DISSOCIATION AND TRAUMA
When trauma is repetitive and ongoing as in chronic exposure to childhood abuse and neglect, or in situations where a child experiences prolonged fear states, dissociation can save the mind and help the child to function in the world. However, over time it becomes a way of coping that makes it harder for you to deal with stress, emotions, and relationships. Dissociation continues to affect you as if the danger is still present, continuing to shut off parts of your experience and interrupt your ability to be present in your life.
To some degree we all use it, and it can take on many forms that range from times we get lost in an experience to separating ourselves from our body and emotions, feeling spacy and not here.
Symptoms of Dissociation
When used in response to trauma, dissociation is characterized by memory loss and a sense of disconnection from oneself and one's surroundings.
It is important to realize that dissociation is a way of coping and is adaptive in nature. We will develop an understanding of the different ways you may have used dissociation, and increase your awareness of when/how it occurs in your life, and what the triggers are.
5 core dissociative symptoms:
- Amnesia – loss of memory for a significant block of time;
- Depersonalization – Perhaps the most common form of dissociation. Feeling detached from your body or emotions; feeling like a robot or ‘spacey.'
- Derealization – a feeling of detachment from your environment, that the familiar has become unfamiliar (including people);
- Identity confusion – a sense of uncertainty or conflict about who you are and how you define yourself, including your sexual identity;
- Identity alteration – a shift in role or identity, accompanied by changes in your behaviours that are observable to others.
Working on the Trauma
It is important to understand that working with the underlying trauma needs to occur in a careful and gradual manner. Otherwise, your nervous system will want to revert to dissociative behaviours to cope. It can be hard for some people who have lived their lives in crisis mode as you may have a sense of urgency to ‘get it all out to find some relief.
Even though it may feel counter-intuitive, it is important to slow down.
During this phase of therapy, attention is given to the level of activation as we process the trauma. If the activation of distress is too high, this will re-traumatize and create a further need to dissociate the traumatic material leaving you unable to tolerate and integrate your experiences.
The goal of trauma work is not to recover and process every memory of trauma but rather to develop a coherent sense of one’s life and experiences, to heal the pain that is interfering in the present, and to create a life that you want. We will work on the traumatic material as it arises in the present as you are ready to process it.
As the dissociation reduces and traumatic experiences are released, you will find it easier to tolerate life’s everyday struggles and stresses. It is not uncommon for periods of intense grief to arise particularly when there has been childhood abuse and betrayal. To mourn and grieve is important in letting go and moving on with your life.
The approaches we use at Turning Point Therapy involve a mind-body perspective, experiential and relational approaches. What this means is focusing on your experience in the here and now and developing a strong relationship with your therapist.
Our therapists use a variety of approaches such as EMDR, AEDP IFS, psychodynamic, gestalt, somatic therapist, to name a few. You will find information on all our therapists in their Bios.