Episode One: Using Dissociation As A Self Defense Mechanism
“If you say ‘calm down’ one more time I swear I’m gonna lose it!” Her husband snapped.
“I don’t know what else to say. I looked everywhere. It’s gone! Now can we please stop fighting about this and go to bed?” Amy cried.
“This necklace is worth 400 thousand dollars. The only thing I’m sure about is I’ll never sleep again till you find it!” her husband roared. “You know what, that’s it, I’m calling the police…”
Three months later
His name was Mr. Mohanad Zahir, a very powerful and insanely rich businessman. We met on a Monday morning to discuss the case he had hired me to investigate and by Thursday I was at the Zahir’s posh residence all caught up on the details and ready to commence with evaluating and assessing the witnesses.
“I don’t care how long it takes or how much it’ll cost. I hear you’re one of the best forensic psychologists in the city and I’m counting on you to find out who stole my wife’s diamonds.” Mohanad arched his thick eyebrows, while smoking his expensive cigar, completely ignoring his beautiful, agitated wife.
Detectives and suspicious insurance company investigators have been all over this robbery case for weeks to no avail. Amy wore the diamond necklace to the small and cozy birthday party they had hosted for her best friend three months earlier. Halfway through dinner Amy got the hives and started itching all over. Mortified, she ran upstairs frantically, searching for her antihistamines and naturally took off her jewelry to ice down her burning skin. Careful examination showed there were traces of strawberries in Amy’s dessert; the only food she’s extremely allergic to. There were no signs of breaking and entering that night, nor were there any strange foot or fingerprints besides those of the guests.
“We were all thoroughly interrogated; our friends Sameera and Nadir, our son Hamza, and even our butler and housekeeper, who were the only people present inside the house that night.” Her husband, Mr. Mohanad Zahir added.
“Are you suspecting anyone Mrs Zahir?” I asked Amy.
“She didn’t even want to call the police.” Mohanad said in a hard-to-ignore, sharp tone. “She was as happy as a clam to let the whole thing go unreported. She obviously thinks I crap money for a living.”
A flash of heat went through Amy, tightening her shoulders and flushing her cheeks blood red, yet I could tell she was used to being on the receiving end of her husband’s insults.
“I couldn’t accuse anyone, they’re all practically family” Amy whispered.
“I understand” I nodded. “Mr. Zahir, do you mind me asking why you insisted on hiring a forensic psychologist even though the case had been closed and you already received the insurance money for the stolen jewelry?”
“That’s not the POINT!” Mohanad pounded his fist on the designer Ebony-wood coffee table. “It’s not about the money or the necklace, it’s about the principle. I need to know who would dare steal from me under my watch. Be it who it may, they must pay for their crime.” Mohanad said before getting up. “Excuse me!”
“Sorry about that” Amy apologized quickly when her husband stomped outside angrily to take a phone call. “He’s usually very pleasant. I don’t know what’s gotten into him lately”
“I can tell you think very highly of him”
“He’s a great husband. Generous and supportive, and he’s also a wonderful father” Amy replied, drawing in a long breath with a pursed smile.
She was lying. There was no doubt in my mind about it….
“Will you stop whining? I can’t believe you’re still upset about your flower business going belly-up. Of course it did! You know nothing about running a business.” Mohanad said, stuffing another crab puff in his already full mouth.
“Hamza it’s okay” Amy rested her hand on her son’s arm to stop him from arguing with his father. The three of them were at the lake house for the weekend, supposedly to strengthen the family bond, which at that point was as frail as a yellow autumn leaf.
“Let him talk. I’m sure failing school three years in a row has given him unparalleled insights on the why’s and how’s of success.” Mohanad scoffed sarcastically.
“He’ll pass this year with flying colors, watch and see” Amy smiled warmly at her teenage son.
“Unless we enroll him in a special school for pot heads, I don’t see that happening. Look at him, he’s stoned in broad day light!” Mohanad yelled.
“I’m not stoned dad, I’m just tired. I was up all night studying” Hamza mumbled.
“I don’t know what’s more infuriating, your drug abuse problem or your failure to come up with a decent lie to cover it up. Looks like he’ll take after your brother, Amy. Congratulations!”
“So tell me a little bit about your background. Where did you grow up?” My question woke Amy up from her painful, silent rumination.
“I grew up in the cutest little town known for making the best cheese on the planet. Wait I’ll get you some!” She bounced on her toes.
“Thank you that’s very sweet, but maybe later” I sat her down gently. “What about your family?” I asked.
“My parents live about two hours away, but still, we talk all the time. I lived a simple life back home. My dad worked day and night to provide us with the bare necessities, yet our home was a haven, believe me. People think money brings happiness but that’s not true. Life is meaningless without those people you love and who love you back.”
“Including your brother?” I smirked.
“What? Of course.” Amy stuttered. “I haven’t seen him in years though.”
“Yeah, that’s what your husband thought, too. Except I found out you took him to Rehab two months ago. And a very expensive one if I may add”
“I do what I can to help my family” Amy whispered.
“I completely understand” I raised both hands. “Your parents must be proud”
“They are. In their eyes, marrying a rich man like Mohanad was my greatest achievement!” Amy’s ocean blue eyes glistened in the light. She fiddled with her diamond ring and then looked up at me with a smile. “Of course I must help them. God gave me so many blessings; a loving successful husband and a perfect son. It’s my way of giving back…”
“Mommmmmmmmm! Where are the stupid keys? I’m late!” Hamza walked in, yelling so loud I think the wall paint cracked.
“Sweet heart please say hello to our guest” Amy seemed a bit embarrassed.
