objects or people’s’ actions. That’s however how it is – it’s a biological reality that we can’t grasp what’s out there without processing and interpreting it through our mental filters (history, beliefs, values etc.), through what’s ‘IN HERE’. It doesn’t mean you are doing something wrong or something bad. Experiencing your personal hologram as real is doing exactly what mother nature designed you to do: thinking that your thoughts are real. Everybody operates like that – nobody gets spared! Continue reading

How To Understand PTSD

Judith Sedgeman and Dr. Bill Pettit talk about PTSD. This is an amazing 36 minute interview in which Dr. Pettit sheds a totally new light on PTSD and the recovery from trauma. I am very interested in hearing what people think about it. It would be great to have a discussion about it!

A New Model Of Change

Many people want to make changes in their lives. It is obviously something very close to our heart because millions of people are making it their business to help others change: consultants, coaches, trainers, advisers, and therapists, to name just a few. Change can have many faces, but no matter what change people aim for, it’s always a difficult process – at least that is the commonly accepted view-point..

All throughout my life I have worked and been with many men and women who were desperate to change. They hated almost everything about themselves: the way they felt, the way they looked, their health, their behaviours, their thoughts, the way people treated them … the list could go on and on.

More often than not these people just couldn’t see what I saw: That they were nice, kind, caring people. The only thing that stood in their way of seeing what I saw, was their negative way of thinking about themselves.Years of habitual negative, critical thoughts about themselves and their behaviours. Most likely influenced by childhood experiences but nonetheless carried forward in life – indeed kept alive – by their own mental processes of thinking these negative thoughts over and over again.

The ‘traditional’ way of dealing with these situations is either to help a person to change the content of their thoughts or by exploring in-depth how childhood experiences have planted the seeds in the person’s head. Both approaches are fairly time-consuming and not that successful – I know that because I have been trained in traditional psychotherapy and worked for years according to these theories. If these theories were so effective, shouldn’t we have a planet full of blissfully happy inhabitants by now given the army of ‘change workers’ each day?

No matter how often I demonstrated to clients – with evidence – that they are likeable, good people with a good working brain and a good working heart, they never immediately slapped their forehead and said “Of course, you are right, thank you for helping me see it”. It often took year(s) for that shift to happen. These negative self-thoughts were like kikuyu grass refusing to be eradicated.The traditional way of change appears to be more like ‘the tail wagging the dog’.

Let me propose a new model of change. Who says that change is hard work? Aren’t there plenty of examples of people having an insight, or at the snap of the finger making a fundamental change in their lives? Human beings are so incredibly adaptable that they will move towards their innate health and well-being when they are shown how to leave their thoughts ‘alone’.

Thoughts, of course, are just thoughts. Positive thoughts, negative thoughts, judgemental thoughts, critical thoughts are just thoughts. They are not real, they are just some arbitrary thoughts a person has about what they think is real. Thoughts about something or someone are just like a street map people have about the city they live in. Useful to help navigate your way around, but nonetheless a map of Auckland is not Auckland. It’s not the real thing.

A new model of change involves taking a leaf out of Eastern philosophical traditions and learning to take one’s thoughts and perceptions not so seriously. They are just thoughts, nothing more. Where the trouble begins is that thoughts (we have between 50 and 100 thousand conscious and unconscious thoughts each day) lead to feelings and the stronger the feelings are, people feel compelled to take them very serious and act on them.

A new model of change involves showing people that they have easy access to their wisdom when they take their upsetting thoughts and thus their upsetting feelings less serious. When they are in a calm, quiet mind, they have access to their wisdom, creativity, and good ideas to help them deal with any problems at hand.

I have seen this change only take a split second. Change truly can be only one thought away!

If you curious about this model of change, contact me so that we can make a time to talk!

Messages From The Past

Messages from the past are a bit of a mixed bag, aren’t they? Remember the movie ‘The Goonies’, where kids are finding an old treasure map in the attic and get quite excited about the possibility of helping their parents out financially, ending up – after overcoming dangerous booby traps – finding an old pirate ship full of jewels and gold?  Happy ending, but a nail-biter in between. I suppose, one could say the message was a positive one, given that it evoked excitement and hope.

Other messages from the past are not so positive. Most people who read this blog have had a history of abuse and neglect. They struggle with old messages either given through hurtful words and actions or through neglect, the absence of caring and nurturing words and behaviours. In short these messages can be summed up as ‘you are not worthy of care, love, and protection. One can easily see that the later messages are negative ones given they can be emotionally crippling and causing symptoms (low/no self-confidence, lack of self-care, lack of emotion regulation skills) some people label as ‘mental illness’.

