Dissociation in Complex Trauma and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder

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.

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Comments

  1. Rayna  January 31, 2018

    I’ve been experiencing these emotions coping emotions due to several traumatic experiences throughout my life I’m 38 years old I’ve raised 2 children and in the middle of raising another one and I find at many times I would rather be alone than be with somebody but then when I find somebody to be with I completely emerged myself in them and in the end of the day I have fixated or put too many expectations on a relationship that wasn’t even going to last as well as put myself in positions to be in relationships that are not healthy

    reply
  2. Marina  January 31, 2018

    Thank you for an other simple and great blog. I appreciate how you make theses matters so understandable! My core emotions, I guess, are sadness and anger, coping emotions are anger sadness, anxiety and depression..

    reply
    • Roland  January 31, 2018

      Thank you for commenting and good to hear the blog article is understandable!

      reply
  3. Rikko  January 31, 2018

    Outstanding as usual. Why don’t other mental health “professionals” know this stuff?

    Mr Bal…..You are simply a blessing to all of us who have so much trauma by no fault of our own.

    reply
    • Roland  January 31, 2018

      Hi Rikko. Great to hear the article resonates with you!

      reply
  4. Agata  January 31, 2018

    Great distinction between core and coping emotions! My core one is grief and terror covered up with anger – often the only one I am aware of in times of stress.
    I’d be interested to read more about complex layering of emotions and dissociation in trauma. Looking forward to another entry :-). Thank you and good luck!

    reply
    • Roland  February 1, 2018

      Thanks. I will certainly write more on the topic!

      reply
  5. Donna  January 31, 2018

    I appreciate your posts b/c they are in-depth. I had suffered w/ developmental trauma for decades w/ the effects of CPTSD. My core emotions were hurt, sadness, anger, a feeling of being trapped, etc. My default was crying, lying down, feeling hurt & trapped. I really wasn’t aware that I was angry for decades…it was so deeply hidden. I am now healed due to much prayer, work, counseling, reading, art, music…it’s a combination & much more. Moving out of a negative & dangerous neighborhood has topped off the healing so now I enjoy every day & I am so thankful that the Lord made a way for me to escape the former neighborhood into this beautiful area & apartment. Also, my family is so happy for me & can come & visit me more easily as well. The hardest part has always been loneliness & not having a friend…not having family interactions very much at all. The family & their hugs & happiness for me is healing in itself. I can’t say that I have a friend but I think that there is more on the horizon for me re: others. God knows & it is to Him that I am eternally grateful for His company & love thru it all.

    reply
    • Roland  February 1, 2018

      Thanks for sharing Donna. Very useful that you mentioned moving to a different neighborhood and how it assisted healing.

      reply
  6. Stacey  January 31, 2018

    Wow. Very detailed article. You explain the deeper layers well. I am a little surprised though, that anger is one that you would say was a core emotion. Perhaps it can be both? I personally see anger as the more ‘powerful’ and useful emotion that not just myself, but most people channel more easily than their core emotions. Why do people have heated arguments, explode in anger and lash out? Is it not that first they were hurt? Vulnerable? Violated? Demeaned? Invalidated? Those are powerless states. So…letting it turn to anger and fighting back is preferable. Perhaps I’m wrong.
    For me however…terror and fear is certainly one core…..that is where the severe anxiety (coping) comes from and hypervigilance. If fear gets strong enough I think the anger sometimes comes out…IF I’m in a position to be able to ‘fight’. If not I don’t bother w anger. Most of my terror isn’t even over what might happen now…it’s about feeling the sheer pain that I definitely will turn in to anything else at all to avoid.
    Another core emotion for me is shame I think. I can’t feel grief and sadness but…shame is inextinguishable. Therefore: Depression. I’d say depersonalization but that’s not an emotion for me. Coldness. Something like anger but…different. Self destruction in a bottle…or self injury. Erase erase erase. What emotion is core to wanting to be erased? All of them in a vortex I guess.
    Thanks for the article. Good to know someone gets this.

    reply
    • Roland  February 1, 2018

      Hi Stacey. It can work both ways. It really depends on your environment and how you internally dealt with your emotions. For some anger is suppressed and dangerous to come close to, for others it is the emotion to go to first. Thanks for sharing what your core-emotion and coping emotions are.

      reply
  7. keely  February 1, 2018

    Anxiety and sadness are coping emotions for me. Maybe annoyance/irritation too. Beneath them is intense anger. I am angry about the ways I was failed as a child and the ways I was wronged as an adult, but it was not allowed for me to get angry at my parents when I was a child. I was punished harshly for “talking back”.

    reply
    • Roland  February 1, 2018

      Hi Keely. What you describe makes a lot of sense.

      reply
    • Donna  February 1, 2018

      It seems to me that the story is the same for all of us who have suffered abuses when we were growing up. We were not allowed to show any anger or express our feelings, yet the abuser sure could show his/her ANGER!

      reply
  8. Tracey  February 1, 2018

    Thank you very interesting and informative- I can’t understand in this day and age why – there is still so little support and advice from professionals

    reply
    • Roland  February 1, 2018

      Welcome. It is a shame indeed that there is such a large misunderstanding of trauma still!

      reply
  9. Terry Wall  February 5, 2018

    Hello guys ready to fight this now. Just coming out of a sort of spiritual dissociation. Was in a cult like situation and been wasting so much energy on various rituals and spiritual practices which I realised was not Trauma work was just faith healing and all very dubious.

