Dissociation and Time Management
Lowell Routley’s August 2009 transcribed conference presentation from the Twelfth Annual Ritual Abuse, Secretive Organizations and Mind Control Conference.
Lowell Routley is executive director of Heartland Trauma Initiative, created to serve survivors of extreme trauma. Over his 36 years of clinical experience in the Midwest, Lowell has listened to survivors to find what works, what doesn’t, and why. Out of those observations, he developed The Core Integrity Model. Through Heartland Trauma Initiative, Lowell provides training and consultation for therapists and survivors to explore, understand, and resolve impasses in healing. His topic is: Dissociation and Time Management.
Please use caution while reading this presentation. It may be triggering. All accusations are alleged. The conference is educational and not intended as therapy or treatment.
Is time a problem for anybody here?
And that is true for mono brains as well?
There are so many books written on time management. One of the things you have to manage, first and foremost, is the time to read the books on time management.
So, what we are going to do is talk about the whole concept of time. If any one thing might impede healing more than others, it is time perception.
Time is, in and of itself, not an object. If I were to ask you to give me “time” or show me “time,” you’d have nothing to give me. It is part of human experience. So, if I show you time, what does it look like? You will tell me things that measure time, things that show that time is progressing; but the whole concept of time is extremely confusing.
When you consider that children are timeless in their learning experience and Mom and Dad are frustrated by the fact that the child does not hurry up: “Go put your shoes on.” In the child’s mind, when you say, “Go put your shoes on,” they are in the process of carrying out the act. It is present in the conscience process; it is there in their nexus of consciousness. But the body has yet to carry out the imagery. To them, time is already in motion, as they perceive it, and that’s where they stand. So, one of the famous statements of trying to explain time is Einstein’s, of how distorted time can be: “To sit with a pretty girl for an hour, can seem like a minute… Let him sit on a hot stove for a minute, it feels longer than an hour.”
Augustine talks about the scene of what time is in terms of now, “the real present,” is actually durationless. It is without any kind of a boundary at all. So, when people tell me, in the midst of a flashback, “This is now,” they are right now. In this “now” moment, past, present, future all seems to be right there in consciousness. The outcome is that people, in that moment, have no boundaries by which to constrict this experience. It is by having boundaries that we have some point of reference to understand where we are in relation to whatever our internal or external experience is. With every experience, from a duration standpoint, there is:
an earlier time,
a later time,
something to come, as well as
something that has already passed.
Let’s talk about somebody who is in her Core Self quite a bit of the time. That is how we present in this moment our Core Self. Our identity exists, and it’s in the experience of the moment that we see it. And, most often, the eyes, the face, that sense of delight, the sense of awe, is one of the best descriptions of being in your Core Self in ‘this moment of time.’ In that same moment of “now,” there is a sequence of events.
The picture is part of the “now,” but in the duration of that time – these pictures are all within about two minutes of each other – that’s what most of us think about as this “now” moment, but yet the precise concept of a “now,” of a real-time experience, is without duration.
So, if our minds already have confusion about time and we learned it growing up, we learn to define it by duration, it becomes part of our problem in order to understand, what is time, that we are going to deal with it. Augustine also says that the tendency of the mind is to group together the successful events, so when we look at this aspect of it, you will hear me often go to the neurological literature because I am very interested in consciousness and how the consciousness process…how we experience our surroundings.
How does the mind-body interact with the external world? That’s my interest in terms of trauma because trauma affects consciousness. Now, Antonio Damasio is a neurological researcher – he was at the University of Iowa until about four years ago. Damasio now has been set up in another research context where he and his wife both are studying more extensive issues of both consciousness, seizure disorders, and so on. It was Antonio Damasio who came up with the term in literature for the first time of Core Self.
I had heard clients talk about their core back in the late 70s, early 80s, so I knew there was a dynamic here of something that I was wondering about. From my own theological, spiritual base, I believe that identity is unique to each of us as human beings and that, often, what the clients were talking about is “who I am” and “what has happened to I.” And because of “I” being traumatized, I created “me’s.” If you take the William James concept of the “I” and the “me,”
“I” is the subject – that’s who I am; that’s my Core Self.
“me” is the object: the teacher, presenter, therapist, husband, any of those particular roles that I might play.
In the process of understanding time, Core Self is in that flick of the moment in that durationless aspect.
