"Normal" Reactions to Abnormal Events. Part 3

The third part of the interview about various normal and abnormal reactions. We discussed whether there are "unaffected" individuals when someone has gone through a serious traumatic experience without any visible wounds, losses, or damages that can be clearly identified (such as physical health, the lives of loved ones, or money). We talked about the "unaffected" at Crocus and the personal experience of Olya Kostina, who attended the fateful concert of the band Piknik and came out alive and well.

28 May, 2024

Maria Dolgopolova: I also wanted to talk about some possible whimsical reactions of the psyche to what’s happening in life, especially for people, particularly at a certain age, there are such characteristic frightening fantasies. In psychiatry, they call them contrasting thoughts. This is when a decent, diligent, and responsible person, for example, begins to see himself killing his spouse. Or if it’s a woman, she starts imagining killing her husband. And it’s important to understand that these fantasies are intrusive. They scare the person, they come like a waking dream. And the person wonders what they should do to make them stop. Young mothers… well, not just young, any mothers, especially with their first child, often have fantasies about harming their child. And they are very frightened by these fantasies. It’s a separate block of peculiar reactions. Usually, this indicates a personal crisis, when certain aspects, primarily of one's own aggression, are repressed and come out in such externally frightening forms. On the other hand, it could also be a variant of anxiety disorders. But in general, it’s a symptom at the intersection of normal and abnormal, because sometimes intervention is needed if there are other aggravating factors: insomnia, some dysfunctionality, loss of adaptive capabilities. And sometimes it’s really a crisis that persons can work through themselves, especially if they believe in their own normalcy, believe in the normalcy of their possible aggressive manifestations. Because when we fantasize violently about killing our spouse or harming our children, it’s not about people fearing that they might actually do it or that it’s finally proven that they’re evil. No, it’s more about being so afraid to see our dark side that it comes to us in such a hyperbolized form and scares us.

Olga Kostina: To see ourselves as scary, horrible people.

Maria Dolgopolova: Yes, yes, yes. And who has some stable boundary that no matter what I see about myself in a dream, no matter what I feel, it’s not about me going to kill or harm my children; it’s about some other psychological desires, processes, fears, limitations.

Olga Kostina: Well, yes, here we still need to somehow assess that between a thought and a volitional action, usually in a healthy case, if a person is genuinely healthy and not a carrier of some severe psychiatric illness, there is usually a gap. To the point that even if a person has a hurricane of emotions raging inside, sometimes it's difficult to even raise a hand. So, maybe we shouldn't be so afraid of ourselves, firstly. And secondly, indeed, this is also a peculiarity of our society. There's this sort of "elfing" phenomenon now, as I observe, since I'm an administrator of several communities related to various topics, including music. I observe a fantastic picture where precisely the people who position themselves as bright individuals, their pages are covered with flowers and kittens, these are the ones making the most aggressive, most offensive interventions, some outrageous outbursts. Meanwhile, a person who is in a good contact with his aggression can occasionally say something or, let's say, confront, that is, come out with some confrontation...

People who acknowledge their aggression and have a good contact with it much less often make such strange hysterical outbursts. And in this sense, it would be good to somehow be in contact with ourselves and somehow redefine what constitutes... Well, perhaps this is where it comes from, what makes a good person and what doesn’t. That there should be absolutely no aggression, no fear, no doubts. But a person to whom we can theoretically apply these qualities starts to look monstrous, it’s very scary. It’s normal to have aggression, it’s normal to have anger, it’s normal to have fear. These are healthy feelings that actually allow a person to navigate reality. Even intrusive thoughts... I mean, if something monstrous is happening in your head, it's good to look around. You know, there's this silly demotivator, it's often associated with Freud, where it says that before diagnosing yourself with depression, check if you're surrounded by scoundrels. Well, loosely. Well, it's a cruder formulation, but nevertheless.

So, if against a backdrop of full health, happiness, and delight, suddenly something happens, maybe there's a reason for it. Maybe your system of views and evaluations doesn’t assume assessing certain events as crisis points. But your sensory system, subconsciously, clearly indicates that something is wrong. In this sense, it makes a point not to be so immediately frightened, but to check, maybe there really is some reason. Well, and truly, the birth of a child, and I really understand what you're talking about, it's indeed a very serious burden on the psyche. The first child, especially if there are two or three of them, and they're all little, various thoughts start to come to mind.

Maria Dolgopolova: I think this is more of a common effect for the first child. When there's still this acute feeling of experiencing oneself as a perfect mother who doesn't feel any crap.

Olga Kostina: Yes, yes, yes, and it's like some kind of story...