    reply
    • d  February 6, 2018

      If you would like to check out some prayer healing for trauma, check out david tensen…that might help you…only mentioning that in reply to your comment & if you’re interested in genuine prayers.

      reply
    • Donna Giovanni  February 6, 2018

      My comment a minute ago was for Terry Wall…sorry I forgot to add your name.

      reply
  10. Hele  February 8, 2018

    core emotion- overpowered feeling trapped or helpless
    coping emotion- anger sometimes

    this is one of a few.

    reply
  11. Neil  February 8, 2018

    To all the commenters, thank you for putting yourself out there. By reading the comments of others and RB’s responses I get so much insight into how real people like me express their feelings about “what’s going on.” I’ve been kidnapped twice, once as a teen once as a 40-something. An abusive alcoholic father, who’s abandoned me and our relationship three times now. My core emotion is shock. I cope with anxiety and explosive anger, as well as a contemptuous cynicism that pushes most away, which is likely depression’s wake. Dissociation is like a lifestyle for me. Recovery seems like a myth.

    reply
    • Donna Giovanni  February 8, 2018

      Dear Neil,
      My heart really goes out to you… Yes, I think shock is a good word for your core emotion. In reading your comment I thought about how shock also was a large part of my life, but I was in too much shock to even call it by it’s proper name. I know one woman who was kidnapped as a child & raped…such a sad story & she wrote a book about it called Panic Child, but she is now healed enough to help others. Even tho it’s a hard trek after traumas, I hope you will somehow find some strength to be open & find some help. I have a couple of ideas & I only share them w/ you b/c they have helped me & b/c you may not have heard of them. One is called neurofeedback (our brains were so affected thru our traumas) & the other one is called EMDR. Of course you can check them online & on youtube. I remember feeling like I was hanging by a thread many times or unglued, so to speak. I am glad for the strength that was given to me to get up, even if I was crying & go on & make new discoveries for healing. I hope for you.

      reply
    • Donna Giovanni  February 9, 2018

      Neil, I wrote out a comment for you but I forgot to click on the reply button. If you want to view it, it is there underneath your comment.

      reply
  12. Allie  February 10, 2018

    Thank you for this article. It’s really making me think… I think my core emotion is sadness and my coping emotion is anxiety??? Am I getting this right? Clearly I still have self doubt issues that are channeled into anxiety…

    reply
  13. Theresa  February 10, 2018

    Hi. I am getting help for some severe trauma as a child. Not much memories. Started having severe anxiety at age 40 after stopping many of my coping mechanisms. I still cannot get out my emotions. Working through some trauma that recently has come out as it was blocked before. There is a lot of abuse and trauma. What do you say to someone who does not know what there core emotions are? Or maybe mine are anxiety. I am unable still to get to my emotions as I am afraid to feel. Any comments.

    reply
    • Donna  February 11, 2018

      Hello Theresa,
      I am glad that you are getting some help for your severe traumas. At least there are many good avenues for help these days compared to many years ago. It seems to me that most of us started to have issues or triggers later on in life…40’s, 50’s, 60′, etc. I can relate to you re: not being able to get my emotions out many years ago. But as time goes on & one is getting helped, emotions are released, each one in a different way & pace, so take heart & keep on, one day at a time. Besides counseling, there are other roads to take as you willing to take a look. My own opinion is that anxiety is the result of the traumas & the body is telling you by your anxiety that it can’t take too much more of what’s stuffed inside. This is only a small part of an answer for we are all complex, for sure. Blessings on you & your path of healing.

      reply
  14. Terry Wall  February 13, 2018

    Feeling very sad right now. I suffer so much with relationships I swing between feeling ultra needy to ultra needless. Just discharged some anger on to someone I have felt rejected by and have slammed the door shut again. To be honest I am just going to let go of trying to make freinds with people and just do this work and hope healthy relationships comes as a result of it

    reply
    • Donna  February 13, 2018

      Hello Terry,
      I have an understanding of those emotions & I’m sorry for your recent experience but I’m thinking that maybe your decision is the best one for now. I think your priority is your healing & after that may come some friends…

      reply
  15. Terry Wall  February 14, 2018

    Thank you yes your right I need all the energy I can get to fight this. and these situations take so much out of me. Looking for love outside of your self for validation is a losing game I have been playing for to long. It’s time to find the love inside my self.

    reply
  16. Fredrik  March 17, 2018

    You just told the story of my life, summed up in a few sentences. Thank you.

    reply
    • Roland  March 17, 2018

      Welcome. Good to have you here.

      reply
  17. Anette  August 2, 2018

    I grew up in a family where there was a lot of violence and drugs. I think my core emotions are sadness and I’ve recently discovered that deep down there is much anger. My coping emotions are anxiety, depression and loneliness.
    Thank you so much for your articles, they help me tremendously.

    reply
  18. Penny  August 9, 2018

    To clarify, does defaulting to the coping emotion equate to an act of dissociation from the core emotion?

    reply
    • Roland  August 9, 2018

      Good question. It does indeed.

      reply
  19. Carey  August 11, 2018

    Oh my goodness this is why I lose my temper so irretrievably but inside I feel terror, abandonment and huge grief. It’s not anger but something much deeper that’s triggered. Total fear of being ignored, negated, unloved. And I’m in the middle of a narcissistic discard which is why I’m so stressed and fearful of the future. I’m used to bending over backwards to appease but this isn’t working any more as my partner is having an affair. Thank you: the lights gone on…

    reply

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