Dichotomous thinking

I have come to a point in my healing where the sometimes dichotomous thinking and advice that I have been given has become confusing and counter-productive.  I said in a previous post that I have become so good at distraction techniques, that they have become another form of dissociating the pain and problems away.  I understand why they were shown to me, during the last two years of the marriage, I was consistently suicidal.  I thought death was the only way out of the marriage, as I knew he would never let me leave.  One of the first strategies they tell you when you are suicidal is to distract.  This makes sense when you’re so overwhelmed that suicide is the only option you can see.  So for years, I was told to distract my problems away.  This was the equivalent of telling me to put the problem in a box and put it in the archives of The Basement – which is exactly how I dissociate bad experiences, memories etc.  I’m pretty good at dissociating, and I am pretty good at using the distraction techniques to the point where they are also a dissociated and sometimes self-harmful experience.

Recently, I’ve heard more and more about looking at the pain.  The exact opposite to what I’ve been told to do for years.  It started off with practising some modified Emotional Freedom Techniques (EFT) – modified so that the names of the points have non-violent connotations and the taps to the head are not utilised.  EFT uses tapping pressure points on the body in combination with phrases to help ease emotional pain.  The phrases used are what I would consider ones which encourages you to think of the pain e.g. “even though I want to self-injure I fully and completely accept myself”.  So it was encouraging me to accept that this painful fact is part of me and that I’m not a bad or negative person for feeling that pain.  What was interesting doing this, is that it depended on who held the pain as to whether it was helpful or not.  If the pain was buried within the dissociative system, then the EFT often makes the dissociation worse.  Remember – this is just my experience and not necessarily one that others will encounter, or even one that I will continue to experience as time goes on.

Then today I read what was probably the most obvious and moving reason why I need to look at the pain.  It was Shen’s (Reunited Selves) entry in the Blog Carnival Against Child Abuse (September 2009) called The Hole in the Soul.  This post shows why we need to heal, the consequences of not healing, the positives that come from healing and acknowledgement of the pain and fear that the process creates.  It doesn’t encourage any particular method of healing, but rather advocates for an attitude, a willingness to do the work and a strength to keep on that journey.  I’m not sure if I have any of these qualities to the point of being able to look at, what Shen describes as, the hole in my soul.  Some of us balk at the use of the term “soul”, but I understand that we have a lightness and a blackness within.  Our internal Basement is in total darkness, while our internal Attic is bathed in light.  The Basement is where the most painful memories and emotions are kept, so I see the correlation.

As an aside, when M draws within therapy, she often does a black swirling circle, I wonder if she is drawing our “hole” and a representation of our feelings about all of this.  She’s our worst artist, so it could just be that’s all she can draw.  But it’s always black and it’s always circular, like a spiral or a tunnel.  This again could correlate to The Basement which is perceived as being bottomless.

So this need to face my pain is what I’m taking to Liz next week.  Liz has asked if we can put aside issues before to try and cope, but this isn’t possible with our current levels of functioning and being in the world.  We must either dissociate or distract it away from existence…  If nothing else, this new possibility for healing has helped to ease the place we have been in for the last week.

Thank you Shen for that amazing story and to those friends who have helped over the last few weeks, it is appreciated.

Now playing: Dixie Chicks – Wide Open Spaces
via FoxyTunes


14 thoughts on “Dichotomous thinking

  1. I call this “putting your foot down”… and jumping right into the heart of the matter. The dissociative coping, for many of us, has gotten to the point of it being seriously harmful. I am proud of the times in which we can say that we have no option but to face the pain head on and heal.

    Shen’s story was amazing in that it brought me from a very hopeless place and gave me the strength to move forward in a somewhat different way.

    I hope the same will be true for you.


    • I think it will Paul. I had a very harsh reminder last night as to why I can’t keep on dissociating and distracting the pain away. I know that I need to move forward and looking at the problem is my next step. I possibly will also need to relearn how and when to use the distraction techniques as they have now become part of the problem.

      We need things like Shen’s story every now and again to remind us of where we are going and why we need to get there.

      Take care,

  2. I don’t know if it’s dichotomous thinking or just that you’re moving along the path. The first priority in any healing process is to become safe, and only once we’ve learned how to do that can we delve into deeper levels of healing.

