Friday, February 28, 2014

Vignettes while on a break #1

A word about dissociative disorders, their subterranean compelled behaviors, states of unreality, ego-alien command voices, and alter personalities.

In one week, five men and women, unknown to each other, came to therapy with psychic rip currents from hell, material from an underworld of crushed and crazy-made childhood.  All five were pleasant personalities, good people being run, to varying degrees, by demons.  Not their demons.  In three cases, by their parent's demons, somatoemotionally raped into them.  One, a neighbor boy’s demons.  The last, unknown, as the several personalities were not even a twinkle in the child daydreamer’s eye but bloomed, fully active, during his workaday adult life.

I am not one of the exotic breed of specialists in traumatic dissociation, satanic abuse or multiple personality, and for some reason I find these hothouse jungle flowers only slightly interesting.  To me, symptoms are symptoms, they all come from injury – psychopath and nail-biter alike – but these purple-plumed poly-identity folk are reaching a bit beyond the pale.

“Let’s have a normal neurosis, OK?” I might say were my inner child in the captain’s seat, not me.

What I do know is the singularity of dissociation, and that it is a baseline state in countless lives which may seem, to self and all the world, completely earthbound.  Depression is dissociation – sending down and under one’s real feeling self.  Chronic anxiety is dissociation – fear replaces the spontaneous expression of feeling, thinking and action.  Those of us who have reason for pain – our childhood losses – but do not feel it, are by that fact “not all here,” no matter the clarity of our intellect or the competence of our lives.  This is dissociation.  And the split-off self, cramped, burning and frozen in the past inside us, remains primitive – like mayhem.  And mayhem is what may emerge later on.

As a little girl, the woman watched her mother pointing and talking to archangels on clouds for hours.  She would be beaten then told “it didn’t happen.”  A child can’t remain the rapt audience to her mother’s craziness or her own twisted reception.  She must “leave” herself.  Later on, like a car’s dimmer mirror that tilts a fraction of an inch to show a ghostly reflection, her reality would surprisingly flip away: Suddenly, everything was unreal.  And people would be on fire.

One of the men was a crazed killer, though he had never hurt an animal or person, and the reality was only in his ceaseless thoughts.  Another man, though he loved his wife and had all-good intentions, was aggressive and crazy-making: He needed to make her feel like a monstrous defect, to exorcise his father from his bed.

In Waking the Tiger*, Peter Levine describes a wild animal’s ability to prevent the post-trauma state.

“Nature has developed the immobility response for two good reasons.  One, it serves as a last-ditch survival strategy.  You might know it better as playing possum.  Take the young impala, for instance.  There is a possibility that the cheetah may decide to drag its ‘dead’ prey to a place safe from other predators; or to its lair, where the food can be shared later with its cubs.  During this time, the impala could awaken from its frozen state and make a hasty escape in an unguarded moment.  When it is out of danger, the animal will literally shake off the residual effects of the immobility response and gain full control of its body.  It will then return to its normal life as if nothing had happened” (p. 16).
“. . . .  The energy in our young impala’s nervous system as it flees from the pursuing cheetah is charged at seventy miles an hour.  The moment the cheetah takes its final lunge, the impala collapses.  From the outside, it looks motionless and appears to be dead, but inside, its nervous system is still supercharged at seventy miles an hour.  Though it has come to a dead stop, what is now taking place in the impala’s body is similar to what occurs in your car if you floor the accelerator and stomp on the brake simultaneously.  The difference between the inner racing of the nervous system (engine) and the outer immobility (brake) of the body creates a forceful turbulence inside the body similar to a tornado.”
“A threatened human (or impala) must discharge all the energy mobilized to negotiate that threat or it will become a victim of trauma.  . . . .”
“Animals in the wild instinctively discharge all their compressed energy and seldom develop adverse symptoms.  We humans are not as adept in this arena” (pp. 19-20).
What we absorb, what we swallow in childhood fells us, like the impala, in our tracks, yet we keep moving.  Brain and body hold our trauma which lives its atavistic, grimly repetitive life inside and outside.  Traumatic memories are those that aren’t “digested,” don’t assimilate into the narrative timeline.  Alter identities have two-dimensional scripts, unchanging.  Calof**, talking about the specialized nature of different personalities, cites a woman who contained an alter that ‘fed the baby’: That’s all it did.

Occasionally, “Murphy’s Law”-type psycho-observations rear their heads despite our hopes.  One is – Our parents and their ghosts damage us, but only we can deal with the mess.  Another is – All the knives and nightmares of our trauma, do we someday ‘discharge all the compressed energy’ and have healing mayhem, or do we continue to fuse, finesse it, keep it swallowed?

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* Peter A. Levine, Waking the Tiger – Healing Trauma, North Atlantic Books, 1997.

** David L. Calof, Multiple Personality and Dissociation -- Understanding Incest, Abuse, and MPD, Parkside Publishing, Illinois, 1993.

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Comments are welcome, but I'd suggest you first read "Feeling-centered therapy" and "Ocean and boat" for a basic introduction to my kind of theory and therapy.