by Catherine Greenleaf
There are many downsides to preoccupation, which is a symptom of PTSD. When we are in a state of preoccupation, we are constantly distracted from what is going on in the present. This robs us of the opportunity for all the gifts of living in the moment -- joy, love, closeness, and especially the intimacy that grows between two people who care about one another.
Preoccupation prevents us from experiencing spontaneity, which is a big part of the enjoyment of life. Instead we are locked into a goose-step of just getting through the next day, looking for something to do that will interrupt the emotional pain we are feeling around the suicide loss. Please keep in mind this is not your typical multi-tasking. It's the mind's attempt to create a distraction from the trauma of devastating loss (such as suicide) and to numb out the pain by overloading the brain's circuits with an overabundance of conflicting activities.
"Conflicting" is the operative word, because the two activities a preoccupied person chooses are often totally disparate and make no sense, such as watching T.V. while on the phone, reading a book while attending a conference, talking to someone while trying to dial out on a cell phone. What occurs inbetween these two disparate activities is an inability to comprehend or focus on anything. In this inbetween state, the person instead enjoys a numbed-out and pain-free period.
It is easy to see when someone is experiencing preoccupation:
1. They have a glazed or dulled look to their eyes or face.
2. They are standing right in front of you but seem to be a million miles away. (This is also referred to as being emotionally unavailable, which can destroy friendships and love relationships).
3. You're never sure they just heard all of what you said to them. You may find yourself saying: "Yoo-hoo. Earth to Mary. Did you hear what I just said?"
4. They are usually fidgeting for something to do, and will often attempt to read a newspaper or use their cell phone while talking to you.
5. They tend to walk into walls, doors and furniture because they don't have their full attention to keep them on guard.
6. They routinely walk into a room looking for something but can't remember what it was they wanted.
7. You will see their mouth moving as they walk around. They are talking to themselves.
Preoccupation can be dangerous. A person with preoccupation has a delayed response to stimuli, and so will be slower to react while driving on the highway or crossing a busy street.
But the biggest loss is the inability to stay present for the people you love. This can have damaging and longlasting consequences for all of your personal relationships.
If you feel you are caught in preoccupation mode, reaching out to qualified professionals can help you regain control over your emotions and your life.