Dissociation and reflexive activity

Dissociation and reflexive activity

By Pierre Vermersch

Dissociation and reflexive activity, two  ways to name the fundamental characteristicof consciousness

 

Since several years, while practicing the explicitation interview, we tried to widen the range of introspective access to lived experience by introducing techniques of “changing the point of view” or more, technics of dissociation (synonyms for me).

Basically, these techniques are inspired by psychotherapy practitioners who invented them with a benefic help from the extraordinary experiencial permissivity proper to this field. For instance, what Perls has invented in adding a second chair so that the patient could change places and speak of what is going on, what is the experience of “the other” still seated (in imagination) on the first chair; or all “the geniuses strategies” of Dilt, based always on proposing distinct spatial locations from the initial situation in order to let speak about what can be said by a mentor, one’s self to another age, or a part of one’self which is expert and will consider the problem from this expertise. Since the Stone’s work on sub-personnalities, co-identities of transactional analysis calling separatelyfor the adult, the child or the parent; the “Internalsystemfamily” of Schwartz; the dialogue witha characterof his dreaminactive imagination ofJung; the eventsanddialogue of the scenarios by directed waking dreams, (and I’m not trying to be exhaustive), all these techniques havemultipliedthe possibilitiesof involvingdifferent placesanddifferentselfinstances.

An important point I want to emphasize is the fact that these techniques are created in the field of psychotherapy at large, that fact does not assume that their job involves this framework. On the contrary, it is likely that this framework was ultimately only a means for exploring subjectivity in a first person perspective, and providing guidance on the possibilities of consciousness in general!

This transfer from psychotherapy to experiential study of subjectivity was possible because I trained myself to most of these techniques, I’ve experienced it, I guided others in their practice and learning, and above all, I did not stay in a limited perspective of a practitioner, but I spent my professional life to the insert them in research, in the experiential training of researchers who became practitioners experts.

`

After this preamble, a bit long, my aim is about the concept of dissociation. In previous years, many resistances have expressed in the research group on the explanation (GREX) to use these concepts. The main argument being that they suggest a too negative connotation related to psychiatry, schizophrenia, multiple personalities, disease.

 

It is true that the concept of dissociation was mobilized mainly by psychiatry and psychopathology. This was inevitable, because for more than a century, psychology has completely abandoned the subjective experience, giving up the practice of directed introspection to document the first-person point of view! The only discipline that could not do without it is psychiatry and it remains only the categorization linked to the most serious mental illnesses. Along the same idea, the social success of freudian psychoanalysis connoted the concept of the unconscious with the ideas of censorship, of repression, of neurosis and pathology. While, before Freud, many philosophers had seen the functionning of a normal unconscious, tied to the usual activity of thought and actions (see Vaysse, L’Inconscient des Modernes, for example).

 

If we leave these pathological connotations, the concept of dissociation refers to a normal phenomenon, usual, non-pathological, showing a fundamental property of the consciousness: reflexivity. That is to say, the basic separation between the egoic pole and what it takes as an object (of thought, of referred perceptive, of imagination).

 

Consciousness is based on the ability to divide one’s self, to refer to an object that is the content of the own thinking of the subject. The symbol of the mirror, or the myth of Narcissus (see Legendre) are there to illustrate awkwardly this founding division of the possibility of becoming aware. Why awkward?  The reason is  that it seems to appear metaphorically a division that would be separating. The subject loses his unity by the introduction of a place that is not him (the mirror). Instead of being like a fold of oneself, which distinguishes but does not cut, the mirror introduces a divisive split. Yet, when I write a text, then I reread it, I take it back as an object of thought, I divide myself and both my identity unity is not threatened by this split, this folding. Mental pathology enters when the fold is experienced as a loss of the constituting unit and as introducing a stranger inside.

 

So the basic idea is that the division between an egoic pole which aims, and what is aimed, is the basis of the reflexivity, of the normality of the functioning of consciousness.