The point Damasio makes is that Core Self presents itself in a pulse. Neuroelectrically, when core consciousness is present, we are present in a pulse of a moment. It is very interesting to think about it that way because, neurologically, physiologically, our identity is in the next pulse in the next moment, so we are always in our Core Self; we are always present in that pulse. But, at the moment the pulse takes place, two parts of self that Damasio talks about, two other complimenting parts of self are present. One is the Proto Self, the other, the Autobiographical Self. The Proto Self is the part of self that takes and creates a map of the body as the core interacts with that moment. So, right now, as we sit here, you listening to me, I seeing you, my Proto Self is memorizing, creating a body map for what this experience is like. Therefore, Proto Self is responsible for body memory; when Core Self and Proto Self come together, triggered by some event, like, as I stand here, I can recall last year’s conference. It’s taking the body map and my presence, and brings together what the Autobiographical Self has collected as the mental, intellectual experience. So, what we have here is mind-body all interacting on behalf of my Core Self to teach me, or to provide for me, the information that I want about my past, my present, my future. But I, in a core moment, am right here in this moment.
Children are the easiest ones in which you can see that because they are there in their eyes. And the sad thing is when you look back on pictures of trauma survivors – if they are your pictures or, as a therapist, you are looking at pictures, it is sad to find – very infrequent do you ever see the person in their eyes. They’re not in their core moment because they have learned the world is not safe to be “in that moment.” And such is the case then, that when it comes to time, and the time that I spend in “who I am” in my core, and my identity, I may not spend a lot of time, “out in time,” engaging with my environment because it is not safe.
You see, what I’ve been looking for, for so long, is what is it that we can say are some benchmarks in just how we are created. And that’s where I see the neurological process.
And as I have, over the years, helped survivors, when we’ve talked about the cognitive aspects and so on, that has not always been easy to help a person make sense of things. When you show, when you can look at the context, the body map, the autobiographical memory, and the core at the same moment, suddenly things start to begin to fit in. So, oftentimes, the therapeutic moment that might be a real “Aha!” is when the connections between all three are made: “Oh, this sounds like a context.” And then, when we understand the context of time, or what was happening at that time in that context, there is something that naturally integrates.
Integration is not a hard process. It is making those connections between these aspects of Self which are all part of mind and body. So this experience, as Augustine observed, is truly in the mind and what happens then – the moment that we have these familiar objects triggered – Core Self becomes conscious of personal history. Up ‘til that moment, the Core Self is just in the blink, in that situation, just moving on to the next moment, maybe not even wanting to know what just happened a second ago.
But that leads to an interesting observation. It means that most of us, in our Core, were somewhere around the trauma event; we just moved on. Now, a lot of people say, “Well, no, my Core is in the past.” Consider this: seeing the flashback is the seeing the memory of the trauma event. That’s the memory and it differs from the Core awareness of the present moment. We remember something from the past and, when we go back to the past because the past may be safer than this, we go back into the memory of a prior event in time, but we are remembering it in this moment. And unless we can separate time into past, present, future – (and) unless we can get our body and our cortex and self in the same moment – we won’t have the comprehension. So, I’m posing some hypotheses here that seem to explain experiences that people have regarding time and related confusion.
We see things moving, when it comes to time. Now you can see the second hand of a clock move, but do you ever watch the hour hand move? It moves. We know that. And if you have seen the hour hand move, I would compliment you on your degree of extreme patience and concentration, that hour hand is moving ever so slowly. But your consciousness of it has a continuity to it that you can see it move and that’s all you know. So you happen to know in that moment of movement of the hour hand, maybe fifteen minutes or even the full hour.
Time is an interesting dynamic when we think about how the mind processes it, especially in relation to our identity. What we see as present is present. We see motion. Motion occurs in an interval; therefore, usually what we call this moment in time (“the present”) is actually an interval, a sequence of events. Have you ever thought about time like this? And I know there’s more to these things. I’m just trying to give you a perspective of thinking about something differently here so that it might be a way to find another reference point in your healing process.
The interval of time in which these events occur, this interval might be experienced like this: Here’s the “Now.”
The “now” (any one of those by themselves) – if we could stay with just that single thing – it may not be as overwhelming, but this becomes a whole sequence…it sets off in the trigger moment…this is what is set off. And what we’re doing, in a sense, is looking through a microscope, or a telescope, at what is actually happening when we become triggered.
If we can see what the process is from our Core Self, we have a little more control. Then we’re not so scared. Our minds and body are working together the way the Creator intended them for survival, for protection, for existence, and the works.
But the idea is…it is what includes…it incorporates that whole moment; it is not a spatial object; it is looking at a specific event in totality.
