Why Can’t We Be More Mindful? From Absent-minded Behavior to Dissociation

These days we are often reminded of the benefit of living a mindful life. Practicing mindfulness improves both mental and physical health. Mindfulness can be cultivated through mindfulness meditation, accepting whatever arises in your awareness at each moment. A less formal approach to mindfulness can also help you stay in the present and fully participate in your life. So why is it so difficult to stay present in our lives?

Early relational trauma can shatter the sense of self. This unbearable anguish is distributed to different parts that act as self-care system and save the child’s innocence and aliveness. “Dissociation operates by splitting the child’s attention at moments of overwhelming affects, so that the child whole experience is fragmented and compartmentalized” (Kalsched, 2013, p. 116). This process allows life to go on. However, the child develops tremendous anger that can’t be expressed to the persecutor. Instead, this aggression is turned inward toward the neediness the child feels that must be repressed.

Kalsched (2013) calls this part of the self-care system “Dis” the agent of dissociation, also known as “death instinct”, “internal saboteur”, “the black hole”, “terrible inner tyrant”, “innate predator”, “trickster”, “underground man”, “critical judge”, “the killer” to name a few; no wonder we can’t always be present and mindful to this intense, painful part(s) we all posses to a smaller or greater extent. The result is from mild absent-minded behavior to full dissociative identity disorder (DID).

Tolle (1999) describe this system as a residue of childhood pain stuck in the mind-body that feeds on negative energy. “The pain-body wants to survive…and can only survive if he gets you to unconsciously identify with it. It can then rise up, take you over…and live through you…Once the pain-body has taken you over you want more pain. You become a victim or a perpetrator.” (p. 37-8)

During therapy unremembered traumatic experiences encoded in the body and in relational self-states can be very gradually re-experienced in the present through images, movements, sensations and self-reflections with the therapist as witness (Bromberg, 2011). This process creates changes that give rise to renewed vitality and the ability to be more present in your lives.


Bromberg, P. M. (2011). The Shadow of the Tsunami: and the Growth of the Relational Mind. New York: Routledge.

Kalsched, D. (2013). Trauma and the Soul. New York: Routledge.

Tolle, E. (1999). The Power of Now. Novato: New World Library.

© 2014 Maria Stella, PhD. All Rights Reserved.

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