Most survivors, if I would be able to take them onto a journey into the past whereby we could visit a fellow survivor in her childhood and observe a situation when they are being hurt, would say without hesitation that the fellow survivor does not deserve to be hurt, it’s not her fault, there was nothing she did wrong. Indeed they would immediately see that the parent and/or abuser were accountable of their acts no matter what excuses they would utter.

How come that people carry these message for years and years in their hearts? Partially because there are strong painful emotions accompanying abuse and emotions act like glue, they make memories stick! Another reason is that abuse happens mostly in childhood when the kid’s cognitive development is mainly shaped by egocentrism causing her to believe that she ‘made’ it happen.

Looking back as adults, we can see easily the fault in such thinking. How then are we to understand survivors tendency to nurture these old negative messages from the past? Especially given that often the message sender was ‘out of his/her mind’? Given that what a person says or does has all to do with that person and with nobody else. Given that a statement such as “you are …. xyz” can’t possibly be true and accurate given that whatever a person perceives is filtered through his/her own history, filters, biases and subject to distortion, deletion, and generalisations.

I hope that survivors give some attention to the function of thought in human’s experience of creating reality and scrutinize their own thoughts about themselves. Thinking “I am not OK” or anything negative about themself can’t possibly be real because it does not take the whole person into consideration and completely ignores that thoughts are just thoughts. They are like a picture of a person but never the living person. A living person is more than a picture can ever convey.

I wonder what help my readers with putting their self-perceptions into perspective. If you want to know how understanding the processes of thought, mind, and consciousness can help you to have a better life, and if you want to know how to let go of a child’s perspective, follow this link and contact me.

The ABC of Anxiety

I was watching breakfast TV this morning to catch up on the Cold Blast that has a tight grip on New Zealand for some days now. While sipping my hot cuppa after the weather update I listened to a psychologist talking about anxiety, how normal it is (according to her more people are suffering from an anxiety disorder than do from depression), how the body responds, and then offered a smorgasbord of suggestions how to deal with anxiety: relaxation, meditation, yoga, and if nothing helps seek out a health professional. This is the standard advice and treatment given for anxiety – besides drugs. How then is it that anxiety in increasing and people struggle with it for years? Can it be that there is something missing in understanding anxiety?

Anxiety is a derivation of fear. We never speak of a fear disorder, because fear is a NORMAL response to a dangerous situation. In a split-second the brain takes in the circumstances of the environment through the senses, evaluates it on whatever prior knowledge or experience people have of similar circumstances. Then it shoots neurological commands (mainly through the neurotransmitter adrenaline and cortisone) through our body to either freeze, fight, or flight. The commanding thought that goes with it is for example ‘Oh, help, run, or I am going to be killed’! When you stand in the middle of the road and a truck is coming you way, you want to quickly mobilize your body and get out-of-the-way. You will want to run. Fear helps you to do so. When the situation has passed, fear will leave your body and your physical chemistry will go back to ‘normal’.

Anxiety on the other hand, is not so much about a real situation. Anxiety is being fearful of something that is not real. Anxiety is about something PEOPLE THINK is real – but it isn’t because it has not happened yet and may or may not happen at all. Anxiety is a feeling people have because they have a thought or a battery of thoughts about a future situation they are making up inside of their heads. “If I am late for work I will be fired” or “If I speak out I will be hurt” or “The share market will crash and I will lose my money” or “I might lose everything if there is another earthquake” or “If I get closer to my partner I will get hurt”. These are just a few examples of fearful thoughts, worries about possible future events or consequences that are the cause feelings of anxiety.

Unfortunately, the human brain has no way of distinguishing whether something is real or people just think it’s real. It will respond the same way as it does in dangerous situations: adrenaline and cortisone will flood through the body – yet there is nothing OUT THERE to respond to, only an imaginary threat. People don’t have to freeze, flight, or fight. The way I see it, spiralling anxious thoughts leads to more flooding with neuro-chemicals which might lead to a full-blown panic attack.

One might say there is no such thing as an anxiety disorder. It should be classified as a thought disorder – although I think it is not helpful to be seen as a disorder at all. It only benefits the pharmaceutical industry who can sell millions of dollars worth of drugs, without addressing the root cause of the anxiety, people’s thoughts, but instead messing around with people’s chemical make-up.

Anxiety is more about lacking understanding how our brain works. Once individuals can be helped to see that their thinking is causing their feelings, they are in control of changing that. They can let go of their worrisome thought by learning it is just a thought, it’s not real. The average person has 50,000-70,000 thoughts a day. Why not wait for a positive thought about NOW and give energy to that? Let go of the negative thought of what might happen if…, it’s not real. When you are in a calm state your inner wisdom will tell you whether you need to do something about your investment portfolio to be less vulnerable to share market fluctuations. It is not hard to see that a state of high anxiety is not helpful for making good decisions or plans.