In order to truly cure depersonalization disorder (including symptoms of derealization) you have to attack it at a number of different levels. If you don’t heed this advice, you could be stuck with the disorder for years, or even decades.
Depersonalization is caused by disorganized attachment, emotional abuse, dysfunctional family systems, interpersonal trauma, chronic stress, exposure to traumatic events, obsessive and distorted thought patterns, and use of specific drugs such as marijuana and hallucinogens. A number of these factors (but not necessarily all) will be present in anyone who acquires depersonalization disorder (DPD).
Each level needs to be addressed in order for full recovery to take place.
Let’s start with the first item on the list:
Develop Earned Security
A disorganized attachment style is caused by suboptimal parenting during a child’s early infancy. This pattern of attachment creates a tendency inside of a child towards dissociation when faced with stressful circumstances. When this child grows older, he will likely dissociate if he encounters a strong enough stressor.
You may be wondering, “if I have disorganized attachment, can I doing anything about it?”. The answer is absolutely yes.
You have to acquire secure attachment. Secure, also known as autonomous attachment, can be acquired in adulthood. This is known by attachment therapists as “earned security”.
Engage in Emotional Expression to Overcome Emotional Abuse
In order to overcome emotional abuse, you must first become aware of the fact that you suffered emotional abuse in childhood. Many sufferers of emotional abuse are not even aware that this occurred. Second, you must engage in emotional expression, also known as emotional discharge. Expressing suppressed emotions can often instantly get rid of feelings of derealization.
Overcome the Legacy of Your Dysfunctional Family System
Most people with depersonalization come from dysfunctional family systems. In the most general sense, a dysfunctional family is one in which one parent has a problem and all other family members are forced to adapt their thinking, feeling, and behaving to conform to the problem of this one person. These ways of being become ingrained in each family member, so that even if they leave the family system, they have dysfunctions in their thinking, feeling, and behaving. Most people with depersonalization have suffered from these environments, and still haven’t corrected these problems.
The four main types of dysfunctional families are the alcoholic or chemically dependent family system, the emotionally or psychologically disturbed family system, the physically or sexually abusing family system, the religious fundamentalist or rigidly dogmatic family system. The four “rules” shared by each of these systems are rigidity, denial, silence, and isolation. In these families, it is hard for the children to develop a strong sense of self. Dissociation is often a way for children of these families to cut off from the pain.
Co-dependence, enmeshment, perfectionism, low self-esteem and narcissistic grandiosity are other problems for people from dysfunctional families. All of these problems contribute immensely to duration and intensity of depersonalization and derealization.
Become Assertive to Avoid Future Interpersonal Trauma
Interpersonal trauma is frequently more severe than traumatic events. Interpersonal trauma is also seen in people who suffer Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD), which is frequently co-morbid with depersonalization disorder. Assertive communication is important for people with DP to learn. By becoming assertive, rather than submissive or aggressive, you can learn to interact with the social world in a healthy way.
Learn to Eliminate Chronic Stress
Anxiety is intricately related with DP. Learning relaxation techniques such as abdominal breathing, progressive muscle relaxation, peaceful visualizations, and paying attention to your emotional needs are essential skills in avoiding stress, which acts like fuel for DP. In modern society, stress is chronic. It’s extremely important to take a break from goal-related activity. 20 minutes of mindfulness meditation can be extremely therapeutic. Eliminating caffeine and other stimulants is important in reducing stress.
Likewise, increase your consumption of protein, and eat more whole vegetables and fruits. It is also important to combine aerobic and anaerobic exercise regimens to optimize the stress-reducing benefits of exercise.
30 minutes of moderately intense running 3 times a week, in addition to a weightlifting schedule can drastically reduce levels of stress hormones (cortisol, adrenaline, etc.). Studies on mice have found that exercise produces resilience against stress, which can help reduce anxiety.
Heal a Wounded Self
In Depersonalization Disorder, there is a rupture in a person’s sense of self. When this missing piece becomes brought back into a person’s awareness, they can feel repersonalized. Co-dependence is where a person is addicted to changing others, rather than changing themselves.
There is a case reported in the literature of an African-American woman becoming depersonalized due to growing up in a white family and never talking about being black. There is likely an element of the self that has been disowned or suppressed because it causes shame or pain. This element of the self must be brought into awareness and reintegrated into a person’s sense of self.
The self could have been wounded in a traumatic event, or by doing something that was interpreted to be shameful, or out of character.
Correct Obsessive and Distorted Thought Patterns
Depersonalization is on the obsessive-compulsive spectrum, and is often made worse by obsessive self-rumination and distorted thought patterns. Learning distraction techniques can help eradicate self focus.
Self-focus makes depersonalization worse. Obsessing about philosophical issues such as the meaning of life, eternity, questions of space, and contemplating insoluble existential issues makes depersonalization worse. These issues are actually ways for people with DP to avoid and ignore their own true needs.
It’s crucial to focus on your life goals, and not on existential issues.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is also helpful for overcoming illogical thoughts. Emotional reasoning is the most common thought distortion among people with depersonalization. This is where feelings are used as justifications for thoughts. For example, if you feel unreal, you then may assume that you in fact aren’t real and will question aspects of your existence. This is illogical.
Perceive the World as Normal
People with depersonalization find things “strange” and “weird”. When you view everything as normal, you eliminate this source of anxiety. Everything is normal. Nothing is strange or weird. Things are only perceived as strange or weird when they go against our preconceptions.
If your preconception is that the earth is flat, then you realize is is in fact round, you may think this is “weird”, when in fact it is normal.
If your preconception is that matter is completely solid, and you find out that atoms are mostly empty space, you may conclude that this is “weird”.
Realizing that everything in the universe is in fact normal can help eliminate existential fear and anxiety.
Develop Goals and Accomplish Priorities
It’s extremely important to work on developing personal goals and to set priorities. By adopting an optimistic attitude and focusing on things you truly want to accomplish, you can generate a sense of purpose inside yourself that repels feelings of depersonalization.
In order to achieve what you want to achieve, it’s necessary that you break tasks into small, manageable pieces, and that you tackle the most important priorities before less important goals. By having a sense of direction in your life you will feel much more grounded in reality.
By following the above advice, you will develop a fully integrated sense of self, which will lead to the eradication of the symptoms of both depersonalization and derealization.
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