Dissociation in Complex Trauma and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder
Emotion, concerning trauma, is layered, and we default to those we feel the safest with or those that didn’t have any direct repercussion from our environment.
If there have been different people involved that contributed to separate traumas, it will make it more complicated (complex PTSD) as the positions of what is one’s core emotion and what is one’s coping emotion could be interchangeable.
Core Emotions and Complex PTSD Dissociation
A core emotion is an emotion most closely related to what made you feel overwhelmed and helpless.
Concerning incidental traumas, the core emotion is more accessible to identify. A car accident, surgery, or attack that contributed to Post-Traumatic Stress often has a fear of getting injured or losing one’s life as a core emotion. With a sudden loss, the core emotion would be grief and sadness.
With child neglect and abuse, it gets messier because there will be various layers of trauma in place. These mechanisms of core and coping emotion still apply, but there will be more than one present, and hence we talk about Complex Trauma.
Child Neglect and Abuse and the Layers of Complex Trauma
With child neglect and abuse, on a very primary level, there is a lack of healthy attachment bonding.
It is this lack of bonding that gives rise in later life to loneliness, depression, self-doubt, issues around self-esteem, self-hatred, negative self-image, problems with sexuality, relationship attachment difficulties, and possibly addiction.
At the root of it is this lack of love, bonding, validation and acceptance and one’s core overwhelming emotion related to that is sorrow and grief (sadness). It might be conscious or not, but it is there.
It often doesn’t stay with neglect only when addressing childhood trauma. Traumatic periods continued with verbal, physical, or sexual abuse. At those times of abuse, as a child, you most likely weren’t in a position to fight back and show your anger as it would be met by more abuse or neglect.
So we get a secondary trauma of abuse where one’s core emotion is anger on top of the pain of neglect and its profound grief and sadness.
From here on it could potentially keep spiraling into further complexity. As an adult you might get involved, due to one’s emotional and nervous system patterning, in a relationship with a narcissist, have severe medical or addiction issues, and so on and so forth. Each incident might further compound a particular trauma pattern that is already in place or creates a new set of trauma patterning.
Why You Create Coping Emotions and How They are Part of a Dissociation Response
The above reasoning is examples of how things can flow in life but there are many other variations possible. These are meant to sketch an idea while looking at complex trauma that there often will be several core emotions related to different traumas in place.
The difficulties, unfortunately, don’t just stop there. Core emotions are one thing. As mentioned in the very beginning we develop coping emotions that we default to when core emotions are too overwhelming, and they often are.
Coping emotions are emotions that feel safer to be with or express, and they channel the energy of the core emotion though they are fueled by the core emotion.
Over time the core emotions will become unconscious, and you’ll be focused on the coping emotion and attempting to overcome them.
For example; suppressed anger that relates to abuse in early life gets diverted into anxiety. Anxiety is the coping or default emotion here, and anger is its core emotion. Primary grief and sadness due to neglect might be channeled into anger or anxiety, depending on your circumstances and your particular character.
The Interplay of Complex PTSD, Core Emotions, and Coping Emotions
You see how incredibly tangled all of this can become.
There will be central themes in your life though that are repeating themselves over and over again.
From what I have seen, even regarding complex trauma, there are often no more than two or three sets of core and coping emotion. So that’s the good news.
Once those themes are identified, it gives you handles on constructively working through Complex Trauma, and so you aren’t just dealing with the addiction patterns or the coping emotions only.
Can you identify a core emotion and a coping emotion as a pattern that you tend to repeat? Leave your comment below.