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Coping Skills to Stop Dissociation and THE GUEST by Emma Cline


Cover of the book The Guest by Emma Cline used to teach coping skills related to dissociation.

Alex, a young woman lacking resources, ingratiates herself to Simon, an older, successful man. Simon outfits her in designer clothes and whisks Alex to the Hamptons. Once there, Alex embarrasses Simon during a dinner party, prompting him to dismiss her from his comfortable life a week before his annual Labor Day party. Adrift, Alex convinces herself that Simon will take her back if she shows up at the party.


In the days between Simon’s rejection and the party, Alex is a desperate chameleon, becoming the person others want and convincing them to give her food, housing, and drugs in return. During this time, Alex frequently dissociates.


Dissociation is when a person feels disconnected from themselves and detached from reality. Practical examples include not recognizing yourself in the mirror, feeling like you are watching your life play out on TV, spacing out, uncontrollably daydreaming, and experiencing a sense of floatiness away from your body. It can be caused by stress, trauma, or pre-existing mental health conditions. Dissociating feels like a loss of control over one’s brain and body, and it’s scary.


Here are coping skills to stop dissociation:


Label The Experience: Once dissociative feelings start, identify what is going on, what you can do, and that there is an endpoint. “I’m dissociating. There are skills I can use to make this better. The dissociation will pass.”


Pay Attention To Your Breathing: Take slow, deep breaths, focusing on how air feels as it moves through your body.


Take A Mindful Walk: Engage your senses while walking (ideally outside). Name 5 things you see, 4 things you feel, 3 things you hear, 2 things you smell and 1 thing you taste. If it’s hard to identify all those senses, try noticing how your body feels as you move, the sounds your shoes make as they touch the ground, the smells of nature, etc.


Focus On An Object: Describe it entirely, including what it looks like, feels like, sounds like, smells like, and (if applicable) tastes like.


Note that these skills are helpful for the presenting symptom of dissociation, but therapy can help heal from the underlying trauma.


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