PTSD, CPTSD, Complex Trauma and Negotiating Dissociation
Dissociation is a safety mechanism which helps you to survive when fight, flight, or pleasing aren’t possible anymore. Dissociation is set in motion to ensure your survival through physiological immobilization and psychological disconnection.
When animals come out of a freeze or dissociation response, they shake out the stress that has accumulated in their nervous system.
Unfortunately, with us humans, to undo a freeze/dissociation response is often a bit more complicated.
PTSD, Dissociation and the Freeze Response
The reason that it is more difficult for us humans likely is because abuse, neglect, or an abusive environment may have continued for an extended period and hence the possibility to discharge traumatic stress wasn’t available.
Secondly, our ability to think and reason can perpetuate a dissociative state indefinitely.
Thinking brings in judgment towards ourselves or towards others, and thus the traumatic energy gets channeled into guilt, blame, self-reproach, shame, embarrassment, comparison, self-pity, jealousy, pride, fault finding, self-righteousness, regret, or distrust.
Thinking excessively prevents you from connecting to the body– and this forms part of dissociation. When you are overwhelmed by emotion, you disconnect from the body and your energy moves upward into the chest, which results in shallow breathing, and into the head, which results in excessive thinking.
Dissociation and Coming Back into the Body
Coming back into the body and meeting the frozen high energy charge in the nervous system is where your potential for healing lies.
There are a variety of difficulties regarding coming back into the body, and this mostly is because your survival is invested in the dissociated state.
To come back to the body will ring all of your alarm bells, as you will have to meet the pain, the fight, flight, and please response and their associated emotional states of anger, anxiety, despair, hopelessness, helplessness, dishonored vulnerability, and overwhelming grief.
You have to go extremely carefully into working with and reversing dissociation. You will have to negotiate that space between connection and dissociation.
Working through trauma can often feel like navigating a minefield.
Negotiating Dissociation to Heal PTSD, CPTSD, and Complex Trauma
First of all, negotiating dissociation has to start by your becoming aware of the dissociated state and by being able to differentiate between the necessity of it in the past for survival, and how it is working against you right now and impacting your health.
When that awareness is present, and there is a willingness to work on it, regardless of the resistances that will surface, only then can any progress realistically be made.
What reversing and negotiating dissociation entails is for you to start feeling below the level of dissociation into the sensations and emotions that made you dissociate.
You will need to allow a temporary giving up of control so that you become able to move through the dissociated state, and this is where the hard part comes in as doing so will make you feel vulnerable and possibly overwhelmed.
You must, therefore, carefully move into the feelings that are beneath or within the dissociated state; and, when you get too activated, be able to manage that activation by not going any further into exploring the activation and its accompanying emotions.
It is through the “holding” of your emotional activation that you create more resilience and slowly will start to contain the whole of your wound and process the emotional residue within.
Reversing and negotiating dissociation is a process. You will find that you will have to move back and forth between connecting and disconnecting repeatedly until you can feel more of yourself and can successfully manage your boundaries. Up to that point, your trauma-informed therapist is providing that management of what you can contain and hold, and when to temporarily break off the process and disconnect from what you have been working on.