chapter  Chapter 8
Coping with the inescapable: survivors’ dissociation, ‘professional dissociation’
WithLis Garratt, Mavis Kirkham
Pages 20

From initially knowing almost nothing about dissociation, I found that, as the interviews progressed, it loomed ever larger as a major theme. There appeared to be several manifestations of it: long-term amnesia surrounding the events of childhood; a short-term unconscious reflex action which occurred when the woman was confronted by overwhelming circumstances in which she was powerless to act; and a deliberate moving out of her body when in a traumatic situation, using techniques such as focusing on a flower on the wallpaper. The latter, in contrast to the first two, was often referred to quite positively and was considered to be protective. However, I soon began to realise that dissociation was not only confined to the survivors. Midwives, when presented with situations in which they felt powerless to act, often ‘escaped’ them emotionally, displaying an amazing degree of detachment, apparently rendering them oblivious to the distress of others. As I discovered, several of the midwife interviewees perceived certain incidents they had witnessed on labour ward as abusive and, as a result, avoided working in the area. Dissociation has strong links with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) 1,2 and may occur in any situation in which the person feels helpless when extreme emotions such as fear, terror or horror are evoked.