Monthly Archives: May 2014

How Can You Feel Like That?

I read a blog  by a young woman describing her experience of ‘depersonalisation’. She wrote about this deeply unsettling feeling and how hard  it is to explain to people who have never before experienced it. She found that even medical professionals are often either completely baffled by it, totally dismissive of it, or just didn’t seem to understand, or believe, what on earth she was trying to tell them. What she wants is for people to understand it, and recognise that this ‘phenomenon’ does exist, and that it is extremely distressing to live with. She feels exhausted by trying to explain it to people, only to have them say, ‘Well, you’re clearly just having another one of your “off” days. I’m sure it’ll go away soon’.

It’s true that we are slowly becoming more comfortable with talking about more commonly known symptoms of emotional distress, like intense sadness and anxiousness, but depersonalisation? What on earth is that?

She stresses the importance of distinguishing between depersonalisation and an identity crisis. An identity crisis implies that you have a sense of self, but you’re just not sure who that self is yet, or who you want that self to be. Depersonalisation, on the other hand, is the total lack of any sense of self at all. Wikipedia defines it as ‘unreality in one’s sense of self’. She describes it as being like watching yourself performing actions, and feeling that you have absolutely no control over what you’re doing, even though you know what you’re doing, and can see yourself doing it. You aren’t really there. Speaking is especially strange, because your voice doesn’t sound like it belongs to you. You know what you’re saying, but you aren’t connected to it. They’re your words, but it feels like some other voice is speaking them. On top of this, depersonalisation very often causes one to feel disconnected from others. You might be looking at someone you know very well and you recognise them and know the memories attached to them, but it’s like they’ve lost their meaning. You know who they are, but they no longer feel the same to you.

It’s clear why this is very difficult to explain. As she describes it you’re both there but not there: you exist but you don’t; you know who people are, but you don’t. And trying to explain it to others can be ‘the worst thing’.

So, why does depersonalisation occur?

Depersonalisation, as awful as it may be, is actually a defence mechanism, which protects the most important part of you: your ‘self’. By dislocating the ‘self’ from the physical body and its actions, your body is actually protecting your core being from further harm. Although it can occur as a disorder (depersonalisation disorder, or a dissociative disorder) in its own right, depersonalisation is most commonly the result of very high anxiety levels. When anxiety levels reach such a high point, the mind basically decides to ‘depersonalise’ in order to prevent the ‘self’ from being damaged by even higher anxiety levels. In theory, that’s rather clever, but in reality, depersonalisation is so distressing that all it does is cause more anxiety, which in turn makes the depersonalisation worse, which in turn makes the anxiety worse. It’s a vicious cycle.

I imagine that the key to coping or easing depersonalisation is to reducie anxiety levels, since it’s most commonly caused by heightened anxiety and stress. And what others can do is to try to imagine how it might feel to suffer in this way. It is all too easy to feel incredulous, to ask ‘How can you feel like that?’ and dismiss or deny the painful reality of what occurs. Even if we can’t really imagine what it is like to feel depersonalisation, we can work on being accepting of, and empathic towards, other’s experience and not make them feel worse by expressing doubt and incredulity.



Your Inner Adult, Parent and Child

I went to a very interesting workshop last week: An Introduction to Transactional Anaysis. It made me think about how different parts of our emotional landscape are activated by our interactions with others and how useful it can be to have a simple, understandable language to explain what happens both within us and between us. Transactional Analysis provides this with its concepts of ego states: coherent systems of thought and feeling, manifested by a corresponding pattern of behaviour. The three ego states are Adult (that part that feels in touch with present reality, flexibly responsive in the moment to current unique experiences and draws constructively and creatively from past experience), Child (reliving thoughts, feelings and behaviour dervied from our own direct past experience) and Parent (ego states we have internalised as our own from parents/parental figures). So when a partner or friend tells us ‘Don’t do that! Do it this way!’ they are in their Parent ego state and will probably evoke our Child ego state of either feeling told off or rebellious and determined to do it our own way! That is, of course, a very simple example and I’m sure you can imagine how complicated and complex different kinds of interpersonal transactions can become.

What is really helpful in all this is the ability to recognise your own ego states – what evokes Child in you, what are your Parent messages – and to be able to work on accessing the Adult within, particularly when feeling overwhelmed by the feelings and thoughts associated with the other ego states. For it is in the Adult ego state that we can make choices: we can rationally observe and understand what is happening in all our ego states, and what is being evoked in us by others’ ego states, and make choices and decisions based on the reality of the present moment.

Do You Really Want to Reinvent Yourself?

All of us daydream at times about being a different person, having a different life: losing weight and being able to run a marathon; changing our career; starting a family; travelling the world. If these type of thoughts and feelings persist beyond the normal 5-minute stare off into space and become persistent and even invasive, perhaps it is time to thing about what they mean? Do you really want to reinvent yourself? Before you can reshape your future, you need to be brutally honest about your present. How much will you need to change to achieve the reinvention you desire? Do you have it in you? Looking at the evidence from those who have succeeded in realising their dreams can give us an insight into what it really necessary. Consider these crucial questions from the experts before you move ahead:

Does your goal match your values?

You may have fallen in love with the idea of building your own house, but are you truly a do-it-yourselfer? If your goal doesn’t match your values, you’ll have less motivation to work toward it, and will feel less fulfilled even if you achieve it.

Does it conflict with other priorities in your life?

Committing yourself to reaching the corner office may bring prestige, but it could also take time away from relationships and hobbies. Consider the sacrifices you’ll have to make, and know what you’re willing to set aside before starting out.

Will you be able to pursue it long-term, and for the right reasons?

When you know who you are, you can recognize what you need to overcome to keep your personality from blocking your dreams. For example, if you can’t stand failure, you might persist even when you should stop.

Can you gain satisfaction from each step?

If the actions you take to move towards your goal give you pleaseure in themselves, you will gain satisfaction from your efforts even if you never fully attain your objective.

Are you sure you want it?

Force yourself to envision your future, keeping in mind our tendency to revert to a baseline level of happiness even after success. Will the suburban mansion really be better than your city rental once you factor in the daily commute, the weekly lawn-mowing, and the monthly mortgage? Talk it out with those who know you best and can imagine your future self nearly as well as you can.

Is achieving it within your control?

If you can take specific, practical actions to reach your goal, you’re in good shape. If it will require winning a contest, or overcoming challenges like health or geography, think twice.

And, last of all, if you find that going through these questions puts you off, perhaps it is time to think about what you are getting from holding on to a dream that you don’t really want to achieve. Is it a distraction from the rest of your life?


When the Going Gets Tough

In counselling there usually comes a point when the going gets tough. You’ve come to deal with painful and difficult emotions and behaviour and you may well have been avoiding confronting these for a long time. And now you are facing them, and yourself, in the company of someone else. It’s only natural to feel dread; that ‘Oh no, here we go again’ sensation. There will be times when you may well feel pleased with yourself for being brave enough to face your demons and there will be times when you want to run as far away from them as you can. What will help you through is talking to your therapist or counsellor about it, and working on accepting that it is part of the process. If you choose instead to flee in the face of your fear, you run the risk of confirming to yourself at a deep level that your fear is too huge and powerful to ever be understood or conquered. Sticking with it, trusting in yourself and your counsellor, is tough but it allows for the possibility of reperation, of change.