What does "feeling present" feel like?

I think feeling present is a spectrum. It helps me to know that non-ptsd folk also move along this spectrum day to day and moment to moment.

I dissociate a lot, all the time. Every once in a while, especially when I'm at my healthiest... my vision goes less flat? I can see textures more clearly, or smell something. I've also woken up with a deep sense of peace a handful times in my life - mostly when truly exhausted/can't take another step and finally reach a place with NO other people where I can sleep outdoors, undisturbed for hours.

So for me, feeling more present is mostly the opposite of dissociating more heavily. The things that get worse when I dissociate more.... get better when I feel more present. To me, "grounding" means moving on that spectrum in the general direction of feeling more present.

I don't ever cartoonishly snap from flashback to fully present. I don't know anyone who does. For that matter, I don't really know how to feel more grounded/present on purpose. Like other people are saying, none of the usual grounding exercises (smell something, name five things you see, hold ice whatever) work for me because I had to be too good at automatically blocking everything, no matter how intrusive or physically painful. So a little thing like a bit of ice isn't going to force me out of the dissociation, generally.

I agree that being more present can be painful sometimes (like when someone dies - I can't usually grieve because I'm not present. Or when you get a little less dissociated, realize how much time has gone by, and you end up grieving lost time due to trauma). But being more present might also be pleasant or a relief sometimes (when the hell stops and you find that actually it's just... a sunny, regular day where nobody is hurting you). I don't think the point is necessarily to hurt less. Just to hurt (and hope and generally feel things) in response to present life, rather than past life/past feelings.
 

barefoot

Sponsor
The question ‘what does it feel like?’ brings up a couple of things for me.

Before I knew what dissociation was, let alone that I did it, I remember I used to try to explain situations/experiences to my T and I could never quite put my finger in it to really articulate it, but the best I could do was to say, ‘It sort of feels like I’m here…and I’m not here…?’
That sort of fuzzy, spaced out feeling a lot of us probably now recognise as dissociation.

So, being more present…? I guess experiences, situations, feelings etc feel sharper/clearer? I feel a fuller sense of feeling here…rather than also feeling a sense of not here?

Which sort of leads me into the other answer that comes up for me? How does it feel to be fully present? Bloody awful sometimes!
Excruciating. Especially in therapy. When I dissociated less and was able to stay more fully present, it seemed like huge progress. A Very Good Thing. And it was. But it didn’t always (often!) feel like it. Because dissociation kept a lot of crappy stuff somewhere ‘over there.’ And being more present meant being more fully present to the crappy stuff, the hard feelings etc. It felt excruciating and sometimes pretty overwhelming suddenly having these experiences and emotions in sharp, technicolour focus. I spent a long time missing dissociation. And still wish for it at times. Therapy - and life - can be a lot more uncomfortable without it!

My understanding - and I’m very happy to be corrected if I’m wrong - is that we cannot process if we are not ‘here’ (present) So, I guess some degree of presence is necessary for therapeutic progress/significant symptom reduction/‘healing’, ultimately?
 

Sideways

Moderator
Remember the times you went to the stables and the baby horse was all new? When you were there, that baby horse was your entire focus. That's being present.

Still too woo woo? Something most people in most parts of the world can relate to: walk into a public toilet at a park or train station. You'll be present in that moment almost guaranteed. The stink, the "don't touch any surfaces" panic, the sheer overwhelming grossness of it...? That's a fully present moment. Ain't no part of anything else on your mind, even if it's just fleetingly, for most people, that moment they step into a totally foul public toilet.

Ain't the most pleasant "fully present" moment to think of, but a lot of people seem to think of that example and go "yeah, I get that!"
 

siniang

MyPTSD Pro
Taking a seat next to Chrissy and also watching this thread, because been on and off been wondering about that myself. Because I still haven't figured out whether I dissociate or not. I know I definitely don't dissociate matching all the descriptions you always read with loosing time, being foggy etc etc.

Adding another layer to the question:

Being present? Or feeling present?

Because more often than not I know where and what and when 'present' is and that I am in it. But also have no particular feelings or thoughts attached. I notice - say- the things around me, the colors, the smells, the sounds ... but there's nothing associated with those information. They're just that, raw factual information. Nothing more and nothing less. And that also applies to things I'm doing. Kind of like autopilot only without me *actually* zoning out (aka loosing time/not noticing what's happening).

Take Sideway's public toilet example, for example. I don't think that's ever happened to me. There's *always* multiple things simultaneously on my mind. Or none. I feel like I've mentioned this in my diary before (or maybe it was someplace else, don't remember), that I often feel like I'm running multiple versions in parallel. Or that sometimes I simultaneously feel like I'm 'there' AND like 'I'm watching myself from the outside'.

So yeah, just reading along in this thread without real answer to provide. Because...yeah...dunno myself.
 