Maria Dolgopolova: With the second child, you go with more realism.

Olga Kostina: Well, I don't know, not everyone goes through that, but yes, somehow you want to, don’t want to, some adaptation happens. But this idea that a real person never gets angry, is all-forgiving, well, no, it’s not. And I’m not really close to the idea of total forgiveness, I'll honestly say. I'm in good contact with my aggressive parts.

Maria Dolgopolova: Well, have we received any questions from the listeners? Is there anything that interests you, that you're curious about, and you want to clarify?

Olga Kostina: Or share some of your experiences. By the way, that's also a very useful genre.

Maria Dolgopolova: Hello, Lena.

Listener: I have a question. When my mother died, it will be five years this year. I didn't shed any tears, nor did I have any hysterics. Well, when something happens, and I was in a car accident, my body acts separately somehow from me. And I had such a strange reaction, when we were getting together, according to our tradition, you had to read at night, my sister and nieces and my daughters and I were sitting in the kitchen. And I said something silly, I started laughing, and from my laughter, my mom's clock, which hadn't worked for several years, started ticking again. And quite loudly. But I don't know why there were no tears, nothing, absolutely nothing. And it even felt like she wasn't my mom.

Maria Dolgopolova: But how was it emotionally? I mean, tears are a physiological reaction. They may or may not occur. But how did it feel emotionally?

Listener: Nothing. Just doing things, I had to drive around, pick up my father, deal with organizational matters at the cemetery. It was all on me. Even though I'm the youngest among my sisters, but... This funeral wasn't the first one, it was the fourth in our family. They were all on me.

Olga Kostina: Well, I feel sorry for you.

Listener: Yes, thank you. It's already in the past, it's just unclear why it happened like that.

Maria Dolgopolova: I think that's also a matter of life circumstances and psyche configuration, when... Feelings are energy-consuming. It's a very energy-consuming event to be sensitive and react deeply with emotions. Sometimes, if a person's life has unfolded in a certain way, they get used to having muted feelings because it's a survival mechanism, a mechanism of "not developing any mental disorders" and so on. And it's very possible that before losing your mom, there was a lot in your life that caused this type of reaction to form and be necessary.

Listener: I see, I have another question about feeling myself. Just a chance to ask...

Maria Dolgopolova: Yes, of course, go ahead.

Listener: Since childhood, I remember myself early, and from early childhood and now, I often see myself as if I'm not me, as if this body, it's not mine. And... I sometimes observe myself from the side, some reactions or something I said. Well, I can't explain it. As if I'm not me, but I'm inside some creature.

Olga Kostina: This is called dissociation.

Maria Dolgopolova: And derealization too.

Olga Kostina: Dissociation and derealization. This is precisely what relates more to the field of trauma therapy. These things occur if something happened in early childhood or during pregnancy. There are events that... These can be illnesses. If it's during pregnancy, it can be related to the mother's condition. The mom could have been frightened at some point. Possessing a large volume of some heavy emotional experiences. All this influences the fetus, influences the infant. If you know anything about your childhood, maybe you were sick. So, most likely, there's also some root cause to this. This doesn't mean that there's something wrong with you, and you're somehow wired incorrectly. Dissociation and derealization — these are always some protective reactions to some external events. Moreover, as Masha mentioned about not crying, that it can be a way of life. And sometimes, very often, by the way, if a person experiences some peak emotions, then the psyche can only assess a certain part, process...

A certain volume to process, to be able to endure. Anything that exceeds this part comes out sideways, the psyche cannot comprehensively process it, and then these states arise, which we describe with two words — dissociation and derealization. And it can really seem like you're not you, living not in your own body, looking at yourself as if from the side, it can be from the side, it can be from above...

Listener: It's like being in a spacesuit.

Olga Kostina: Like being in a spacesuit, yes. So you feel like you're locked inside your body, right in the spacesuit?

Listener: Well, probably, yes. I don't know about other people, but I feel like even... when I do something, or I look through my eyes... Well, if, for example, you wear a mask or a balaclava, it's closed, and you're inside. I don't know how to explain it. I seem to be looking through my eyes, but as if not my own.

Maria Dolgopolova: This often happens in addition to what I've already said, with, on the one hand, accumulated traumatic experience, and on the other hand, with traumatic experiences that were not recognized. Well, in contrast to what Olya was talking about: "I was at Crocus, I got hurt" — this is a recognized traumatic experience, and Olya somehow goes through it. But sometimes, when we really haven't recognized the sources that greatly influence us, and then we experience such very chronic, long-term reactions in life. They can be really smoothed out, they can be unpleasant, they can be neutral, but such fancy ones. And dissociation and derealization in the context in which you described them, it really looks like something that was an experience that really influenced and was not fully processed.