 

What experiential practice shows is that it is easy to vary the terms of this reflexivity (this dissociation which does not lose the person’s overall unity). It is for example possible to change the addressing: Instead of speaking as “I”, I can speak in the third person as he or she, or as plural with us, or use my first name, a nickname, and even more . What is interesting is that each of these adressings permits to describe different aspects of the experience. The next step is to introduce a spatial separation between an initial position where the subject was expressing as « I » and a new geographically distinct position (real or imagined) from which another « subject » speaks “in the name of the one who occupies this new place” and who intends to aim the first position to be informed. This other subject, can be “I” now taking some distance, but it is also possible to trigger »I » to other ages, or me in relation to particular roles, such as those related to an expertise I master well. It is still possible to position at this place other than me, real people of references (teacher, parent) or imaginary (a film or a novel character) . It is finally possible to convene a « wildcard » which we’ll discover the personality and skills when we get in the new place.

 

We are still in the context of reflexivity, simply we handle the filters, the points of view. What has profoundly astonished us is that each of these reflexive variations can produce new information! New subjective data describing the content of the referent experience which is being explicitated. I have no theory which could explain why these changes of positions, subpersonalities or adressings are so prolific and relevant. The most important point at present time is that they reveal the properties of the new reflective consciousness and must be taken into account by researchers, and equally by practitioners of relation as trainers, coaches, teachers, therapists etc …

 

 

Finally, to create dissociation, set up “a dissociated”, this is nothing less than creating reflexivity, consciousness (reflected awareness). There is nothing pathological, even though it may become so in individual cases.

But we are used to think of reflexivity as simply « thinking on our thinking”, the manipulation of places, co-identities, addressings, broadens the practice of reflexivity and awareness both in the normal way (without drugs, without disease, without initiation test, without prayer …) and in the creative way. The essence of consciousness is to be able to indefinitely modulate reflexive splits, folds, without the identity of the undergoing person being turned off. Consciousness has an extraordinary plasticity, it is possible to discover it, to explore it, without going on a retreat for years, without absorbing particular substances, without being sick. This opens a renewal of the conceptions of reflexive consciousness by taking into account the experience that one can make about it.

Dissociation is not a disease nor a cognitive operation to be feared, it is a way to boost the reflexivity of each and greatly increase what we can become aware about ourselves.

Let’s do it ?

 

 

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Dissociation and reflexive activity

By Pierre Vermersch

Dissociation and reflexive activity, two  ways to name the fundamental characteristicof consciousness

 

Since several years, while practicing the explicitation interview, we tried to widen the range of introspective access to lived experience by introducing techniques of “changing the point of view” or more, technics of dissociation (synonyms for me).

Basically, these techniques are inspired by psychotherapy practitioners who invented them with a benefic help from the extraordinary experiencial permissivity proper to this field. For instance, what Perls has invented in adding a second chair so that the patient could change places and speak of what is going on, what is the experience of “the other” still seated (in imagination) on the first chair; or all “the geniuses strategies” of Dilt, based always on proposing distinct spatial locations from the initial situation in order to let speak about what can be said by a mentor, one’s self to another age, or a part of one’self which is expert and will consider the problem from this expertise. Since the Stone’s work on sub-personnalities, co-identities of transactional analysis calling separatelyfor the adult, the child or the parent; the “Internalsystemfamily” of Schwartz; the dialogue witha characterof his dreaminactive imagination ofJung; the eventsanddialogue of the scenarios by directed waking dreams, (and I’m not trying to be exhaustive), all these techniques havemultipliedthe possibilitiesof involvingdifferent placesanddifferentselfinstances.

An important point I want to emphasize is the fact that these techniques are created in the field of psychotherapy at large, that fact does not assume that their job involves this framework. On the contrary, it is likely that this framework was ultimately only a means for exploring subjectivity in a first person perspective, and providing guidance on the possibilities of consciousness in general!

This transfer from psychotherapy to experiential study of subjectivity was possible because I trained myself to most of these techniques, I’ve experienced it, I guided others in their practice and learning, and above all, I did not stay in a limited perspective of a practitioner, but I spent my professional life to the insert them in research, in the experiential training of researchers who became practitioners experts.

`

After this preamble, a bit long, my aim is about the concept of dissociation. In previous years, many resistances have expressed in the research group on the explanation (GREX) to use these concepts. The main argument being that they suggest a too negative connotation related to psychiatry, schizophrenia, multiple personalities, disease.

