Fears, Panic Attacks and Dissociation

Fears, Panic Attacks and Dissociation

I had just completed an open water scuba course. A required skill to master is to have your mask fill completely with water and clear it while still underwater.  Another was to take your mask off, swim a distance without it and put it back on and clear it, again all underwater.  A fellow student attending the course found these particular exercises really confronting. She explained she has a near drowning experience as a young child and since then has never been able to put her face directly underwater.  She coped okay when she had a mask on. 

We were in a swimming pool, less than a meter underwater and when it came to her turn, she was really struggling. The instructor was very experienced and patient but could see that this would take some time, and since these were the last two skills for the session, and the rest of us had completed them, he excused us from the pool while he continued to work with her. Some time later she came back and had completed them but it was clear she was stressed.

As we completed the theory requirements, we were told that tomorrow or the next day, in open water in the sea, we could have to do the same exercises again, this time under 6 meters  (18 ft) of water. She was definitely fearful about doing it all again, and with no easy escape route to the surface, she wondered whether she should continue with the course.

The next morning, before we went out to the dive, I took an opportunity when she was on her own and said, 

“Tiffany, I specialise in trauma resolution. There are parts of your mind that were formed during your early childhood near drowning experience. They still function for you. Would you like me to help you reduce the fear of water against your face?  It will only take literally a minute or less…”  I paused, “..but it will require you to maintain direct eye contact with me during this time.…and no, this is not hypnotism.”  She was 20 something and I braced myself for a post #MeTo response such as “Don’t hit on me you old fossil” but she immediately said, “Yes!” with a sigh of relief.

In a soft gentle voice I said, “I’m talking to all the parts of Tiffany’s mind that were formed when she nearly drowned. You have done a really good job in protecting Tiffany from ever being in that situation again by making her extremely fearful when water is directly against her face. Well done! She is no longer that little girl anymore and she now has the skills to cope with water against her face and a desire to really enjoy water.  So you don’t need to do that anymore.” Internally, I asked the Holy Spirit for the name of a key part, and he put the name ‘Francois’ into my mind. I said, “Francois, Tiffany will be okay now, you can desist.”  Her pupils dilated noticeable for an instant when I said his name. That was it. She looked more relaxed and said, “Thank you!”

She completed the exercises methodically and calmly, without any panic whatsoever. She gave me the thumbs up when she surfaced.

Similar scenarios have happened in non-counselling situations. A minute or two is all it has taken, sometimes as little as two seconds. Once you understand the highly influential role alters can play in our lives, particularly fears and phobias, and how easy it is to disarm them, you have a powerful tool in your toolkit.

Here is another example.

Heather and I were sitting in a small seaplane in Anchorage Alaska waiting to take off. We were flying to a remote mountain lake an hour inland to observe and track wild grizzly bears. We were waiting for the third passenger before taking off. He boarded, we introduced ourselves, talked about how excited we were to be seeing grizzlies in the wild. 

The pilot was doing his final checks and Rick became increasingly agitated. “I am sorry I can’t do this” he said, “l’m going to have to leave the plane and cancel.” We were both surprised because he seemed very outgoing and self assured; a highflying lawyer from Seattle. This was a bucket list trip for us and if he cancelled, the cost of the flight would’ve been prohibitive to us without his contribution. 

I asked him why he felt agitated and he said he wasn’t sure because he had flown a lot but was feeling sick and his skin was clammy. I asked him whether it had anything to do with being in a small plane and a confined space because his agitation increased once the side door was closed. He said he wasn’t sure but it could be. I told him we were counsellors and that if he would give me a minute I might be able to settle the agitation. He agreed. 

Asking him to maintain relaxed eye contact with me, I said “I’m talking to all the parts of Rick‘s mind that really don’t like the idea of being confined in such a small space for such a long time. Something happened in the past when Rick was little and he was trapped in a small space and it overwhelmed him and you came out to carry him during this trauma. Rick appreciates all that you have done to protect him from a similar situation but he is no longer in that place any more and he would like you all to settle down.”  I asked Rick to speak out loud to his parts, thanking them for helping him but that he would really like them to relax and let him enjoy the flight. He did that. 

The agitation disappeared immediately, the colour came back to his face and there wasn’t a problem from that point on in any of the takeoffs and landings. And we saved ourselves a lot of dough and had an awesome grizzly encounter!

Many panic attacks, like the one above, are fundamentally driven by dissociative parts of our minds, frequently formed in childhood when circumstances overwhelm us. Dissociative parts can have a powerful influence over our physiology and psychology and they can exercise this influence very rapidly if they deem it necessary. In the midst of such an attack everything can feel quite overwhelming and the need to escape these feelings becomes our only tunnel visioned focus.

Sometimes, only a single phrase is necessary.

We were at a theme park at the height of the holiday season and there were long queues for the rides as expected. It was about a 20 minute wait for this particular ride. One of the children who were with us was progressively getting more and more unsettled and expressing doubts about whether he could cope with the ride. It wasn’t a matter of size or age. Both Heather and I reassured him but any relief was only temporary. As we were nearing our turn to board the ride, he decided that he didn’t want to go. I suspected that his fears were part-based, but because we were so crowded and he was 12 yrs old and highly self-conscious, it was not appropriate to address the parts in the manner illustrated above.  I was standing directly behind him, and  I asked the Lord for the name of the principal part that was causing the fearful response. The thought “Lucas” came to mind.  This was not the boy’s name.  I bent over and whispered into his ear, “Lucas, you will desist.” Immediately he turned around, looked puzzled and said, “What did you say?” I said, “Nothing worth repeating.”  He was okay with that reply and boarded the ride without any objection, declaring afterwards what a great ride it was.

There have been other instances where I have been swimming at the beach, in the surf with people who have begun to panic and settled them done by  talking to their dissociative parts.

The interesting observation that readers have probably made is that in the instance of the scuba woman and the seaplane man, neither were Christians. The parts were settled because parts in anyone, independent of their belief system, will generally respond well to anyone who speaks softly and makes direct eye contact.  However, while the parts have settled for the moment, there is no guarantee that they won’t flair up in the future and resume their roles.

It is only possible to remove them so that they never interfere again if you are a Christian. Only Jesus can do that.

It’s a benefit of belonging to the club. The only club where the owner has already paid your admission fee.  All you have to do is ask to join!

To understand more about dissociation, purchase our book or e book “Dissociation: The Forgotten Factor in Healing”