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Should I Stay or Should I Go?

By Phyllis Stein, Ph.D.
April 25, 2009

Staying in our bodies is central to living a life of peace and joy. The article is about becoming aware of how we leave to protect and what it takes to comes back.

No, this is not a column about relationships, at least not with other people.  It is a column about one of the primal ways that our inner kids cope with things that overwhelm them.  The concept of dissociation is not a new one and the idea of dissociation, of leaving our bodies as a way to cope with severe emotional and physical abuse, is well known.  What I did not realize until recently was that what I though of as dissociation was actually the extreme end of something that probably most children, including me, learned to do.

At intensive after intensive, I was told that I was in my head, that I was "out there," that people could not "feel me."  I struggled valiantly to change that, to move into my body, to get out of my head, to tune in.  It never occurred to me that this place was a form of dissociation. 

Recently, I became increasingly aware of this "out there" feeling.  Although I would be talking a mile a minute, being very entertaining, etc, etc. when I tuned into what I was feeling, it was a sense of spinning, of desperately trying to change something, usually on the outside, to give me the feeling that things were under control, that I was safe.  I really could not even tune into how my little girl was feeling, except that I was spinning.  Exactly what I had felt at all those intensives but could not name.  Suddenly I understood that my little girl was dissociating.

I tuned into her, asking her why this was happening, and I remembered being little, maybe 3, and my father roughhousing with me.  He would tickle me and pin me down.  Eventually, when I got hysterical enough, my mother would tell him to stop.  I remembered how at first I would be angry but I could not hold onto that.  I could not fight back.  I realized that it was too much and I had left my body.   I realized that I had a judgment on myself for doing that.  I was able to go back and tell my little girl that she had gone to be with God and that what she did was okay.

More than that, however, I was able to bring her back to the safety of my body.  I realized that once we start to dissociate, it is like there is a worm hole created and the minute things get to be too much, "Whoosh," out we go.  I could see how from then on, as soon as things got overwhelming, for example when my mother and I got into an argument, I would dissociate and there I would be, spinning, trying desperately to defend myself, but really, gone.

So what became clear to me was that once I was out there, there was nothing I could do on the outside level to get reconnected.   What I had to do was to go inside and find the little girl who had split and almost grab her by the ankle and help her come back.  Only then could I be present.  I realized too that when we dissociate, we are disconnected from our own power, literally.

Recently, there was a discussion on the Inner Bonding site of the spiritual aspect of dissociation and I understood for the first time that what we call a spiritual bypass works exactly the same way.  Something becomes overwhelming and the inner child whooshes out, consciously going to God and to bliss.  The belief is that doing this enough will provide safety and a sense of worth because, after all, God is the source.

The problem with a spiritual bypass is this, the reason that the child has left is that there was something too overwhelming to stay present for.   So this child is not okay when he or she leaves.  This not okay state is NEVER dealt with.  The desperate feeling is never healed.  Going to God does not solve the underlying issue and for that reason there is no way that this child can ever really feel safe and loved.  The child can feel that he or she has a place to escape to, which has its appeal, but the true safety of having a loving adult present, the true safety of personal power and even the experience of deep emotional connection with others is never possible.

So fundamentally, once we are conscious of this process, we all have a choice, to stay or go.  Notice, without judgment, the little one who believes that he or she has no choice except to go.  The challenge of having a loving adult is to provide enough safety so that your inner child can stay.  Are you willing to take the job of  providing a different choice?


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