Listener: In childhood, there were several cases where I almost died, there were such traumas. I even fell into a well with those ropes, by some miracle I managed to turn over and hang there for several hours, holding on to the latch, they pulled me out later. Well, when I was very young. As far as I can remember myself, both in childhood and now, when my mom is gone, I don't miss her. I was raised in an orphanage, and my mom sent us to camps. I never missed her, like my children, for example, miss me, or other children, my classmates, missed their moms very much. But for some reason, I never had that.

Maria Dolgopolova: But it's about attachment, how it is formed. And sometimes, indeed, our attachment is formed according to a scenario of such great separateness that we get used to not being connected to some early figures of our attachment. And you describe that you react differently from other people, who may somehow grieve, miss, and feel something else.

But if you had a different type of attachment to your mom, then you would have different feelings about her death.

Listener: So, is this normal?

Maria Dolgopolova: Yes, yes.

Olga Kostina: Essentially, this question perfectly illustrates our topic of normal and abnormal reactions. Because if you say that you were raised in orphanages, it's not surprising that you have some, maybe, detachment. Well, you really had to learn to live without your mom as a child, and you live. Moreover, it seems that it wasn't easy because this story about this spacesuit and detachment from the body, which you talk about, indicates that it wasn't naturally processed, barrier measures were needed.

And still, again, in our society, there are some fantasies that if it's mom, then everyone should cry or something, but parents can be very different, including difficult and harmful, and there may indeed be no such feelings. So, this can even be called an appropriate reaction, another one would be more inappropriate.

Listener: My mom once told me: "If I had known you were going to be born, I would have had an abortion."

Olga Kostina: Do you think anyone would start crying so hard after that? Just in a natural phenomenon?

Maria Dolgopolova: Well, someone might, but...

Olga Kostina: Probably someone would, but such a reaction is quite appropriate and even, perhaps, more normal.

Listener: Thank you very much.

Maria Dolgopolova: Well, then we're slowly wrapping up. Thank you very much for being with us. Thanks to Elena for sharing the question and situation. And to you, Olga, for responding to the initiative.

Olga Kostina: Yes, well, I'm always glad, you know. Thank you!

I can't help but send a therapeutic message to Elena. And then, you told us this story. Will you analyze whether your condition has changed in any way? Because, perhaps, it's also important to share with someone and feel that it's normal. Maybe there will be some changes in your condition. Or maybe not.

Listener: Changes have started now, I just started crying.

Olga Kostina: Yes. So, the magical therapeutic work, as we often have, worked. I'm very glad.

Thank you very much, Masha, for inviting me.

Maria Dolgopolova: Yes. Yes, thank you all for being with us. Then see you at some of our future events, joint and others.

Oh, do we have some advertising integration? I have one.

Olga Kostina: Go ahead, because I suddenly realized that I don't know what that means. I'll listen to you now, orient myself.

Maria Dolgopolova: Yes, I am a clinical psychologist, I lead therapeutic groups. Well, individual consultations are understandable, but I also lead therapeutic groups, and I will be recruiting one of the groups at the beginning of summer, the group will be on Friday mornings. And I also have a thematic group for people who are adapting to some new reality for themselves. This group is called "New World - Inhabitation." And we already have some people there who feel themselves in new conditions, coping with it somehow joyfully, sometimes traumatically, sometimes in other various ways. And this group will be on Wednesday evenings. And we still have some spots available to join. That's all.

Olga Kostina: I highly recommend everyone who has been looking for, for example, therapeutic groups, to go to Masha because I myself participated for some time in Masha's therapeutic groups, it's always very supportive and very deep, so I think it's a wonderful experience. So if there are any interested parties, come.

My advertising integration is completely unrelated to psychology, I don't know if it's appropriate to mention it. Because part of the people came from there anyway. I'm more involved in the question of a multisensory approach to perceiving the world now, so my channel is more related to some magical experiences. There will probably be some links there. I'm not currently recruiting for therapeutic groups and not taking on new clients, so I prefer to influence the world through a different prism.

Maria Dolgopolova: Wow! Great. Okay. Thank you for your participation!

Olga Kostina: Goodbye!

Maria Dolgopolova: See you later!

About me

Maria Dolgopolova – a certified clinical and a jungian psychologist (Moscow Association of Analytical Psychology, an IAAP training candidate studying in CGJung Institute in Zurich) with a background in gestalt therapy (Moscow Institute of Gestalt and Psychodrama, Gestalt Associates Training Los Angeles) and in psychoanalysis of object relations.


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