As I have listened to the problem of time and, of course, me being in my moment and my client being in their moment and, suddenly, they’re in a flashback and I say, “Well, that was then, this is now. “So what?! Just get me outta here!” And there are a lot those experiences. And to get somebody anchored in the moment is very, very tough…because, first and foremost, the only way I’m going to be able to relate to this moment is if I am able to perceive the moment from my Core Self…because all other aspects of self are in the moment, as it was remembered. And that is “now.”
The past and the present connect in the nexus of consciousness. So in that moment, past and present are coexisting; and, in that coexistence, there are no boundaries. And, if the Core is there without some identifying reference, Core Self does not know if he or she is five or fifty. That is reality. It is nothing to do with intelligence. It is strictly the basis that, in that moment, all information is so vast, there is no way to differentiate which is which. And both are familiar.
So, what I did in the survey was up online for about two months. I had a total of fifty-seven people take the survey. We had forty-eight females and six males that took the survey. The age of the trauma onset was predominantly infancy, that was between birth and about two years of age. So, of all these fifty-seven people that took the test – the 55 – the majority was at that time…and the current age… two thirds were between forty and sixty.
In terms of frequency of trauma that actually happened, for most people – this was over forty people – it was something that was ongoing, it was consistent, it was part of almost at least a weekly experience.
In terms of the type of trauma, the most predominant: emotional abuse, physical abuse, sexual abuse, spiritual abuse, and ritual abuse…
The aspect of what degree of emotion and the intensity there was the one that I really noted as what I expected and was kind of a bizarre reason: Who, in the middle of a trauma event, has the privilege of being angry? What survivor had the freedom, in the moment of the traumatic experience, to be angry? That’s the least of the one; more often, it was the fear and terror and the loss of self.
In terms of experiencing time, very few people experience time going in reverse. I have some people who will talk about events going backwards when they get triggered, and it’s like they see something that had happened with the accident, and then they begin to go backwards to the beginning of the accident and it’s like remaking history. That’s something that just automatically happens for them, but it doesn’t resolve the trauma because they keep cycling through it.
This should be published online, somewhere in the next month and I found Survey Methods very nice. This server that you can go on and set up your survey and they keep the privacy…that we can get results from questionnaires from time to time.
In terms of the ability to tell time… and we’re talking about this more as an interval experience. Some people see a clock in their head; some people will see words scrolling by. The most common was by a feeling, by an intuition. So, most survivors that responded on this particular survey said that they were experiencing time based on just a feeling.
Past memory vs. present moment. Most individuals were looking for some reference in their present day. The more of a present-day orientation there was, the fewer times of confusion, in terms of flashbacks and so on. And most of the people who responded to that end of the continuum also indicated that they were fairly further along in their healing process.
In terms of flashbacks, or intrusive memories, as to how it’s handled, and I gave a range of opportunities: from going numb by playing solitaire, by telling one’s self where they are, self-harming, use of alcohol and drugs, trusting their own system to identify past and present, recognizing the experience for what it was as past, and so on.
Space is also something I include in this for this reason: if we are going to understand time as having duration, we also have to have some concept of spatial relationship. So that, for example, I know that if I say to my wife, “I just gotta run to the hardware store for five minutes,” I have to be mindful of the fact that it takes ten minutes to get there. It may only be the item I want takes me only five minutes…I know where it is in the store, and I’m going to get there. But ten minutes to the store, ten minutes back home, is twenty minutes. “It’ll just take me a minute.” That minute gets pretty expanded!
We all have difficulty telling time. And what has been funny is this particular last six months, as I’ve thought about this presentation, I have gotten worse and I’m a mono brain! My office manager shakes her head sometimes because I usually – when I would say “I will be there in x number of minutes,” I would be there on the dot. Well, it’s now that little forgetting (I have to travel to and from) comes into play because I’m just thinking about the activity that I’m going to, to do so we have to be very mindful of the things that add up. If you are going to really tell time, include the other aspects of time as well: time to drive, and so on.
In terms of also the spatial dynamic of thought, internally in the mind, in the nexus of consciousness, there are spatial orientations to thought. Remember that with neurological research, all thought is also image. It’s an object. The brain perceives your thoughts in that manner. So if your thoughts are racing, what that would look like in your brain is, concretely, maybe not a horse race or a foot race, but something is speeding very rapidly and the phenomenology in that terminology you use is important. So, when somebody says my thoughts are racing, I ask them to tell me what that looks like. And in seeing, in giving a concrete image of their thoughts racing, then we are able to identify a context for how the trauma impacted the mind in the thought process. The concept of the thoughts whirling or spinning… it may actually be that the person is in a situation where they’re spinning, physically, and what they are thinking during that time – the physical sensation of movement, in that circular motion, as well as the thinking process, internally – sets the stage for the phenomenology. So if, in the trauma, you’re even in a vehicle that was going very, very fast, your thoughts are going along fast with the car. The two associations fit. So, looking at some of the terminology we use when we describe thought and look at the spatial orientation…what it might appear to be in a concrete way can sometimes help to identify what is needed to resolve a trauma experience.
