The function of dissociation

The Truth about Trauma and Dissociation by Valerie Sinason (Confer Books; £12.99); reviewed by April Mangion.

In this ‘whistle-stop’ tour of dissociation, Sinason offers a neat and surprising insight into trauma and dissociation. Having expected a run of the mill outline of dissociation, the short read of only 154 pages was, in fact, relevant, informative and thought-provoking. Although the title somewhat brackets itself into the trauma market, it is of a much wider range, examining how society reacts to trauma as much as the individual necessity of dissociation. The truth, the book argues, is that dissociation is more utilised in general than has been given credit thus far. Its selling point is its ability to explain the times we currently find ourselves in.

Sinason considers the current worldwide trauma of Covid-19. The suggestion is that much of the world’s population is in a state of dissociation. Humans are not good at staring death in the face. Thus, the increasing death toll means most have had to dissociate at least to some degree. As the news reports growing figures do you look on while sipping your cocoa? Do you gasp then turn back to your daily life? Whichever way you turn is probably with dissociation. As the crisis unfolds, making choices to follow restrictive measures or not requires dissociation – to carry on as before or turn inwards. This helps to explain why some have denied or ignored the crisis, and rebelled against the rules. Dissociation may also explain why initially, many outside China believed it was a localised problem, something for ‘the other’ to deal with. Everyone else could turn a blind eye.

According to Sinason, dissociation allows us to carry on with our day-to-day lives. We can see the body of a child refugee washed up on a beach because it is only one body and far removed from our world. We can read or watch reports about rape, war and murder and continue to feel safe in our part of the world. The reality is that trauma can occur to any of us at any time.

Sinason discusses two types of victimisation: the deserving and undeserving. The undeserving are those who had no input in their trauma, for example, victims of natural disasters. They are accorded validation and support in a different way to the ‘deserving’ – victims of car crashes or domestic abuse, for example, who can have a finger pointed at them for their victimhood. Sinason argues that the ‘deserving’ are, of course, in reality equally undeserving. But for society to function, blame is often lain on the individual, to escape the belief that society allows such events to occur. Such a belief would mean horrific events could happen outside of our own control to ourselves.

This is not a bog-standard book about dissociation. The truth about trauma and dissociation goes on a journey back to the function of dissociation. It outlines how a healthy coping mechanism protects us as individuals and societies from the effects of trauma. The truth about dissociation is that it is available to us all – both helpful and harmful, and without which many more individuals would find themselves living in a trauma state.

- Reviewed by April Mangion, Trainee Counselling psychologist at Middlesex university & New School of Counselling and Psychotherapy

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