When Hard Times Hit: Pain, Shame, and Dissociation

Over the years and indeed recently as well, I’ve come across people who have directly or indirectly expressed a need to dissociate themselves almost completely from their pasts. These are people who have gone through what are sometimes extremely difficult circumstances at some point in their lives. Deaths, divorces, abuse, abductions…the list goes on. We all deal with adversity differently. So many people I know deal with it by suppressing it; pretending it doesn’t exist. Or they acknowledge it but do not want to be defined by it. And to avoid being defined by it, they separate themselves from anyone who knows anything about it. In the process, new lives are created and so many friends and family from the past become all but non-existent.

Although I’ve attempted, quite sincerely, to show empathy to this state of dissociation from one’s past, I’ve always found it difficult to comprehend. I’ve gone through some difficult times in my life. The way I’ve gone about handling them is by acknowledging they were difficult, trying to find lessons in them for me to learn from, incorporating these difficult times into part of who I am, and moving on to other things. I don’t necessarily go blubbering about these parts of my life to everyone I meet. But if the topics come up naturally in conversation with people I trust, I don’t mind brushing by my difficulties with some sort of mention. It doesn’t cause me to break down into tears nor does it give me shame to mention these parts of my past. I don’t make a spectacle of myself by turning my story(ies) into a big melodrama (although I do admit I could write a great book about the drama of my life). I’ll just mention my hard times as part of what I’ve been through as a human being and more frequently I’ll give mention to the lessons that one can learn from them.

But recently, because of something new I am going through, I’ve begun to understand just a little bit why dissociation is so attractive to some people. Human beings can be extremely judgmental and narrow-sighted. Some people, once you’ve gone through a difficult time, will only see that part of you when they meet you. You become “Ali whose wife and children died in a car crash” or “Suheir who went through an ugly divorce with her abusive husband” or “Lilly who attempted suicide at age 21”. Sometimes it is not that we cannot get over our own pasts but it is that others can’t get over our pasts. I might be perfectly capable of going through a difficult time, working through my emotions and my issues, incorporating lessons learned into my being, and then moving forward. But the people who were part of my life at the time may not have that same ability. When it comes to Ali and Suheir and Lilly, the minds of some people around them have stopped at a particular point in time and continue to live there indefinitely. And whilst Ali, Suheir and Lilly are doing quite well moving on, their families and friends might insist on dragging them back to those dark times every single time they meet. Sometimes it’s just the look in those people’s eyes; the sympathy they continuously try to show or the shame they find difficulty hiding. Other times it’s more: they treat you like a lost child or they incessantly bring up the past in almost every conversation. If we have allowed too many of that kind of person into our lives, well…then we’re f#$@ed when the hard times hit. The only way to truly move on is to let these people go.

My lessons learned from all this:

  1. Make sure I always surround myself with people who have pure hearts, who do not judge, who do not profess to be all-knowing, and who make me stronger not weaker.
  2. When the hard times hit, and they do, be selective. Dismiss the people who bring me down. Dismiss the negative people. Dismiss the judgmental people. But keep those who love me unconditionally and see me for who I really am and not for the various events in my life.
  3. Be proud of my past and present. Never feel shame. Everything I have been through has made me what I am today. Be proud of me today even if I’m far from perfect. Acknowledge my imperfections. Acknowledge my strengths. And use both to become a better person.
  4. If some people around me are not as proud of me as I am, if some people are ashamed of me, let them go. They aren’t worth my time.
  5. Completely dissociating myself from past events does not solve anything. The result may be the loss of valuable friendships and of valuable lessons.



  1. We never met, and we probably never will, but I have a very strange soul connection with you.

    For years, I’ve been reading for you in silence, and I (think to) know how you feel, because I have been there. And right now, I’d like to reach out and give you a hug. For that baby girl in a yellow jumpsuit on the swing; a big warm loving hug.

    Although it took you a long long travel, you seem to be finally finding your way home- just like I did, 10 years ago (we’re the same age).

    Yes, Nadia, block those noises coming from stupid people, and listen to the sounds coming from within. It’s beautiful music; music of the soul. Sending lots of positive energy your way. xx

  2. I am not a good writer. but when I need to express my feelings, I draw.
    When I found your websit, I started to feel that you are reading my thoughts and then you put it in words. Your words are very strong and dig deep into human’s mind.. Thanks for allowing us to reach out beyond our inner soul.

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