The strength of, and our involvement in an emotion or remembered event can be significantly altered depending upon the way in which it is experienced. If we experience a memory as if reliving it (i.e. from within our bodies, through our own eyes) then we are Associated into the memory, if we are viewing it the event as if on a TV screen, and we are watching ourselves ‘act out’ the experience this is a Dissociated experience.
Often individuals who have had a traumatic experience and are suffering with some form of post traumatic stress will be associated into the event. They will use language that tells you that they are ‘reliving’ the horrors, they can see it all happen as if ‘they are there’. For these people the memory is reoccurring time and time again.
At the other end there will be people who see the world from a Dissociated standpoint. They will often appear cold or unemotional, separate from the events going on around them. These people see experiences as if on a movie screen, and are literally detached from the emotions.
Association is like being a player on the pitch of a football game being in the match, Dissociation is being in the stands watching the game take place, an observer of what takes place with only the involvement that they want to have.
Duality of Experience
We all have the ability to associate into a particular state and to disassociate when we want to, however we also have a preferred way of experiencing the world which is why some people are more susceptible to the impact of a traumatic event than others, and why some people can seem dispassionate when all around them are ‘in the moment’.
Being associated and dissociated aren’t the reserve of memories and emotions, and it is how many people experience world. There are those of us who are ‘living in the moment’ and others that ‘watch the world go by’, even the language that we use hints at the dualistic nature of experience.
We can also choose when we step into or step out of an emotion or experience. There are times when we will remember something vividly, with strong emotion e.g. a birthday party, death of a friend etc. which can overwhelm us with emotion. At other times we will step away from these same events to release the emotion and clear out thoughts. Sometimes though we get ‘stuck’, unable to move on, or unable to experience the joy in a moment.
Once we are aware of the concept of Association and Dissociation we can use it within our practice to alter the perception of an experience simply by having a client move between the associated and dissociated states; doing so is simpler than it first might appear.
Asking a client to simply ‘step out of themselves and watch’ or ‘step into yourself and look through your own eyes’ can be enough to radically change their perspective on a memory and have far reaching consequences.
Moving from an Associated to Dissociated stance is used within many therapy patterns, the most well known being the Fast Phobia cure where a client is stepped into and out of original trauma several times to break the link between the memory and the emotion. It is also closely related to Perceptual Positions which take the concept of Dissociation to an extended level.
As with many elements of NLP the impact of this change is dependent upon the client who you are working with and simply changing the perspective can have a profound influence on their lives.