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I was truly surprised as I read my chosen course material to get relicensed as a Marriage and Family Therapist in the state of California. (I must complete 36 hours of continuing education every two years.) One of the topics I chose this time around was: Demystifying Dissociation: Principles, Best Practices, and Clinical Approaches.
The title may seem to be off-putting but it had been literally years since I had read anything so eye-opening and relevant to myself, my work as a psychotherapist, and to Attitude Reconstruction. So many puzzle pieces came together that I felt impelled to write down some obvious and startling concepts.
It goes like this:
We experienced traumas (defined as “unhealed wounds of a physical, emotional, psychological, sexual, or spiritual nature”) throughout our lives. Some of them are too large and overwhelming for us to process. In Attitude Reconstruction terms that means there are events that occurred where we didn’t have the safe space, encouragement, or wherewithall to express our sadness, anger, and fear completely and thoroughly.
What happens at those specific, or repeated moments of trauma? We dissociate, which means we separate ourselves from the present moment when something unpleasant or overwhelming occurs. When I say “dissociate”, in layperson’s terms it just means, “space out,” “check out,” “zone out,” or “go unconscious.”
How Did We Survive the Trauma?
How did we survive these traumatic times? Our brain wanted to manufacture an experience that would lessen our pain and bring us pleasure. Here’s where addictions come in. Regardless of what the trauma, or at what age our traumas occur, infancy (neglect), childhood (abuse, violence, or alcoholic caretaker), teen years (bullying, embarrassment, or shunning), or adulthood (insufficient money, discrimination, hurtful and painful relationships, betrayal, war, to name just a few), we have developed ways to produce pleasure and take us away from our pain.
Our discomfort and need to escape is retriggered today by similar and subtle memories of our old wounds that happen to us right now. For instance, if we felt abandoned, lonely, and unloved as an infant or child and now find ourselves alone, it can produce the strong desire to escape from those painful feelings. We gravitate to a substance or activity that will increase the flow of dopamine in our brain.
In addition to resorting to addictions to escape, a secondary situation occurs when we are not able to express our emotions fully. We developed predictable destructive attitudes to compensate and mask our feelings of sadness, anger, and fear. These manifest in repetitive thoughts, words, and actions. (What these attitudes are and how to dismantle them is the scope of Attitude Reconstruction.)
Getting the Upper Hand on the Past
Now that I’ve laid the groundwork about trauma and dissociation, let’s get back to addictions and how to get the upper hand over them. It is nearly impossible to stop our addictions from running our lives and stop our tendency to dissociate from the present at emotionally-fraught times. We may try something like AA to stop drinking but oftentimes end up substituting cigarettes, coffee, sweets, or endless meetings, for alcohol to mask our discomfort rather than face the underlying cause.
If we want to be our best selves, (filled with the emotions of joy, love, and peace), we must confront our past traumas. This we can do usually, but not necessarily, with a trained professional. There are different affective approaches. Everyone needs to find a modality that feels safe and produces the desired outcome.
Attitude Reconstruction suggests that the quickest way to accomplish this task is to tell our story (or stories) about what happened, over and over, adding more details with each repetition, while expressing the emotions physically and constructively. This means crying out the sadness, pounding out the anger, and shivering out the fear that are evoked in the telling, until there is no longer a charge.
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Neutralizing the Present-Day Impact
Equally important to neutralize the present-day impact of the initial trauma, is to build a personally mindfulness practice. These are called “grounding exercises.” When we dissociate, our awareness checks out of the present.
A mindful practice brings us back to the moment. This does not necessarily mean meditation. It can be shivering, doing regulated breathing, powering (repeating a thought that is true), visualizations, muscle tense and release exercises. It can also be activities, like playing with our pets, cleaning, cooking, art, walking, or talking with a supportive friend. We all need to find what works for us and use it often, especially when we’re wanting to indulge our favorite addiction.
If you feel stuck in your addiction(s) and destructive attitudes, know that past unresolved emotionally charged events are holding you back from making the changes you know in your heart of hearts is your desire. Your untreated traumas are what are impeding you from lining up with yourself, your intuition, your family, your world, and your God or nature.
The path is clearer. Now it’s time for action.
©2022 by Jude Bijou, M.A., M.F.T.
All Rights Reserved.
Book by this Author:
Attitude Reconstruction: A Blueprint for Building a Better Life
by Jude Bijou, M.A., M.F.T.
With practical tools and real-life examples, this book can help you stop settling for sadness, anger, and fear, and infuse your life with joy, love, and peace. Jude Bijou's comprehensive blueprint will teach you to: cope with family members' unsolicited advice, cure indecision with your intuition, deal with fear by expressing it physically, create closeness by truly talking and listening, improve your social life, increase staff morale in just five minutes a day, handle sarcasm by visualizing it flying by, carve out more time for yourself by clarifying your priorities, ask for a raise and get it, stop fighting via two easy steps, cure kids' tantrums constructively. You can integrate Attitude Reconstruction into your daily routine, regardless of your spiritual path, cultural background, age, or education.
For more info and/or to order this book, click here. Also available as a Kindle edition.
About the Author
Jude Bijou is a licensed marriage and family therapist (MFT), an educator in Santa Barbara, California and the author of Attitude Reconstruction: A Blueprint for Building a Better Life.
In 1982, Jude launched a private psychotherapy practice and started working with individuals, couples, and groups. She also began teaching communication courses through Santa Barbara City College Adult Education.
Visit her website at AttitudeReconstruction.com/