Dissociation Helped Us Cope With Childhood But Keeps Us Stuck in the Past

A lot of the recovery from childhood trauma, abuse, etc. is about learning the ways we avoided feeling the feelings. We don’t heal until we feel.

1.”Individuals use denial and repression to protect the ego from disintegration. Living with both the constant unpredictability of the alcoholic parent and the detachment and/or anxiety of the codependent parent is difficult enough for an adult who has a fully developed defense system. For a child, surviving the regular assault of trauma requires massive amounts of energy. This puts the normal developmental process on hold; there is no energy left to invest in development. While other children are learning to play, to trust, to self-soothe, and to make decisions, children in addicted families are learning to survive. The end result is a child who often feels thirty years old at five and five years old at thirty.”   Jane Middelton-Moz

2. From ACA (Adult Children of Alcoholics) Red Book: “Repressing Feelings to Survive”

“To survive in the midst of confusion and to have any sense of control, Adult Children must distance or dissociate from their feelings of panic and fear. There are three forms of dissociation.”

“The first uses the functional defenses of the mind to deny or distort the painful reality by repressing, projecting or rationalizing the feelings that are causing the pain.”

“Using a substance to alter the feelings is the second way to dissociate from feeling pain. The most easily available substances are alcohol, sugar, nicotine and caffeine.”

“A final form of dissociation uses negative excitement to keep us unaware of deeper fear. By focusing our attention on phobias, obsessions, dreams and taboos, and compulsively tensing in response to these fears, we force the body to build a protective physical armor and to produce adrenaline, endorphins and melatonin to chemically block the perception of pain.”

“All three forms of dissociation keep us imprisoned in a narrow and familiar range of behavior, never reaching the extremes of panicked exhaustion or of collapse into suicidal despair.”

3. “In response to threat and injury, animals, including humans, execute biologically based, non-conscious action patterns that prepare them to meet the threat and defend themselves. The very structure of trauma, including activation, dissociation and freezing are based on the evolution of survival behaviors. When threatened or injured, all animals draw from a “library” of possible responses. We orient, dodge, duck, stiffen, brace, retract, fight, flee, freeze, collapse, etc. All of these coordinated responses are somatically based- they are things that the body does to protect and defend itself. It is when these orienting and defending responses are overwhelmed that we see trauma.

The bodies of traumatized people portray “snapshots” of their unsuccessful attempts to defend themselves in the face of threat and injury. Trauma is a highly activated incomplete biological response to threat, frozen in time. For example, when we prepare to fight or to flee, muscles throughout our entire body are tensed in specific patterns of high energy readiness. When we are unable to complete the appropriate actions, we fail to discharge the tremendous energy generated by our survival preparations. This energy becomes fixed in specific patterns of neuromuscular readiness. The person then stays in a state of acute and then chronic arousal and dysfunction in the central nervous system. Traumatized people are not suffering from a disease in the normal sense of the word- they have become stuck in an aroused state. It is difficult if not impossible to function normally under these circumstances.”       Peter A. Levine

4. “It is now recognised that dissociation is a way of forgetting, for a time. The mind siphons off the bad memories into a separate part, and reclaiming those hidden-away memories use a complex process. So, when the memories resurface it does not feel as though they belong to you, it feels alien, more as if someone had told them to you, or you had seen the images in a film.”  Carolyn Bramhall

5. “Dissociation is the common response of children to repetitive, overwhelming trauma and holds the untenable knowledge out of awareness. The losses and the emotions engendered by the assaults on soul and body cannot, however be held indefinitely. In the absence of effective restorative experiences, the reactions to trauma will find expression. As the child gets older, he will turn the rage in upon himself or act it out on others, else it all will turn into madness.” Judith Spencer

6. “The story doesn’t change when we “turn it around” and pretend it was all an illusion. The story doesn’t change when we get addicted to transcendence and float above it. The story doesn’t change when we feign forgiveness and resolution. The story doesn’t change when we confuse dissociation with expansion. The story doesn’t change when we tell ourselves that there were no victims. The story changes when we own our pain. The story changes when we work it through to the lessons at its core. The story changes when we are truly seen in our suffering. The story changes when we heal our heart. We are made of story — there’s no shame in that. The illusion is illusion, itself. Either we work through our story, or our story will work through us.”   Jeff Brown

7. “Dissociation can enable us to withstand pain and loss under which we would otherwise break. It enables us to survive and pull through. But, a habit of continual dissociation – especially after the trauma has passed – leads to the shut-in feeling I was experiencing. While I imagined I was being strong in the face of pain, in reality, I was merely hiding.”   Sarah Hackley

Photo credit.


      • I know what you meant and thank you. I appreciate that I have helped someone. Gratitude is the foundation for my recovery.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Funny that you say that. I have been doing ok on working towards the feeling of ‘I am happy that I quit’ for 3,5 years now. I always say this and then find out if I am really happy or if there is something standing between me and happy / sobriety. But lately I have been finding that happy does not cut it anymore, too fleety. while gratitude is a basic, long lasting, serotonine experience. 🙂 Let’s see.
        May I re-blog this post?
        xx, Feeling


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