“Yeah whatever” Hamza bobbed his head at me then turned to her. “Where’s your car keys?”
“They’re in my purse honey” Amy handed her son her limited edition Channel purse. He grabbed it rudely to fish the keys out then tossed it on the sofa.
“Umm you’re going out? Do you need some money?” Amy asked.
“No I’m good.” He said before scurrying out.
A moment of awkward silence…
“Giselle” Amy called for the housekeeper, avoiding any sort of eye contact with me.
“Yes, Mrs Zahir”
“A cheese platter for our guest here. You really must try the Chevre!” Amy changed the subject abruptly, yet the unexpressive look on her face said a thousand untold stories.
That same evening
“So she wants to make her family look good. Big whoop!” Jenna said. She was my office assistant, a vibrant, cheerful young woman who was very eager to learn all about Psychology.
“No Jenna, Amy is using dissociation as a defense mechanism” I contemplated.
“Dissociation. There’s over 30 different types of defense mechanisms the subconscious employs as a protective shield against the ugly truth. Dissociation is one of those types.” I explained.
“’Against the truth’? Isn’t this just a fancy terms for ‘lying’? Why do you make it sound legitimate? ” Jenna asked.
“Because we all do it. Avoiding pain is a natural, basic instinct”
“Okay, so you think Amy isn’t purposely lying, she’s just zoning out?”
“Exactly! Dissociation is separating yourself from reality. It’s a self defense mechanism to things that are too difficult or too painful to process and absorb. Like Amy; her husband is a raging Narcissist and her son is obviously disrespectful towards her, but she’s completely blinded to it.”
“Gimme another example” Jenna put both palms under her chin.
“Hmmmm we see it a lot with children who’ve been abused. Some of them grow up with no recollection of what had happened. They know they’ve been abused but they become masters at detaching from reality, they completely block the horrific incident out.”
“Wow! It’s really fascinating how the brain works”
“You’ll be surprised how many of us use dissociation in our everyday lives. Like for example, when a mom knows for sure her child is having troubles at school yet turns a blind eye or give them excuses instead of addressing the core problem.”
“Yeah like those moms who blame the teachers when their kids fail, right?”
“Or it could be mild as daydreaming. Some people just feel detached from their lives; they describe it as watching themselves in a movie. Or when a girl falls in love with the wrong guy and completely blinds herself to ALL the signs proving he’s not the right person for her. Uhmm like some people I know uhmmm” I coughed.
“Fine I get it” Jenna made a face. “Dissociation is basically like living in La La Land; believing in fairy tales and knights in shining armor. What’s so wrong with that?”
“Nothing if you use it properly. Like it’s okay to zombie out during a root canal for example. Trying to focus on things that don’t bring us pain is actually therapeutic. But when you refuse to deal with reality and run away from your problems all together to go live in a perfect, dream world that’s when you’re in trouble. You can’t solve the problem if you don’t see it to start with”
“So how do you cure ‘dissociators’?”
“Therapy works for patients with dissociative disorders. They need help focusing and acknowledging the very painful feelings they’re avoiding. It’s no walk in the park, but without treatment, they’ll spend the rest of their lives carrying the past on their shoulders, getting themselves in more trouble, or accumulating more sins. They eventually suffer from depression, low self-esteem and memory loss.” I explained. “Like Amy, she lives in two separate worlds. She’s created a beautiful bubble to live safely inside, but I have a feeling she’s hiding something. Something awful…”
“You think she stole her own necklace and then convinced herself she didn’t do it?” Jenna gasped.
“It’s too early to say….”
The next day I went to question Hamza, Mr. and Mrs. Zahir’s teenage son.
“Of course! Make yourself at home. ” Amy greeted me cheerfully as if I was an old friend dropping by for a cup of tea, not a crime investigator.
Hamza walked in a few minutes later. A typical teenager in sneakers and a solid black T-shirt. He had his hands in his pockets, with his ripped blue jeans sagging below his waist, and his long wavy hair framing his pale face.
“Remember what your uncle taught you.” Amy whispered in his ear. “How does a fish get caught?”
“He opens his mouth” Hamza whispered back.
To be continued….
Lilly S. Mohsen
The Author’s Commentary
A certain ‘Dissociator’ popped up in your head, right?
Or perhaps right now you’re in the middle of an ‘out of body’ experience being a spectator and you realize ‘Oh my God, I’m a DISSOCIATORRRRRR!’
You know, Psychology is closely integrated within Islam. Allah did not leave us to our own devices, for even the most complicated, unresolved psychological issues have been discussed in either the Qur’an or the Sunnah. Like for example, fathers who buried their daughters alive in times of ‘Jahiliyya’ must have been dissociating! They must have completely blocked out the horrendous magnitude of this sickening custom.
Let’s say you’ve committed a sin, and because you have a good heart, you just can’t face the fact you’ve upset Allah. It’s just too painful! So you refuse to feel it and completely block it out. Sometimes dissociation is the reason thieves keep stealing, adulterers keep ‘adultering’ and cheaters keep cheating. They don’t feel guilty about it because they’re detached from their ugly reality. But the angels on our shoulders aren’t detached. Granted the one of the right might get bored sometimes, but the angel on our left is on full gear, writing down everything we’re in denial about. And then we’ll be completely dumbfounded on Judgment Day.
I know it’s unimaginably difficult to accept you’ve sinned, but that’s part of the healing process. Stop running away from your mistakes because sooner or later you’ll collapse. The antidote to dissociation is repentance. And if you know a disscoiator who insists on sinning, make duaa for him or her. These people are not stubborn, they’re not bad people, they’re just weak….
May Allah help us see the truth and guide us to the right path. Amen
Lilly S. Mohsen