In his book, The Posttraumatic Self, the psychotherapist John Wilson describes eleven types of ‘selves’ (or, what Wilson refers to, more technically, as ‘typologies of personality that form unique configurations of self-processes’) that may develop in the individual following severely traumatic experiences.
These eleven ‘selves’ can be seen as existing on a continuum such that the first (THE INERT SELF) represents those individuals most severely psychologically damaged by their traumatic experiences whereas, at the other end of the spectrum, the eleventh (THE INTEGRATED-TRANSCENDENT SELF), represents those individuals who have proved the most resilient in the face of their traumatic experiences and can be said to have ‘transcended’ them.
I list all eleven of the types of ‘selves’ below :
- Inert Self
- Empty Self
- Fragmented Self
- Imbalanced Self
- Overcontrolled Self
- Anomic Self
- Conventional Self
- Grandiose Self
- Cohesive Self
- Accelerated Self
- Integrated-Transcendent Self
There follows a brief outline of each of these eleven types :
1) THE INERT SELF :
Wilson describes those individuals who develop an ‘inert self’ in response to trauma as ‘broken in spirit‘, ‘autistically withdrawn‘ and devoid of all motivation (‘even the motivation to be safe’); they are emotionally numb and facially expressionless. They may, too, experience catanoid states, brief episodes of psychosis or paranoid states.
2) THE EMPTY SELF :
Individuals displaying the ’empty self’ are passive and devoid of energy. They have also lost interest in activities which they previously (before their traumatic experiences) found to be engaging and have become withdrawn, socially isolated (having lost social confidence and social skills) and insecure. They also suffer from anhedonia (the inability to experience pleasure), are anxious, fearful and have lost trust in the world. Suicidal ideation is also a prominent feature of this group of individuals.
3) THE FRAGMENTED SELF :
Individuals in this category suffer from identity defusion (confusion about their identity and about ‘who they are’ – in other words, they have lost of a coherent and solid sense of self). They also feel as if their personalities have become fragmented (click here to read my previously published article about the ‘fragmented personality’).
Furthermore, they experience problems with relationships (including intense emotional responses towards others which fluctuate dramatically), are likely to function erratically in the work place, may experience dissociative states and develop traits similar to those suffering from dependent personality disorder.
4) THE IMBALANCED SELF :
Those who respond to trauma by displaying an imbalanced self suffer from extreme emotional lability similar to that suffered by individuals who have developed emotional instability disorder.
They are also afraid of being left alone and have a constant need for reassurance, to be looked after and cared for.
Furthermore, they suffer from chronic anxiety and their relationships with others are highly dysfunctional ; if they perceive themselves to be abandoned by others, even briefly, they are prone to becoming severely agitated and/or angry.
5) THE OVERCONTROLLED SELF :
Such individuals have difficulty expressing their emotions and have a fear of losing control. They display trairs similar to those displayed by individuals suffering from obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD).
They are highly driven, disciplined, routine-orientated and ‘overactive’ – this ‘overactivity’ unconsciously serves to exert a sense of control over inner, deep-seated feelings of anxiety; in other words, their frantic attempts to impose control over their external world represents an an unconscious overcompensation for an anxiety-provoking sense of loss of control over their internal world.
It has also been suggested (e.g. Horowitz, 1999, cited in Wilson) that their intense overactiviry is an unconscious defense mechanism which serves to ‘block out’ / prevent conscious attention being directed towards traumatic memories.
6) THE ANOMIC SELF :
These individuals experience life as empty and meaningless, are mistrustful of society in general and feel alienated and disconnected from it; indeed, often they may be seen as ‘loners’. They rebel against authority and lead an unconventional lifestyle. Also, because of the trauma they have suffered, they are wary of forming close emotional bonds with others. Furthermore, they may suffer from antisocial personality traits.
7) THE CONVENTIONAL SELF :
In contrast to individuals displaying an ‘anomic self’ (see above), these individuals have adjusted to, and reintegrated with, society following their traumatic experiences. By connecting with others, they help themselves redevelop a feeling of being safe; in relation to this, they have a strong need to gain the approval of others and to be liked and respected by them ; this powerful desire drives them to be highly conventional and conformist (Wilson, 1980).
8) THE GRANDIOSE SELF :
These individuals strive to achieve and succeed in the desperate attempt of gain recognition from others in orded to restore their shattered self-esteem (caused by their traumatic experiences).
Their grandiosity can be seen as a defense mechanism serving to ward off and protect from inner feelings of vulnerability, similar to the function it serves in those suffering from narcissistic personality disorder.
9) THE COHESIVE SELF :
Such individuals have proved resilient in the face of their traumatic experiences and may be described by others as having ‘bounced back.’ In contrast with the ‘anomic type’ (see above), these individuals are prosocial and concerned with questions relating to ethics and justice.
10) THE ACCELERATED SELF :
Those displaying the ‘accelerated self’ type have become highly individualistic as a result of having overcome their traumatic experiences. Wilson also describes them as being ‘tough, resolute, resilient, morally principled, altruistic and self-directed [who have] ‘transformed traumatic impact into prosocial humanitarian modes of functioning’.
Wilson refers to such people as displaying an ‘ACCELERATED’ self as they have, as a result of their profound, traumatic experiences, had their psychosocial development ‘speeded up’ which, in turn, has led them to consider ‘critical life-stage issues‘ earlier than would normally have been the case.
11) THE INTEGRATED-TRANSCENDENT SELF :
Such individuals have optimally overcome their traumatic experiences and, therefore, can be described as having ‘transcended’ them to achieve a ‘structurally [integrated] self, the components [of which] reflect optimal functioning.’ Indeed, they can be seen as having achieved what Maslow describes as ‘SELF-ACTUALIZATION.’
These individuals embrace growth and challenges, have achieved ‘spiritual transcendence‘, gained profound wisdom and have the ‘capacity to have peak experiences of the numinous.‘ Wilson also describes such individuals as altruistic and able to ‘live in the present with consciousness attuned to a higher awareness of reality and cosmic order.’
To read my previously published article : Posttraumatic Growth : Achieving Maslow’s ‘Self-Actualiztion.’ CLICK HERE.
David Hosier BSc Hons; MSc; PGDE(FAHE).