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Sideways

Moderator
Being present? Or feeling present?
Fully grounded in the present? Your emotions reflect your here and now. And for a lot of the time, when things are ordinary, there is no big emotional wave.

With the toilet example, as well as the thoughts ("This is sooo gross, omfg I'm gonna get hep if I...what is that...ewww, don't look...") being all about the here and now, the sensory experience being here and now (that "breathe through your mouth" thing to avoid the smell), and the behaviour being about the here and now (make it quick - get in, get out, don't touch any surfaces), the emotional experience is also often jolted into the here and now. That one is typically disgust (fun fact: the average human facial expression for disgust is one of the primary 6 facial expressions that most humans recognise in each other regardless of cultural background).

Take Sideway's public toilet example
The public toilet example is a handy one because so many people relate to it. It's not an everyday experience, but it's a memorable one, and the human response is very common.

But like all things human, there's variation. Some people simply won't respond that way. Which isn't necessarily a big deal, they just don't respond that way in that situation. For a multitude of reasons. Handy examples tend to be like that - there's few that you can think of that 100% of the population is going to relate to.

But yes, when you're fully present, that includes your emotional state. Me personally, I have a very hard time distinguishing between mildly dissociated, numb, and "there isn't much about my present situation that is stimulus enough to provoke an emotional response".

That last one I think is partly borne of my ptsd. Because for such a long time, emotions were too plain scary. I dissociated to avoid them. And then I started avoiding life altogether, which in turn reduced the amount of emotion-producing stimulus I encountered.

Some of the homework examples I've been given to get in touch with a present, grounded emotional reaction have been (1) spend 10 minutes in front of what was a fairly famous local aquarium, and check in constantly with my thoughts and emotions; and (2) find something I find beautiful (for me it was native flowers, but the suggestion I was given was a sunrise) and spend some time noticing my emotional reaction to that (which was profoundly calming, unlike the fishtake which was remarkably distressing!).
 

DharmaGirl

MyPTSD Pro
I think we're all overthinking it. It's what @Sideways said, nothing woo-woo or hard to achieve. Everyone dissociates, daydreaming is dissociation.

I think feeling present is a spectrum. It helps me to know that non-ptsd folk also move along this spectrum day to day and moment to moment.
I've always heard it referred to as dissociation is on a spectrum so the opposite makes sense too. I don't think anyone can be present all the time, not even Buddhist monks.

Kind of like autopilot only without me *actually* zoning out (aka loosing time/not noticing what's happening).
That's still dissociation. Anytime you are on autopilot you are dissociated, even if it is just mild. If you are on autopilot, you aren't present. Being present requires piloting yourself at the present moment. You can have things going through your mind, think things, and make observations, but you do it knowingly. Dogs are almost always present. They are smelling smells and reacting to things that are happening in the moment. Now I know someone will say something about their dog not being present. Anyway, you come home your dog is excited, you scold him and for him it's over in the next moment since the scolding is no longer happening in the present.

I don't think there is one way you feel when you are present. You are responding to whatever is happening at the moment. I walk outside and it's hot and I think - I hate the hot. I look at my veggies that are growing well in the hot and feel a sense of pride. Both of those are in the present.

Now that I've bored you all to tears, I'll go fix a big salad for dinner with said veggies.
 

Freida

Sponsor
Like think your brain on a 911 call.
damn. That makes sense - but not the way I hoped 😁

Ok - so 911 is present now dissociation. I can function, I know where/when I am, but I don't feel anything. I only know I'm stressed if my hands shake. It's totally feelings off/working now mentality.


For me most of the time feeling present is painful.
yes!!

The way I get there is spending time outside. I
this is really smart -- thank you
it sounds like a lot of woo-woo crap to me. "be present, stay grounded."
oh god yes. 😁
Especially when I can't figure out what the words mean or what she is trying to get me to see

ut also, not avoiding the fact I feel bad. So grounding is uncomfy for me because I'm dissociating away the uncomfy feelings usually. I don't think grounded = feeling calm applies to everyone
So--- how do you keep feeling badly without dissociating?
that if i am calm and in control that it seems to actually worry my t because she thinks that my mental procoesses is doing some thing that is emergent. bad feelings and bad thoughts, off-switch.
yep. That's my automatic go to Feel stress? Stop feeling.
 

Freida

Sponsor
Remember the times you went to the stables and the baby horse was all new? When you were there, that baby horse was your entire focus. That's being present.
OK this registers! Because ya - I was present with laughing and wonder and excitement. Plus if I zoned out for even a minute he would bite me so I HAD to be present 😁

So that answers one question for me..... Being present for "good" emotions

Something most people in most parts of the world can relate to: walk into a public toilet at a park or train station. You'll be present in that moment almost guaranteed.
I almost fell off the couch laughing (see me be present!) because I remember this from my travels in India. And yaaaa....I was really present then

Ok, so that's being present for "danger Will Robinson Don't touch THAT" emotions

So it would follow that being present for unhappy/uncomfortable/scary/whatnot emotions or when I'm stuck in the past is where the dissociation occurs
Dogs are almost always present. They are smelling smells and reacting to things that are happening in the moment.
This is a great visual...... I need to watch SD more often.....
 

ruborcoraxxx

MyPTSD Pro
Besides the woo-woo lol, there is actually more to be just present. My tutor in art told me about the study of flow states, or very present, absorbed and happy states. Aaaand guess what, notion of time also is warped.

