Dissociation Examples of PTSD and The Struggle of Identity

Keywords: Dissociation Examples.

Coping habits are varied and layered. They include an emotional part—a default emotion like anger, sadness or fearand often include a habit that is acted out such as smoking, drinking, eating, excessive organizing, or overwork.

As a result of Post-Traumatic Stress, emotions tend to be layered. At the core of the overwhelming trauma, there will be a dominant emotion. When there is no resolution of that dominant emotion, you will, over time, develop a secondary "coping" emotion as a means of dealing with the overpowering core/root of the emotion.

Dissociation Examples of PTSD, Complex PTSD, and Its Layers

To put this in perspective:

  1. Marie, who has lost her son in a motorcycle accident, has as a core emotion – loss, grief, bereavement (sadness). Because she is unable to contain her sadness, she starts having reactive thoughts such as "Why him? It is not fair!" and a certain edginess in dealing with anything, which is part of an anger response she uses to try to reestablish healthy boundaries and deal with her overwhelming sadness.
  2. Jane, who has been raped and abused, has a core emotion, fear, which is masked by rage and anger.
  3. In terms of developmental issues, when no space has been given to develop as an individual, there is, at the core, a sense of deep anger. This anger, due to fear (coping emotion) of consequences, is often repressed.

It is important to recognize and acknowledge the "layered" emotions; the core emotion, and the emotion that develops to deal with the traumatic overwhelming response. To work towards resolution is to be able to start containing and releasing the core emotion. It is the core emotion which is fueling the habitual "coping" emotion and reenactment.

Anxiety disorders, for example, often have their core rooted in developmental issues and suppressed anger. It is necessary for you to start to own the anger and be able to assert boundaries. When boundaries are established anxiety and self-esteem issues can be addressed and changed.

The Identity of Post-Traumatic Stress

However, when a coping habit has persisted for a long time, it becomes part of one's identity structure. Even if you work through the trauma that has created the coping mechanism, the default mechanisms might still be in place.

(Binge) eating, thoughts of "I am not good enough" or "I am never going to be normal," controlling behavior or anxiety can persist, even if there is an awareness that core emotions have been worked through.

Only when boundaries are established can anxiety and self-esteem issues be addressed and changed.

This is one of the crossroads in the therapeutic process. As long as the coping emotion and the habit persist, the danger is thinking that more work has to be done on the post-traumatic stress issue and to unnecessarily keep digging up or revisiting past history. This can be frustrating for both therapist and client.

Recognizing the coping emotion, and bringing into awareness that the persistent coping emotion and coping habit are part of an identity structure, prevents confusion between past history and emotional reconstruction. Furthermore, in order to look at the identity structure, you must also address the sense of control (and safety) that the coping habits have had to deal with in the traumatic overspill, and to do a reality check to see if the need to control is still valid. This is a big one-- to let go of control.

The Recovery Process and The Dissociation Examples

Once the latter is realized, the work must then begin to wean you away from control and attachment. Setting new intentions, designing a new lifestyle, and a change of environment contribute to change. Furthermore, creating a socially supportive network of friends can be necessary to curtail your mental references to past hurts. Additionally, as you adapt to a new routine, a certain amount of restraint during the initial phase might have to be put in place.

Lastly, persistent "coping" emotions and related thoughts must be negated in order for you to be able to move away and move on. Negation is to be aware of the "coping" emotion as a necessity of the past rather than of the present or the future, and not to give it further importance; neither suppress nor reject it. Eventually, it is negation that will make a coping emotion part of the past, rather than something that continues in the present.

How is recovery and dissociation for you and which of these examples of dissociation you resonated most with? Leave your comment below.

  • Marcelo says:

    What are the core emotions for a son of a narcissist?

    • Roland says:

      I think we either take on similar patterns or gravitate to its opposite, as long the Post-Traumatic Stress remains unresolved. To put that in perspective, you might also become abusive or you might be to allowing, pleasing, avoidant which you initially developed as a survival coping strategy.

      • Deborah Cooper says:

        I’m guessing someone could show with both these opposing traits in different situations? Ie super nice to some people and situations and abusive in others

  • Anna says:

    Hi! Thanks for this, lately I am wondering whether I am “using” sadness because I cannot let myself be mad. I have a lot of traumatic history and from experience I know that only can I move on by relieving and truly feel core (even if it means crying on the floor for months, it was like that when memories from my childhood, supressed for 30 years, came back). I am very experienced in.. Being in therapy and still with other trauma I am not able to do the same. Give myself permission (uncoscoius) to feel and release everything that is in me (10 years of abusive relationship, rapes, control, gaslighting, manipulations, violence and more..). Got ptsd for years and despite I manage my symptoms quite well, still cannot live my life fully. Once again, thanks for your articles, they always adding me smthg to reflect on.

    • Roland says:

      Thanks for sharing Anna. Anger can be a scary emotion to come closer to and defaulting to either sadness, anxiety, and depression is all too common.

  • Giulio says:

    I am a foster/adopted son of 37. I feel me every day detached and dissociated with several tinnitus

  • Sarah says:

    A fascinating article particularly from a genetic based eating disorders perspective in which loving and consistency in boundaries are identified as a key approach for successful recovery. Do you have additional links to research you can share with me?

  • BJ says:

    Oh gosh… I see it now. I’ve been negating the influence of my past childhood trauma and not being able to identify my coping emotions. I know I have difficulties setting up boundaries, I get anxious many times and feel responsible for others emotions and then anger… And that, I guess, it translates to pretending having control and attachments (what in fact is my highest wall to not allowing myself to move forward and manifest the life I want)… I find all this situation as messy as before, but now, with awareness…
    Probably my next best step is to take the courage to address it.

  • CrystalCrier says:

    I’d have to say I resonate with Marie #1 grief n loss is a major kick in the ass especially when you lose a child iv lived like Marie for a long while after my daughter took her own life while in child welfare care 8yrs ago it still plays in my head like it was yesterday Im like Marie till this day (sniff) I got a question, do you believe in the after life? If so is it possible to go look for her? Because in our culture it is believed if you take your own life your spirit cannot go to where it belongs and wanders in pergatory untill it was your timeto go
    My question is
    Is it possible to find a lost loved one in the after life?
    My heart is telling me to go I need to know where she is and if she’s safe she’s scared if the dar

  • CrystalCrier says:

    Can I search for her without damning my own soul

  • >