The Dissociative Culture
Our culture has become a population of “dissociators.” For much, if not all of our day, we are checking out on smart phones and computers or getting lost in mental to-do lists and daydreams. Facebook, Twitter, Linked In, video games, shopping, television, movies, books, articles, meetings and projects at work become our “reality.” For some people, alcohol, drugs, gambling and sex become additional arenas for dissociation. We are intolerant of discomfort and delay and are addicted to instant gratification.
When we are preoccupied in these ways, we are not present. We are elsewhere—reacting, responding, avoiding, resisting, procrastinating, planning, projecting, escaping and otherwise catapulting ourselves away from the moment. So many of our “relationships” have become manifestations of such dissociation: virtual and superficial, they take place on another plane of reality. The days when a neighbor or friend drops by for a cup of coffee and a real conversation are quickly vanishing.
The dictionary deﬁnes dissociation as an “altered state of consciousness characterized by partial or complete disruption of the normal integration of a person’s normal conscious or psychological functioning.” For most of us, such an “altered state of consciousness” doesn’t severely disrupt functioning so much as it becomes an obstacle to self-awareness and living in the moment. Therapeutically, the degree to which a client dissociates can be one gauge of mental health.
On the best ways to get into the habit of staying “conscious” and grounded in the moment is through exercise. Intense exercise, especially—CrossFit comes immediately to mind—is particularly effective. When we are pushing ourselves in an AMRAP (“as many rounds as possible” of a given series of taxing movements), we are decidedly in the moment. All we can think about is getting through the workout. We don’t have our cell phones or computers; instead, we are surrounded by comrades-in-exertion, a particularly compelling form of bonding. At the end of a workout, the powerful experience of fellowship endures.
While we all occasionally feel the need to chill out, or escape, we should consider becoming aware of the extent to which we dissociate and limit our “escapes” to brief, restorative interludes in the service of holistic health. A compelling movie or novel? Great! Meditation or yoga? Even better. Just sitting with our thoughts and emotions and really feeling life? Best of all.
“The great art of life is sensation, to feel that we exist, even in pain.”
By Elizabeth O’Brien, M.A., LPC
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