The Dissociative Culture

The Dissociative Culture
By Elizabeth O’Brien, M.A., LPC

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 occupied 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.” In its extreme form, and generally due to trauma, dissociation can become the DSM IV condition, Dissociative Disorder, known in colloquial terms as multiple personality disorder. But for “neuro-typical” individuals, 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.

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.”
Lord Byron