depression, schizophrenia, multiple personality disorder, Dissociative theory of trauma

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Dissociative theory of trauma

The dissociative theory of trauma is a psychological perspective that explains how people cope with traumatic experiences by disconnecting from reality, themselves, or their memories. dissociation is a natural and involuntary response to overwhelming stress, such as abuse, assault, disaster, or combat. It can help people survive by creating a sense of distance or detachment from the trauma.

According to the dissociative theory of trauma, thought-forms are entities created by the mind as a way of coping with overwhelming stress or betrayal. They may appear as distinct personalities or identities that take over the person’s consciousness at different times. These are not fully integrated with the person’s sense of self and may have different memories, emotions, beliefs and behaviours. Thought-forms are formed when the person dissociates from their traumatic experiences and splits their attention between different aspects of reality. dissociation is a natural response to trauma that can help the person survive and function in the face of danger or abuse. However, dissociation can also impair the person’s memory, identity, perception and sense of reality. Thought-forms may be helpful or harmful to the person, depending on their purpose and function. Often, the healing process involves turning negative thought-forms into positive ones.

According to the dissociative theory of trauma, there are different types and levels of dissociation that can occur during or after a traumatic event. Some common examples of dissociation are:

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  • Feeling numb, unreal, or detached from your body or emotions
  • Having gaps in your memory or forgetting parts of the trauma
  • Experiencing flashbacks or intrusive thoughts of the trauma
  • Having difficulty recognizing yourself or others
  • Switching between different identities or states of mind

The dissociative theory of trauma also proposes that some people may develop dissociative disorders as a result of chronic or repeated trauma, especially in childhood. Dissociative disorders are mental health conditions that involve persistent and severe dissociation that interferes with daily functioning and well-being. Some types of dissociative disorders are:

  • Dissociative identity disorder (DID), formerly known as multiple personality disorder, which involves having two or more distinct identities or personality states that alternately control one’s behaviour
  • dissociative amnesia, which involves losing the memory of important personal information or events
  • Depersonalization/derealization disorder, which involves feeling detached from oneself or one’s surroundings as if in a dream

The dissociative theory of trauma suggests that dissociation is a coping mechanism that helps people survive and adapt to traumatic situations. However, it can also have negative consequences for mental health and recovery.

The treatment for trauma-related dissociation depends on the type and severity of the disorder, as well as the individual’s needs and preferences. However, some common elements of treatment are:

Psychotherapy: This is a form of talking therapy that helps the person understand and cope with their trauma and dissociation. It can also help them reconnect with their emotions, memories and identity, and develop healthier ways of relating to themselves and others. Psychotherapy can be done individually or in a group, and it can use different approaches, such as psychodynamic therapy, cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR) or prolonged exposure (PE) therapy.

Medication: This is not a cure for dissociation, but it can help with some of the symptoms, such as anxiety, depression, insomnia or mood swings. Medication should be prescribed by a doctor and used with psychotherapy. Some examples of medication that may be helpful are antidepressants, antipsychotics or mood stabilizers.

Self-care: This involves taking care of one’s physical and mental health by engaging in activities that promote well-being, such as exercise, relaxation, hobbies, social support or spirituality. Self-care can help reduce stress, improve mood and increase self-esteem.

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Coping skills: These are strategies that help the person manage their dissociation and trauma symptoms in daily life. They can include grounding techniques, breathing exercises, mindfulness practices or positive affirmations. Coping skills can help the person stay present, calm and safe when they feel triggered or overwhelmed.

trauma-related dissociation can be a challenging condition to live with, but it is not a sign of weakness or madness. It is a natural response to an unnatural situation. With proper treatment and support, recovery is possible.

– Establishing a safe and supportive therapeutic relationship
– Helping the person understand and manage their dissociative symptoms
– Processing and integrating the traumatic memories and emotions
– Developing healthy coping skills and self-care strategies
– Enhancing the person’s sense of identity and connection with others

How the theory can help

There are some examples where the dissociative theory of trauma has helped people in therapy. For instance, some therapists use techniques such as hypnosis, eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR), or cognitive-behavioural therapy (CBT) to help people access and process their dissociated memories in a safe and supportive environment. These techniques can help people reduce their symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), depression, anxiety, or other dissociative disorders. Another example is the use of grounding skills or mindfulness practices to help people reconnect with their present reality and reduce their dissociative episodes. These skills can help people increase their awareness of their body sensations, emotions, thoughts, and surroundings, and enhance their sense of control and agency.

History of dissociative theory of trauma

The dissociative theory of trauma has a long and controversial history in the field of psychology. The concept of dissociation was first introduced by Pierre Janet in the late 19th century, who proposed that traumatic memories are split off from consciousness and stored in a separate system of the mind. He also suggested that dissociation can result in multiple personalities or altered states of consciousness. Janet’s ideas were influenced by his observations of patients with hysteria, a term that was used to describe a range of physical and psychological symptoms that were attributed to emotional distress.

In the early 20th century, Sigmund Freud challenged Janet’s theory and argued that trauma is not forgotten but repressed by the unconscious mind. He also proposed that hysteria is caused by childhood sexual abuse that is later manifested as neurotic symptoms. Freud’s theory dominated the field of psychoanalysis for decades, but it also faced criticism and scepticism from many researchers and clinicians who doubted the validity and reliability of his methods and findings.

In the mid-20th century, the interest in dissociation and trauma declined as behaviourism and cognitive psychology became more influential. dissociation was seen as a rare and pathological phenomenon that was associated with severe mental illness or malingering. trauma was also largely ignored or minimized by the mainstream psychology, especially in relation to war veterans and survivors of abuse.

However, in the late 20th century, there was a resurgence of interest and research on dissociation and trauma, partly due to the emergence of new evidence and perspectives from neuroscience, developmental psychology, and cross-cultural studies. Researchers such as Bessel van der Kolk, Judith Herman, John Briere, Richard Kluft, Colin Ross, David Spiegel, Frank Putnam, and others contributed to the development and refinement of the dissociative theory of trauma. They also advocated for the recognition and treatment of complex trauma and dissociative disorders, which were often overlooked or misdiagnosed by the mental health system.

The dissociative theory of trauma is still evolving and expanding as new discoveries and challenges arise. Some of the current debates and controversies include: the nature and definition of dissociation; the relationship between dissociation and other psychological processes such as memory, emotion regulation, attachment, and identity; the prevalence and validity of dissociative disorders; the role of culture and context in shaping dissociative experiences; the best methods for assessing and treating dissociation; and the ethical and legal implications of working with trauma survivors who have dissociative symptoms.

Further reading

If you are interested in learning more about the dissociative theory of trauma, here are some web links for further reading:

Scholarly articles for PTSD dissociation: The Links Between trauma and dissociation

PTSD dissociation: The Links Between trauma and dissociation

What is dissociation?

trauma-Related dissociation: Symptoms, Treatment, Coping, and More

trauma-related dissociation: An analysis of two conflicting models

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