Coping Skills

Using Coordinated Movement for Dissociation

This week I learned a new technique to use when I’m dissociating.

I started an intensive outpatient treatment program in DBT last Monday. I think DBT is awesome. 10/10 would recommend. I am learning a ton of new skills and getting answers to every question I ever had. I feel very lucky to be able to participate in this incredible program.

I have learned many new skills, but this is one that I had no idea existed beforehand and that has been really helping me. I’m not sure if this is a DBT skill or just a grounding skill, but it was my DBT therapist that explained it to me and helped me to practice it, so I am crediting the program with this.

Basically the thing is this: Our brains can’t dissociate and coordinate our movements properly at the same time. So, if someone is dissociating, or beginning to dissociate, doing some sort of coordinated movement can help to stop the dissociation and bring their mind back to the present and their surroundings.

What is a “coordinated movement“? It’s something you do that requires you to focus your body on moving. My DBT therapist suggested standing on a balance board, playing catch, and dancing.

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I have learned on my own over the past year that dancing can bring me out of a flashback surprisingly quickly. I have a playlist of specific songs that I dance to in order to ground myself. So, it was validating to hear that dancing requires coordination and that that’s probably why it was helping.

If I don’t have a balance board readily available (I can use one while I’m at the program, but not at home), or if it would be too hard to get access to one in the moment, I can just try to balance while standing on one leg for as long as I can. If that’s too easy, I can stand on my tippy toes, too.

Throwing something around is also great. If there’s someone else around, and they’re willing to do this with me, we can play catch. If I’m on my own, I can throw a ball against the wall or bounce it on the floor. If I’m in a group of people, I can simply toss anything from hand to hand without feeling like I’m being weird.

I am going to start carrying around a bouncy ball!

I am also learning that I dissociate a lot. I’ve known for a long time that dissociation is a symptom of PTSD, but I’ve always thought of it as “that one symptom I don’t have.” I don’t think I really understood what the word was describing.

Now I am beginning to pick up on the clues that I am starting to dissociate. I feel dizzy, all thoughts flee my mind, I zone out, I’m not really looking at anything in particular, it’s hard to remember what I was just saying, I ask “whaaat?” in my head or out loud, my muscles feel weak, my legs feel like they’re dropping out from under me and disappearing, I feel like I’m not here, I feel like things aren’t real, I have an urge to run away and hide.

Grabbing something and throwing it up and down or from one hand to the other is hard in the moment. It is hard to remember to do it, it is hard to be willing to do it and trust that it could probably help, and it is physically hard to do it because I am attempting to override the dissociation.

Standing up when I want to freeze and stay still forever because I think that if I don’t, something bad will happen, is hard. Moving any part of me, even just readjusting the position I’m sitting in, is hard because that is not what my body is wired to do.

But I am safe now. In this moment, I am safe. It is okay to move. It is okay to stay present and to experience this moment. I am having a reaction, that is all. I have gotten through this before, and I will get through it again. It’ll be okay.

Had you heard of this skill before? Have you tried it? If you dissociate, what helps you bring yourself out of that?

8 thoughts on “Using Coordinated Movement for Dissociation”

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