Separation of Self
By Elizabeth O’Brien, M.A., LPC
When human beings suffer trauma, large or small, they generally experience “separation” from themselves, from others, and from the meaning of life. But even when individuals haven’t had a distinct trauma but are simply depressed, anxious or otherwise off-track, the same kind of separation, or alienation, can occur. They feel scattered, their thinking becomes clouded, they are unable to access their true feelings, and they are simply not conscious of, or engaged in, the life around them. They may function, but they are living in a kind of fog. Often, they become more vulnerable to bad habits—substance abuse, gambling, pornography, compulsive shopping come immediately to mind—that promise quick relief. Dissociation becomes a way of life. Two of the best antidotes to such psychic disintegration are therapy and exercise. Talking with an empathetic therapist and telling their stories, creating narratives of their lives and losses that make emotional sense, is extremely helpful for many people. Just the act of taking that initiative, not to mention the processing itself, can jump-start healing. Connecting with another human being, particularly one who is trained to “mirror,” listen and eventually, to offer insights and make helpful suggestions, is palliative. Exercise is another highly effective form of therapy. For people who are depressed, the roadblock is generally finding the motivation to begin. Choosing a fitness regime that involves fellowship with a group is one approach—having to be accountable to others in a regular class. Joining the YMCA is an excellent idea for its communal atmosphere, and particularly since membership entitles you to work out at branches across the city and the country. CrossFit, in which camaraderie is particularly strong, is another good example. Biking or running with a partner or friend who will keep you on track is another. But simply walking every day with a dog or even alone is an excellent treatment approach, and one that almost demands being present enough to “smell the flowers.” Exercise generally grounds people in the moment, brings them back from the abyss to the here and now. Fortunately, most human beings have an innate capacity for resilience; sometimes, they just need others to support them in accessing it.