    In any case, I agree that Shen’s post was very inspiring!

    • Hi Sarah,

      I was thinking that the dichotomy came more from the people giving me advice on how to heal. I’ve been told for years to distract, now I’m realising that I also need to look at the pain – the opposite to the advice I’ve been given. This will mean that I will have to change the way in which I view healing and the path my healing takes. In many ways, the distraction was actually making me more unsafe. It had become another pathway to the self-injury and a way to ignore that self-injury.

      I agree that safety is always the first priority, but I’ve been told to distract for the last five years… I’ve never been shown what the next step is. This is part of the reason that I needed to change therapists recently. This realisation is another step in my healing journey, but a very important one.

      Take care,

  3. You most definitely have the strength, Castorgirl, and the courage. You have shown us that many times before. Start slowly because the Basement can be very dark indeed. And go back to the light when you need to. Take care. ((hugs)) good ones, of course.

    • Exactly JIP. The problem is that we were relying on others to tell us how to heal, and we were getting lots of little pieces of advice without an overall plan of how it should look or how long it should take. They were all caught up in the moment too without looking as to how to solve the problem long term. So we’re looking for complete healing, just not quite sure how to get there 🙂

  4. >>Recently, I’ve heard more and more about looking at the pain. The exact opposite to what I’ve been told to do for years.

    This is not a slam on the mental health field. I right up front thank them for the work they are doing. Their experience and knowledge is growing exponentially. (I am not sure the psychiatrists are making progress.)

    Consider that trauma became part of the mental health jargon in 1980 with PTSD as it relates to adults, that there still is little knowledge of prenatal trauma and trauma as an infant, that the study of trauma is mostly from observation and what is expressed in 50 min increments often using terms developed by the ones that observe.

    Consider the focus until recently was and often still is been on mitigating the result of trauma and not processing the trauma.

    The concept of dissociation as a defense did not come to the forfront until 1997 (Ernest Hilgard) I do not know when dissociation became part of how some children develop.

    Dissociation is problematic as once anything becomes part of the consciousness it is no longer dissociated–explain what it is like when you do not remember.

    I went through what I called unlearning what I was told I needed to do. I then rejected the body of knowledge of what I must experience.

    Perhaps those that process trauma and heal from the traumatic experiences and the therapists they work with should be looked at as pioneers. Bringing the possibility of healing/healed and not coping into the light.

    The good news is change is possible the bad news is it is hard work.

    • Hi Michael,

      You’re right… change is possible and it is hard work.

      I struggle with the lack of knowledge regarding the trauma related mental health issues amongst the professionals that I encounter. This is not to say that they are incompetent, but rather, as you say, there is not necessarily a body of knowledge to support those who are not directly involved in treating trauma sufferers as their speciality. There are some whom are excellent in their field of expertise and come to the table with an open mind, but they don’t necessarily have the road map as to what this thing called healing is meant to look like. As a person who needs to have a clear set of mini-goals which lead to an overall objective, I find this frustrating. However, there is little point in blaming the professionals, they are truly doing the best that they can.

      Take care,

  5. Castorgirl,

    wow, thank you so much for understanding what I was trying to express in that story. It means so much to me. I’m working on illustrations for the story, now, and I’m hoping to get it published as a short book (- maybe about the length of that “Who Stole My Cheese” book that was so popular a few years ago.)

    It feels important to me. The story crystalized a lot of concepts for me that I’ve been working towards understanding in therapy and in CoDA.

    You are doing hard work. A big part of what the story intends is for people to realize, as they are actually doing the work, how important it is, and to give themselves credit for it and cut themselves slack in other things as they do this important work. Is there anything more important that being whole?

    You are what I think of as a “grower” – someone who sees that there is something they want in their life and is aiming for it. It is hard work, but I have seen again and again in your posts that you are working towards it. I think growth is attainable for everyone, if they are willing to work for it, and you are. You’ll get there. You’re doing it, right now.

    • Hi Shen,

      I hope you can get the story published… it truly is amazing. It helped me clarify what I needed to do, although I’m still very very scared of looking into the blackness, I know it is necessary.

      Thank you for your kind words… Sorry the compliment has thrown me and now I’m at a loss for words.

      Take care,

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