Culture-bound dissociation: A comparative analysis

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Frequently, culture-bound dissociative syndromes convey not only an individual quandary but also principal societal tensions between the sexes, among age groups, or between the clergy and the laity. Because of their shared meaning, these occurrences often take place in well-defined situations, particularly when presented in collectivist cultures. In these milieus, such societal tensions, demonstrated by the "ailing" individual, can be played out and resolved. Clearly, these syndromes also have personal meaning and ameliorative functions for the characteristically socially weak protagonists, who can thereby regulate their circumstances in otherwise uncontrollable and generally depriving or oppressive conditions. This outcome can be achieved by invoking consensual, often sanctified community beliefs [92]. In more individualistic and modern societies, most oppressive structures operate within the family. Dissociation among Western individuals functions intrapsychically as an emotional analgesic and functions socially as a protector of the family institution. The common psychologic mechanism in dissociative conditions worldwide is self-hypnosis. Individuals may seek to induce ASC recreationally to enjoy metaphysical experiences. This conscious-altering process is exceedingly useful in the face of inescapable stress. Spontaneous self-hypnosis under duress has been established as a universal mechanism resulting in analgesia [93] and ASC [94]. The ameliorative function of dissociative conditions seems to stem from two recurring features, regardless of cultural context: (1) stress-induced self-hypnotic emotional and physical analgesia and (2) disguised and disowned cathartic expressions of forbidden feelings and behaviors. This article highlights the great diversity of dissociative conditions globally and identifies probable commonalities in psychologic mechanisms and social functions. Future collaboration between anthropologists and mental health scholars is essential if we wish to advance cross-cultural investigation of dissociation. This sort of collaboration is essential for the refinement of the existing Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders/International Classification of Diseases diagnostic criteria, which need to be made more relevant, more sensitive, and more specific to indigenous dissociation.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)213-226
Number of pages14
JournalPsychiatric Clinics of North America
Issue number1
StatePublished - Mar 2006

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Psychiatry and Mental health


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