 

It is true that the concept of dissociation was mobilized mainly by psychiatry and psychopathology. This was inevitable, because for more than a century, psychology has completely abandoned the subjective experience, giving up the practice of directed introspection to document the first-person point of view! The only discipline that could not do without it is psychiatry and it remains only the categorization linked to the most serious mental illnesses. Along the same idea, the social success of freudian psychoanalysis connoted the concept of the unconscious with the ideas of censorship, of repression, of neurosis and pathology. While, before Freud, many philosophers had seen the functionning of a normal unconscious, tied to the usual activity of thought and actions (see Vaysse, L’Inconscient des Modernes, for example).

 

If we leave these pathological connotations, the concept of dissociation refers to a normal phenomenon, usual, non-pathological, showing a fundamental property of the consciousness: reflexivity. That is to say, the basic separation between the egoic pole and what it takes as an object (of thought, of referred perceptive, of imagination).

 

Consciousness is based on the ability to divide one’s self, to refer to an object that is the content of the own thinking of the subject. The symbol of the mirror, or the myth of Narcissus (see Legendre) are there to illustrate awkwardly this founding division of the possibility of becoming aware. Why awkward?  The reason is  that it seems to appear metaphorically a division that would be separating. The subject loses his unity by the introduction of a place that is not him (the mirror). Instead of being like a fold of oneself, which distinguishes but does not cut, the mirror introduces a divisive split. Yet, when I write a text, then I reread it, I take it back as an object of thought, I divide myself and both my identity unity is not threatened by this split, this folding. Mental pathology enters when the fold is experienced as a loss of the constituting unit and as introducing a stranger inside.

 

So the basic idea is that the division between an egoic pole which aims, and what is aimed, is the basis of the reflexivity, of the normality of the functioning of consciousness.

 

What experiential practice shows is that it is easy to vary the terms of this reflexivity (this dissociation which does not lose the person’s overall unity). It is for example possible to change the addressing: Instead of speaking as “I”, I can speak in the third person as he or she, or as plural with us, or use my first name, a nickname, and even more . What is interesting is that each of these adressings permits to describe different aspects of the experience. The next step is to introduce a spatial separation between an initial position where the subject was expressing as « I » and a new geographically distinct position (real or imagined) from which another « subject » speaks “in the name of the one who occupies this new place” and who intends to aim the first position to be informed. This other subject, can be “I” now taking some distance, but it is also possible to trigger »I » to other ages, or me in relation to particular roles, such as those related to an expertise I master well. It is still possible to position at this place other than me, real people of references (teacher, parent) or imaginary (a film or a novel character) . It is finally possible to convene a « wildcard » which we’ll discover the personality and skills when we get in the new place.

 

We are still in the context of reflexivity, simply we handle the filters, the points of view. What has profoundly astonished us is that each of these reflexive variations can produce new information! New subjective data describing the content of the referent experience which is being explicitated. I have no theory which could explain why these changes of positions, subpersonalities or adressings are so prolific and relevant. The most important point at present time is that they reveal the properties of the new reflective consciousness and must be taken into account by researchers, and equally by practitioners of relation as trainers, coaches, teachers, therapists etc …

 

 

Finally, to create dissociation, set up “a dissociated”, this is nothing less than creating reflexivity, consciousness (reflected awareness). There is nothing pathological, even though it may become so in individual cases.

But we are used to think of reflexivity as simply « thinking on our thinking”, the manipulation of places, co-identities, addressings, broadens the practice of reflexivity and awareness both in the normal way (without drugs, without disease, without initiation test, without prayer …) and in the creative way. The essence of consciousness is to be able to indefinitely modulate reflexive splits, folds, without the identity of the undergoing person being turned off. Consciousness has an extraordinary plasticity, it is possible to discover it, to explore it, without going on a retreat for years, without absorbing particular substances, without being sick. This opens a renewal of the conceptions of reflexive consciousness by taking into account the experience that one can make about it.

Dissociation is not a disease nor a cognitive operation to be feared, it is a way to boost the reflexivity of each and greatly increase what we can become aware about ourselves.

Let’s do it ?

 

 

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