This protocol was designed to address the dissociation issues that arose during the second protocol. Dissociation is the brain’s coping mechanism to protect a person experiencing something traumatic. It is a survival mechanism. The first time dissociation happens it is a response to an actual threat of some kind – physical, emotional, mental, or sexual trauma. Dissociation can become a learned response to stress.
At first, after each neurofeedback session I felt like I was being stuffed in a box. Then I became more aware of when I was dissociating. One of the first cues I noticed was what Shana, the psychologist, called self-soothing. I held my own hands. It might look like I was wringing my hand or rubbing my hand. Sometimes I held my hand and hugged it to my chest. Other times I felt the need to rock myself, maybe holding my hand and hugging it to my chest. When these physical things happen and I tune into my emotions I find that I’m sad, and/or overwhelmed, I don’t know what to say or do in response to a question.
I found that when I was dissociating I was having conversations with myself in my head. I became aware that these conversations with myself were my aspects talking with each other. Over the course of the protocol I noticed that each aspect feels different and have a different tone. After this I noticed that I could hear the aspects talking with one another. I then began talking with the aspects. This rarely went the way I expected.
An example. I became aware that one of my aspects was ranting and raging. I listened to her for quite a while. She was angry at the way one of my co-workers was behaving. The only time she was happy was when my co-worker was obviously unhappy. I started to use some of my personal growth tools from the 90’s in an honest attempt at conversation. In the end the raging aspect faded away. It was like changing a channel.
Memories were beginning to surface. Some of them snippets – a blond woman that I knew to be the older sister of one of my molesters. Her expression haunts me. I know that the boy who molested me and his sister were victims of their father. Some of the memories are nightmares I had when I was three.
One of the memories was when I was seven. I was a student at an elementary school that must have been overcrowded because we had to sit at a shared desk. Literally, two students to a desk. It was the kind of desk that the desktop was lifted up to get to your pencils and what nots. The boy I shared the desk with drew a line down the desktop. I was allowed to use the desktop on the left side of the line. The boy had access to everything to the right side of the line. The first time the line was right down the middle. Each day after that my side of the line grew smaller. I felt powerless and afraid in the face of this bullying. I had no idea what to do, it never occurred to me to go the teacher and tell her. Keeping this shameful thing a secret was second nature because I was flawed and the cause of it. Eventually the teacher figured it out and moved the bully to a different desk. The teacher became a hero to me. Looking back, retreating in the face of being bullied and feeling ashamed was a learned habit long before this.
A good personal example of dissociation as a learned response is when the emotional intensity around me gets too high I am prone to checking out. As a young adult I had a roommate. He and his girlfriend had a fight. His girlfriend was yelling hurtful things. I got so upset that I had to leave our apartment. I walked around the neighborhood in a dissociative state for hours. I now understand that that was a dissociative fugue.
I was in my mid-twenties and married to my first husband. He was away on a military assignment. A friend of his was in crisis so he lived with me in the apartment my husband and I had. It had been a normal day – neither good or bad. I opened a cabinet door and saw our medicine on the shelf. I emptied the medicine into a bowl and ate them all as if they were M&M candies. My husband’s friend found me passed out and I think tucked me into bed. I don’t remember how I got to bed come to think about it. I do remember work calling unexpectedly with a crisis. I also remember not being very coherent for the phone call. I slept for around 24 hours after that and went on with my life.
Earlier this year I was working in a department where things need to be done quickly to meet fast task completion deadlines. I wasn’t meeting those deadlines for a number of reasons. The manager came to where I was working, and in front of the other person I was paired with, began to yell and berate me. This went on for what felt like forever, but probably was only 20 – 30 minutes. All I could tell her (repeatedly) was that I was moving as fast as I could. At first I was acutely aware of every word she said, but after the first five minutes I can’t tell you what she said. I remember feeling cold and empty inside. I felt profoundly sad. I was embarrassed and confused to be treated this way at a place that I used to feel safe in.