what can you do right now to improve your system’s daily life?
(The following information is adapted from Growing Beyond Survival. This book goes into much more detail on these skills and provides several exercises for people to use independently, in individual, or group therapy settings.)
Healing from trauma and dissociation can be difficult, painful, and even overwhelming. The basic tools listed below are referred to as symptom management skills, coping skills, or tools. These have been well-researched, documented, and proven to successfully address CPTSD and dissociation. Best of all, they can be used immediately!
Grounding basically means bringing your focus to what is happening right now (instead of flashbacks, intrusive images, self-harm urges, or switches). Grounding skills are important because when we are present, we can connect to other resources and options.
Dissociation may make a person feel safe or protected, when actually it’s a risk to one’s safety. It makes you a sitting duck because it restricts your access to resources in the present. Dissociation takes you closer to the unconscious, closer to the very things you are dissociating to avoid. Therefore, grounding may feel wrong when you first begin. Try to honestly assess the things that go one when you dissociate, so you can see what a problem it has become.
When you dissociate, are you more likely to:
1. Hurt yourself?
2. Get into a dangerous situation?
3. Have more flashbacks?
4. Lose track of who you are?
5. Lose track of where you are?
- Practice using the five senses to ground yourself.
- Grounding Kit – A grounding kit can provide your system easy access to things that help. Try including an item for all 5 senses.
- Grounding Checks – Can help you keep track of how focused/grounded you are.
- Grounding Log – Building off the idea of checks, a log can give you a more detailed summary over a day.
- More grounding ideas in the Wiki
Reality checks are helpful if your system is struggling with intrusive feelings or emotional flashbacks. These checks help you pay attention to your reactions without judging. Reality checks can be used before, after, or during grounding techniques.
Sample Reality Check:
- What just happened?
- Who was involved (in terms of present-day people)?
- Whom did they remind you of?
- Which stress responses are you experiencing right now?
- Where are your resources? [Internal] [External]
Other Reality Checks:
Dissociation blocks us from learning the natural cycles in feelings and mood states. Feelings checks can help us practice to name our feelings and become aware of them before they become big or uncomfortable. As we get skilled at identifying our feelings, we can use other skills like imagery (e.g. Dial Down technique) to self-regulate.
With CPTSD, a part’s memories can call to mind thoughts, pictures, sounds, tastes, and smells from the past without meaning to do so. These flashbacks are coming from the mind–so we need to use our mind to get them under control.
Create an internal safe place such as:
- An internal meeting room.
- A pleasant outdoor area.
- A home, cottage, beach house, or tree house.
- See the Wiki on Safe Places under Getting To Know Your Parts for more ideas.
Other imagery techniques:
- “Dial Down” imagery for intense emotions
- Containment imagery
Journaling is very helpful for DID systems in a myriad of ways. Journaling can help facilitate internal communication between parts. Journaling can help with grounding, developing inner safe places, reflection, and internal cooperation.
In order for journaling to be safe and effective, it helps to understand the different types of journaling. This can help reduce being overwhelmed by your writings.
Level 1 – Diary-type, documentation of daily events, NO feelings, present focused, used for grounding, recommended 3x per day for up to 5 minutes each time.
Level 2 – Still present focused, feelings, thoughts, impulses, documentation of how your symptoms are affecting you, internal communication, safe places, self-soothing, therapy homework, topics for future therapy sessions, contained materials, recommended 2x per day up to 20 minutes each time.
Level 3 – Present focused processing of traumatic material, to be used in conjunction with therapy. NEVER to be used to “dig up” material. If you are doing this kind of journaling and begin to lose focus with reality (start having flashbacks), STOP and use Containment and Grounding. Use as needed for short periods of time.
As a rule, start with Level 1 journaling and practice it until you can reliably do it without slipping into other kinds of journaling. Next, practice Level 2 in the same way. Use both together to practice grounding and containment. Do NOT use Level 3 unless you can reliably and consistently use Levels 1 and 2.
Cluster Journaling is another helpful technique if you or a part is overwhelmed with what you are trying to write about. Information does not have to be linear. It can spread sideways or whatever seems natural. Some people even get creative, using different colors, shades, etc.
Non-verbal or creative expression can also help to build awareness and understanding. It is also helpful in terms of healing and recovery. Often times, thoughts, feelings, or memories are stored without words and survivors have a hard time putting words to their experiences.
There are some great ideas for creative expression in the Wiki.
Nevertheless, using words to describe thoughts, feelings, and experiences is a critical part of recovery. This includes self-talk, internal communication, and asking for help from others.