Then places and locations. And this is about how people spatially experience where they exist, in time, in their physicality. It is not unusual for people to talk about where they are in certain parts of their body, at a moment of time. If, in a session, they’re having a neck pain and we describe the neck pain, and then in getting to the neck pain it’s like that’s where a part of self was hiding. Or, I believe it was last year or the year before, we had somebody here and, for them, he was talking about in his remarks how he was told that his arm, this arm, belonged to Uncle So and So, and this leg belonged to Aunt So and So, and his whole body, as it were, had ownership by outside people. And each of the extremities then is associated to a part who’s owned by that other outside person. So when you start to look at the spatial and temporal concepts here, you might find those clues to know why you’re stuck, where you’re stuck, or when you’re stuck, in terms of the actual trauma experience.
There was one survivor (that) tried to explain her experience with time in this way, and that was to talk about as a stream. That has been an analogy that has been used philosophically. So, if we take this flowing stream as representing our life experience (the expanse of our life): memory, time perception in this regard, the stream of time representing life experience both the past, the immediate, and the future in its totality. Then from the bank, if we could, so to speak, observe our life from standing alongside, like maybe some dear friend of yours has known you most of your life and they’ve watched you; or it might be some – I prefer to think of a helpful, safe person that you might have had that might have been like a good grandparent or something – that they’ve watched you grow up, that they have that sense of totality and usually that’s not our personal experience, it’s what we have in our identification with someone else or through a sense of transcendence.
The leaf perspective. I have a leaf up there in the far…under the ‘r’…if you see a leaf floating along on the stream, that would be in that moment where we are on the stream. If we’re the leaf, we can see what is happening, what’s passing by. So it’s that flowing along with current. That’s the immediate, the now.
Then you come upon a rock; so, if there’s a part of self that seems to be immobile, it’s like it’s being inundated; it’s like energy has been drained away; it’s like all of life flows around it and past it and it’s just sitting there, inert. That’s another description that people will give me… is that like they can see their life passing by and they’re not part of it. It surrounds them, it goes over them, and they’re not able to engage and get into life.
And then the last perspective is the belief that one is outside of the body and outside of time. Up in this far corner is a fish jumping out of the stream; that’s going outside of time.
Regarding all of these dynamics, what one survivor said, “This is how my experience with time has been. I can be in the moment, but then there are times that I find myself like I am totally inert, or like a slug. And it’s like everything around me is moving fast and I can’t keep up with it. It’s just flowing over and around me. And yet maybe that will last that way for a week or two…can’t wake up in the morning…can’t get moving, and life is passing me by and I can’t be part of it.” And often, that’s very close to the core, in the core experience, because in our core we’re right there, but it’s like the core is experiencing life passing before her eyes, as it were, and not engaged in it and not able to stop it.
Then, with the fish leaping out, many will describe like they have been outside the body. And to be outside the body, other than depersonalization, to be outside the body is a result of like a near-death experience or an out-of-body experience; they are observing things from a timeless perspective. Often, with many therapy processes, they have used internal self helpers. The internal self helpers are transcendent parts; they are outside of time, but those transcendent parts, outside of time, have the ability to hope. If, however, a person is in the midst of a memory of a near-death experience, there is no feeling of hope, there’s no movement, there’s no way to get back into time, and maybe doesn’t want to get back into time because to be back in the body at that time is not at all safe. So, oftentimes the core may exist through much of life outside of the body. Often, it is in those circumstances where the psychic abilities are quite enhanced because the idea of connecting with physicality is too terrifying and it’s more that intuitive feeling sense that the person is actually blending, as it were, through the system in order to understand what’s going on in outside world.
I wanted to make just one quick comment about spatial because, oftentimes, perpetrators use the spatial references of time and space as a way to trick people. Now, most of you have heard of the different types of optical illusions. The Muller-Lyer…both lines are actually the same. But object constancy…children – by the time most children are four or five – have developed most of their constancies, so that they know they can look at objects and see them and trust them to be that same thing. Well, when perpetrators are constantly changing the environment, even if it’s to just do something like change the direction of the arrows, it throws the child’s perception off. So in the perpetration, it keeps the child from being able to ever build any solid reference. However, Core Self figures it out at some point and is not going to let a perpetrator know they figured it out; it’s shape constancy, it’s a rectangle, but when the door opens it changes to the trapezoid.
