Depersonalization (DP) is an experience that is hard to put into words. Even the sufferers cannot make much sense of what is happening to them. That is why we find it hard to explain what DP is to our friends and family.
I realized this was a big problem faced by DP sufferers and hence I am writing this article. If you are affected by DP and your friends and family don’t know how to support you, send them this article. Reading it will give them a better understanding of this illness and also teach them how to support you during this difficult time.
From here on, this article is directly addressed to friends and family of people with DP.
A Different Kind of Disorder
Many of us have somewhat of a grasp of what illnesses such as depression or anxiety feels like. These are somewhat common issues plaguing modern society and there has been a lot of awareness in the recent years about them.
Depersonalization, on the other hand, is a different kind of beast. It is somewhat of a rare disorder and there is not much awareness about it. Even a lot of medical professionals do not know about it. Only a person going through DP can know what it really feels like.
Even though it is extremely difficult to put into words what this disorder makes us feel like, I’ll try to do my best and distill my own experience and the experience of people that I have helped to give you a better understanding of it. Let me start by listing some of its common symptoms.
Symptoms of Depersonalization
- Life feels dreamy.
- DP affects the way you make sense of yourself. One can look into a mirror and not feel like they are looking at themselves.
- When they speak, people with DP feel like the words are automatically coming out of their mouth.
- The outside word may feel unreal. This condition is also called derealization (DR) and often accompanies DP.
- Feeling numb. A lack of joy or any emotion in their lives. Feeling like there is a veil between the world and themselves.
- Obsession with thoughts about existence, death, after-life, nature of reality and other philosophical topics.
For a whole list of symptoms, refer to my free guide: Freedom from Depersonalization and Anxiety
This is not a trivial disorder. People’s everyday lives become affected by the hindrance created by these symptoms.
Why Does This Happen?
There is still ongoing research about DP and its causes. It is not yet clearly known why some people get affected by DP. However, it is understood that it can be brought about by stress.
DP/DR, in most cases, is associated with anxiety. As a person becomes stressed due to life circumstances, they may become anxious. And as their anxiety increases, it can sometimes lead to developing DP.
Other reasons for developing DP include:
- Going through a traumatic event such as a car accident or death of someone close.
- Smoking marijuana and having a panic attack.
- Experimenting with psychedelic drugs.
- Putting a lot of strain on the body through vigorous exercises or extreme diets.
- Long periods of meditation.
And many more that are specific to a person.
How You Can Support Your Loved Ones
I’ve outlined what DP feels like and what may be its causes. That is some good information to have, but what’s more important is that you know how to support your child, partner or friend who is going through DP.
Here are 11 steps that you can follow:
- Listen without judgment: When someone opens up about their condition to you, offer your presence without judging them. Realize that when you are quick to judge someone as weak, or silly or craving for attention, you are making it hard for them to open up to you. Don’t do that. Instead, hear what they have to say, and maybe towards the end ask them some questions. Make sure these questions come from a place of caring and not judging.
- Don’t offer advice without prior experience: Many people are quick to dish out advice. Don’t be one of them. Don’t say things like “try this new diet, you’ll be cured”, or “do yoga, you’ll be fine” or even something like “get over it!” If your advice doesn’t come from a place of prior experience and wisdom, don’t offer one. If you have not gone through a similar mental illness in your life yourself, then your generic cookie-cutter advice may not be able to help them.
- Offer encouragement, love, and hope: If you were to offer something, offer them words of encouragement, offer them unconditional love and infuse their everyday life with the hope that they can get over DP. These may be missing from their life and can be incredibly healing to receive them from you.
- Your own pain helps connect with theirs: You don’t have to completely understand your loved one’s illness in order to support them. If you have gone through any sort of painful episode in your life, remember that time period in order to connect with the pain of your loved one. At the end of the day, we all go through pain in our lifetime and we all have the capacity to empathize with someone who is suffering.
- Show courage, be a good role model: This is a time for you to be strong. When someone close to you opens up about DP, they may say things like “I think I’m going crazy” or “I have thoughts that I might harm myself.” If you start freaking out during this time, then they are going to be freaking out even more. But if you appear calm and courageous, then they are going to feed off that strength. Courage is contagious. Be a good role model for them.
- Be gentle in your approach: People with DP are in a very confused time in their life. They may be feeling weak, shameful and in a vulnerable place right now. They need your gentle care and support. Learn how to treat someone gently. Don’t be harsh and forceful.
- Don’t treat them like a baby: You can be gentle in your approach but don’t treat your friend or loved one like a baby during this time. They are fully fledged humans who are capable of handling this adversity through their own inner strength. Your love and support will help them find this inner strength inside of them. Don’t rob them of this opportunity by coddling them. There’s a big difference between supporting someone and smothering someone.
- Educate yourself about depersonalization: Read up on depersonalization, anxiety and related topics. You can educate yourself by watching videos or reading articles on these topics. You don’t have to get a PhD in this subject, but spend a little time and catch up on what this condition is about. This will help you know how to handle a certain situation (e.g. when they feel panicky). You’ll be able to better understand them when they talk to you because of your increased knowledge.
- Do things with them: Be there for your loved one or friend. Offer more than just words. This means taking them out on a picnic or a date. Driving them to their counselor or psychologist’s office. Even accompanying them on a walk to a nearby park will help. Spend time with them doing certain activities that can help take their mind off of their illness for a while. But don’t force any of these on them. Instead, offer it as a suggestion and let them know that they can get back to their place of safety anytime they feel overwhelmed. Don’t get hurt or take it personally if they turn your offer down. Try again in a few days.
- Let sufferers become independent: Ensure that the sufferer does not develop a dependence on you. At some point, they need to be able to sit with these difficult feelings and manage them on their own. That is how they can find their way to recovery. Let them become independent as they walk on this path to wellness. Just like how a child develops into a functioning independent adult with the support of a parent, offer your support in a way that they can ultimately find their own inner strength through this difficulty.
- If you can’t help, at least don’t make it worse: As I’ve said before, going through DP can be a confusing chaotic period in someone’s life. Your love and support can make a difference. But if you are unable to help them in the ways that I’ve listed above, at least don’t make it worse for them. If you can’t help, at least get out their way. Don’t tease them, deride them, mock them or hurt them in any other way.
I want to thank you for taking time to read this article and learning how to be more supportive. As always, if you’d like to talk to someone about this condition, you can reach out to me.
Here’s the same content in video