In positive psychology, a flow state, also known colloquially as being in the zone, is the mental state in which a person performing some activity is fully immersed in a feeling of energized focus, full involvement, and enjoyment in the process of the activity. In essence, flow is characterized by the complete absorption in what one does, and a resulting transformation in one's sense of time.

I really do like positive psychology. It’s a refreshing view instead of all the corrective stuff we’re generally faced with.

I discovered I’m actually dissociated by default, and come and go more or less near the surface. The only moments I need grounding are when I’m starting to get strong intrusions and flashbacks and bursts of hate, sadness, panic or whatever. Then not really noticing objects around, but having anchors that prove you you aren’t in the situation you fear. If I’m seeing this object, it means that X isn’t true. So it can be silly stuff. Like, seeing a different shampoo brand (sorry my flashbacks often happen in showers so you’ll have only brushes and soaps and perfumes as anchors 😂)

When I couldn’t move out from the place so much shit happened, I changed the disposition of the apartment, changed the colours of the bedsheets, used incense until smoking myself like a salmon, put plants, have a cat. All these things were anchoring and while insufficient, were better than nothing. And it’s a blend I think between familiarity (I know this is safe) and variation (this is a new taste, smell, object). Just replacing what I could that was negative with pleasurable stuff. This is why I find decoration is important. Meaningful and non-triggering decoration.

It’s basically all the stuff that tell you how to come back, and it isn’t smooth. It’s also training yourself to respond to this. "Come back", and even in the dark you go towards that voice. I never had ice so I don’t know. I don’t really like the idea, as it’s painful and the idea behind it was primarily I think to replace the urge of self harm with a pain that doesn’t endanger you while very disagreeable. It surely is better than smashing my head against a wally, which will make me feel present, that is for certain too. Violent way to pull out.

But in general the best thing to feel "present" is nature. I find. Observing birds, plants, having the wind, the rain. And screw your hair, hats diminish your field of vision. You don’t really exist there. Your attention is outside of you, in a non-threatening way. I don’t think it’s really possible or desirable to be like this all the time. Even my cat seems distracted quite often.
 

Sideways

Moderator
@Freida - you're nailing it. On a really basic level (and someone who's formally studied this might wanna chime in and give me a hand here, you're looking for examples of 6 really basic emotional states to start with:

1) Happy: nailed it with baby horse
2) Disgust: yup, a public toilet in India will do the trick with that one for sure!
3) Surprise/Shock: idk, but maybe at least momentarily, when you got notice your claim was approved - you can probably think of something less trauma-related, like a bird flying into the window or something.

Harder ones will probably be:
4) Fear
5) Anger - my go-to here is other-people related. When they screw up my nan's care for example.
6) Sad

They're the basic 6. Knowing examples where you have previously had those emotional responses appropriately to right here, right now experiences? Is therapy gold. Because moving forward, you get better at recognising it's happening again.

In my trauma diary, I'm often having little celebrations with myself about having, noticing, and managing appropriate, grounded emotional responses to things. Because it's been a long road getting to that spot. It's a genuine achievement for me to have and notice those responses. Feeling present, noticing it, managing it. It's kind of a big deal, you know?
 

mylunareclipse

MyPTSD Pro
I don’t know if it’s helpful for this post, but one might not necessary want to be present all the time. Sometimes it’s helpful to be on autopilot. Who wants to be present during a 12 hour bus ride? Escaping seems like a good deal. Same for some Olympians, they say they perform better when on autopilot rather than listening to everything around them. As many people said dissociation is a spectrum and it’s when it becomes limiting or distressing in ones life that it becomes a problem or pathologic.
 

DharmaGirl

MyPTSD Pro
My tutor in art told me about the study of flow states, or very present, absorbed and happy states. Aaaand guess what, notion of time also is warped.
Yes, this is what I was thinking in the back of my mind but it wouldn't come forward.

Harder ones will probably be:
4) Fear
5) Anger - my go-to here is other-people related. When they screw up my nan's care for example.
6) Sad
So, is it how you react or how you want to react in the present? I can sort of do fear if I think of myself as a Jedi (yes, I'm a geek and have all the action figures). Right now I'm disgusted with my mother who is throwing temper tantrums again. I want to be able to handle her in the present, without giving in to thoughts of other times she attacked me or abused me. We can tell when she's working up to a blow-out. So I think I will try being focused on the room I'm in, the temp of the air etc...I don't know if this will work but I'm going to Jedi my way through it.
 
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