This particular object is interesting in that Piaget developed an IQ test and in the United States – in the Midwest – there was quite a movement of norming Piaget’s IQ test to the American population and when they presented this green board with the three buildings and they would put the buildings – one of them three close together, one of them spread apart – and they would say to the child, “Which one has the most shade?” Now, they’re supposed to say that they’re equal once they get the object or constancy down here. But they were getting fourteen- and fifteen-year-old Iowa, Minnesota, Wisconsin farm children to say, “Anybody knows there’s more grass.” Anybody who’s been raised on a farm knows that the top figure has more grass than the other one because when you spread your buildings out, you spread the shade and, in the shade, the grass won’t grow. And if they hadn’t asked them why, they would not have known why these farm kids were failing the IQ test. But these, anything that messes with the environment is going to create difficulty with understanding. So, we have time quirks here that anybody experiences problems with, in stress. When we have difficulty telling the difference of time, there’s the disorientation of Where am I? or Which is it? Is this now? Is it then? Is it where I always hoped to be? A person can go on a vacation and say, “This is unreal, this is what I always dreamed of!”
So, are they in the future?
Orientation in time. When am I?
Identification of self. Who am I? and also What’s happening?
From the identity standpoint, it’s Who am I?
From the objective “me” standpoint, it’s What’s happening? What am I, in terms of my role?
And then, in reaction to a trigger, the question is How am I: safe, threatened, attacked? So these time references are important for us to be able to have some sense of self regulation.
Practical ways of managing time. First of all, in our Core Self, in our system, we need to learn something about interval and sequence so it would be certain words that we use. All of the time references – morning, afternoon, evening, night – when you make your schedule, rather than using numbers for the sake – especially if there are parts of your system that as yet are youthful and do not comprehend time and that maybe isn’t their role – teaching just the basics as points of reference to the day, whether it’s in relation to the sun, whether it’s in relation to meals – when it comes to order, all these words become crucial.
As people do their journaling, I encourage them to use these words in the journaling so that they can begin to put order to whatever is happening, for example, in the flashback. Using images of time; sometimes it has to be a concrete identification where somebody might take a washable marker and put a dot on the face of their watch so that they know when the hand gets to that they need to stop that activity and go to another one. Again, in your mind, having a picture of how long something takes in terms of distance; or even print out a map of your community and write on it exactly how long it takes to get to certain points. The more that you can concretize the interval and the sequence, the more that you are going to be able to perceive time in terms of the present-day management and flow.
When it comes to time as organizing the mind, there are things like plan-do-review. Now all of these ideas – writing out, concrete steps, self talk of types, and so on – the danger with learning organizations is that it may replace core consciousness. The goal in therapy is to get to you having management. You want to have executive control in your own mind and system. And people will say, “Oh, maybe this is the answer. I’m gonna to do this technique. I’ve got my Palm Pilot, or something like that, and I’m going to consistently work with this.” But, if there is not an agreement internally, or if there is some part of you that does not want to know time because of any number of dynamics, then it becomes a problem. Do not let whatever you use as your tool take over and replace you. Do not be usurped by a means of helping your Self at the expense of loss of your Self.
Then there’s the aspect of mindfulness. One of the important aspects… If you learn to hold your breath – practice holding your breath, let’s say for thirty seconds – and you learn what a thirty-second interval is internally, then it will help you when it comes to experiencing anxiety. Anxiety is a delimited process. Really. It’s kind of hard to believe it. But anxiety is – usually the longest and anxiety attack will last is twenty minutes and it will have an ebb and flow. But unless you become mindful of it, you’re not going to experience that. If the focus is on the actual moment of flashback, then that is going to be predominant and the state that your body is in will be what you experience. But that’s not the present-day reality. So when you stop, take a breath, and you start practicing for twenty minutes just to notice your breathing, you will notice that by the end of the twenty minutes, things will begin to subside. And if, while you are doing that also, ask your internal system to move whatever is in your way. That will bring relief quickly, too.
Delaying gratification. A lot of survivors have reacted to the word ‘wait’ and the reaction has been severe. I learned the hard way. I said, “Could you wait a minute? I have to get something.” And I said the word and it was the wrong word to use and I hadn’t known that. So, in your Executive Self to learn that you can delay gratification does not mean that you are denying needs. Wait does not mean never, it means “just not now, but it will happen.” And if you determine that in yourself, it will happen. But so often the message of perpetrators overrides any of that core concept. Using the Wait Card is another way.