Dissociation and the Inner Child

All of us experience dissociation as a part of daily life. Most people know the feeling of being on 'auto-pilot' for instance when we drive somewhere and forget how we got there. Our driving can become automatised and not require conscious control. Another example of dissociation is when we have a'day-dream' and disconnects with reality for a little while. These experiences are harmless and service to give us a break from the stresses of daily life.

For some people, who might have experienced early or quite severe trauma, dissociation can become a real problems. It can be difficult to establish a structured adult life because their experience of reality is disjointed and confusing. Sometimes the dissociation is so pronounced that some parts of the personality are not aware of what other part are doing and might be active a different times. 

When we work with dissociation at Cirencester Psychology Clinic we start by accepting that the personality is made up of parts. Contrary to most models that include working with parts we believe that there is fundamentally only two parts; child part and adult part. The child part might be different ages when it becomes active and as such can appear as 'many'. Adult part is the healthy adult who responds age-appropriately and effectively to the here-and-now. Many clients have only very little experience of adult part and function mostly in 'child mode'. It is hard work to be 'child part' as an adult with adult responsibilities. The therapy seeks to teach the client how to activate 'adult mode' so that self-parenting skills can develop.

It appears that most if not all people have experiences with 'child mode'. In our model, when child mode is active, adult mode is inactive and vice versa. It corresponds well to 'trigger situations' in cognitive-behavioural therapy, although child mode can stay active for long periods at a time. Trigger situations can be described as moments when we 'snap', when all of a sudden we feel overwhelmed be negative emotions and unable to muster and effective or appropriate response. Afterwards, we feel a kind of psychological 'hang-over' which we might try to avoid by minimising the event or we might feel ashamed and blame our-selves. 


When child mode is active, we do not feel good about our-selves and our decision-making tends to be ineffective and somewhat out of touch with 'reality'. For some clients, the few moments where adult mode is spontaneously activated (can happen under the influence of drugs and alcohol for instance) are moments where they have a deep sense that everything is okay and the world feels 'alright' again. Not having the tools to switch to adult mode means that many people get stuck in unhelpful and toxic patterns of behaviour, a viscous cycle of attempts at initiating fleeting moments of adult mode. Initially, the therapy aims to develop an awareness of the fundamentally different 'feel' to child mode and adult mode, which inadvertently we switch in and out of without really noticing. 

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