One of the biggest challenges in healing for one who is afflicted with social or performance anxiety is negotiating the defense mechanism of detachment. Detachment is the dynamic and process of disconnecting from thoughts, feelings, and behavioral challenges. Detachment is the gateway to avoidance. When you put this dynamic under the microscope so to speak, there is an element that precedes and breeds detachment. This is the mechanism of “ignoring”. In my working with thousands of anxiety sufferers I have encountered many manifestations of this insidious, complex, and ingrained phenomenon.
Detachment is an adaptive response designed to ward of uncomfortable and anxiety provoking thinking and feeling so that the sufferer can feel safe in real time. The problem with detachment is that it inhibits emotional intelligence, paralyzes skills acquisition, as in learning to control adrenaline, and adds to the non -conscious content in one’s emotional reservoir which recycles and drives the anxiety and panic. A major and profound example of detachment is the over-use and dependence of technology as in video games. Clinically this compulsion of technology over -use shuts down the neural pathways needed for verbal communication. Another example is the 30 year old struggling with pervasive social avoidance who described her compulsion of playing old radio songs in her head to detach from the pressure of interaction. She called her compulsion “radio head”. A high powered attorney architected a career and overall lifestyle that was so obsessively busy that he never had time for thinking or introspection. He said in session “I hate thinking about this stuff”, but he was in treatment for his public speaking panic. Henry, the 8 yr old featured in the following recording, responded with “I think of flying pop tarts” in response to my question “what do you think about when you detach from anxiety”. This was a very advanced interaction in his therapeutic process. Think of it! An 8 year old understanding the concept to answer the question. It is a sign of core healing and the development of emotional intelligence with was the result of The Berent Treatment Method for Selective Mutism. While the parents laughed at his response they did understand the importance of the issue.
The following is a processing session with Henry and his mother. This occurred at session #15 of treatment, which was in the final stage. Please keep in mind that each patient or family has their own learning curve which is dependent on a number of variables. Listen to the high performance and outstanding way this 8 yr old was able to discuss thoughts and feelings.
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