Who are you when you disassociate?
Some people stop being themselves and become another person when they have an “out of body experience” called disassociation. In extreme cases, this is called “Multiple Personality Disorder” (Dissociative Identity Disorder).
I do not have that, but I disassociate.
What causes disassociation? Trauma.
And it’s most common in survivors of childhood sexual abuse.
It wasn’t until just two years ago (at the age of 33) that I realized this is what I was doing to make myself get through the hard stuff I’ve faced in life.
Some examples of times I’ve dissociated and didn’t realize it:
- My first time walking into a gym at 300 pounds
- About half of the times I binge ate
- All of my first dates and first sexual encounters
- Walking down the aisle at my second wedding
- Sky diving on my honeymoon
- Sitting in classrooms with emotionally-charged lectures
- Job interviews
- My first time running the Bare Buns Fun Run naked 5k
So, who AM I when I disassociate?
I can be one of three personalities, but I am ALWAYS Naomi.
Depending on the social context, I can be “Bubbly Naomi” , “Tough As Nails Naomi” , or “Zombie Naomi.”
For me, a dissociative episode happens after a perceived threat… even “good” experiences get perceived as threatening in my mind and body at times because of the anxiety of being vulnerable.
The dissociation starts like this:
There is a cognitive error in my mind, followed by a pit in my stomach.
This releases signals in my body to fire up the “fight or flight” sympathetic nervous system into full-drive.
That gets the heart pumping faster, the lips quivering, the legs trembling, sweat dripping, and the tears welling up.
I WANT TO INTENSELY FEEL!
And then I SHUT THAT SHIT DOWN. My frontal lobe turns the lights out.
I become Bubbly Naomi, Tough As Nail Naomi, or Zombie Naomi until I feel safe again.
If you can relate to this, you probably think you’re just “acting”… but I bet that you aren’t. I thought I was acting, too. I thought it was called “Fake it until you make it”…
But this is a protection mechanism your body uses to get you through hard stuff. For some of us, it can be a super power. But it really sucks when you can’t remember how you felt and what exactly was said during the times you were “acting.”
That’s the problem with disassociation.
When you try to recall the event, it LACKS FEELING and key moments are missing. You can’t remember no matter how long and hard you try… so you have to assume how you must have felt, thought, and said.
And if you want to some day write a memoir about your life, it will be the most boring piece of shit someone will ever have to struggle through reading.
Because you weren’t cognitively “there” for half of the events in your own damn memoir. You’ll have to make up lies, use other people’s stories, or simply hire a ghost writer to work their creative magic on your disassociated life story.
This is one of the countless problems I live with as an adult survivor of adverse childhood experiences.
As someone who has maintained a 125-pound weight loss for over nine years, I *knew* that it was largely due in part to the work I’ve done on my mindset and emotional intelligence, but I didn’t know that childhood trauma triggers still lingered and created these episodes of disassociation that often lead to “self-sabotage” in the form of acting out coping mechanisms (excessive eating, drinking, tv watching, shopping, etc.).
I’m not unique or crazy.
I’m just someone who finally took a harder look at WHY she kept f#c%ing up her goals, started journalling the things she could remember, and got educated.
I wasted years of my life thinking I had an eating disorder and that I was a food addict. Instead, I just had to look to the source of my eating. And then look at the source of that source.
If you go back far enough, you’ll discover it’s not about the weight, the food, or the feelings. It’s how your mind and body are wired from experiencing years of repeated trauma at an age when your body and brain are still maturing.
If you’ve experienced at least 4-5 of these, your brain and body have likely been deeply affected:
- bullying at school
- physical abuse at home
- emotional abuse
- an alcoholic or drug-addicted parent
- a mentally ill family member
- sexual abuse
- domestic violence
- a family member who spent time in prison
- emotional and physical neglect
The frontal lobe that is in charge of judgment and organizing priorities shuts down in times of perceived stress when you’ve experienced childhood trauma. Making “healthy” decisions becomes 10x harder because your brain defaults to habit patterns you have stored in your basal ganglia. And if the habits you’ve built over the years are destructive coping mechanisms, you’re screwed.
You eat. You drink. You feel regret.
Your body also goes into “fight or flight” in times of perceived stress. That means cortisol is being pumped through your body and all of your other hormones take a backseat. All or your other hormones end up out of whack in many cases and this exhausts you by 2pm each day. Also, when your sympathetic nervous system (fight or flight) is firing up, it minimizes that blood flow to the frontal lobe of your brain… this is why it shuts down.
So I’ll ask you: Does this sound like it’s good for your health and your weight loss journey?
I don’t think so.
If you’re interested in learning more about how childhood trauma affects weight loss for adults and what I do to manage my triggers, stress, brain, and body, please join us for Day 5 of the FREE Self-Sabotage Summer Challenge hosted by Inspire Transformation Academy.
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