A Shattered Sense Of Self Due To Childhood Trauma

 

Severe, catastrophic, prolonged and/or repetitive childhood trauma can lead to a shattered, fractured, disintegrated and fragmented sense of self which can manifest itself in various ways including:

DAMAGE TO ‘SELF-STRUCTURE’:

According to Zepenic (2016), severe trauma can adversely affect what he refers to as the ‘self-structure’ in the following ways:

  • impaired sense of self-cohesion
  • impaired sense of self-continuity
  • impaired self-concept
  • impaired self-esteem
  • impaired sense of self-worth
  • a feeling of the self not being incomplete
  • a sense that the parts of the self are not integrated nor interrelated as a whole
  • a feeling that the self is unreal

Because a healthy sense of self is essential if one is to form meaningful relationships with others, a damaged sense of self frequently leads to pathological relationships with others and with oneself (e.g. feelings of self-hatred). It may also lead to profound feelings of emptiness, hollowness and lack of personal substance. Also, as one might expect, along with a feeling of a loss of self or of a weakened sense of self also leads to a loss of personal agency and autonomy. 

HOW DO PEOPLE EXPRESS THE SENSE OF A DAMAGED SELF STRUCTURE?

Phrases people use (e.g. see Zepenic, 2016) in an attempt to express these feelings of a destructed self include:

  • floating lost in space
  • a loss of the feeling of being ‘grounded’
  • coming off the rails
  • treading water, alone in the middle of the ocean with nothing to clutch at
  • losing bearings
  • a sense of non-existence
  • broken in soul and spirit
  • a loss of the feeling of having a meaningful existence

Whilst our inner conflicts related to our traumatic experiences remain unresolved we are unable to heal our damaged sense of self which, in turn, prevents us from returning to our pre-trauma level of functioning. Furthermore, we are prevented from adjusting to our new life circumstances and our inner sense of disequilibrium is reflected in a feeling that everyday life has lost its sense of being orderly.

FIVE MAIN ALTERED FUNCTIONS OF THE TRAUMATIZED SELF:

According to Zepenic (2016), there are five main ways in which severe, catastrophic trauma can alter the functioning of the self; these are as follows:

  • DISCONTINUITY
  • FRAGMENTATION
  • IMMOBILITY
  • LOSS OF AUTONOMY
  • SEPARATION

DESCRIPTIONS OF ABOVE FIVE ALTERATIONS IN SELF FUNCTIONING AS A RESULT OF TRAUMA:

DISCONTINUITY OF SELF:

  • loss of ongoing sense of self in the present/here and now
  • loss of sense of continuity with pre-trauma self
  • inability to revert functioning to that carried out by the pre-traumatized self

FRAGMENTATION OF SELF:

  • loss of self-structure boundaries
  • disintegration of coherence
  • loss of the feeling that the self is a unified whole
  • loss of feeling of an ability to prevent the disintegration of the self

IMMOBILITY:

  • depletion of mental energy
  • depletion of physical energy
  • loss of self-motivation
  • loss of sense of personal autonomy
  • loss of ability to set and follow goals
  • loss of feelings of control over trauma-related internal mental conflict

LOSS OF AUTONOMY:

  • inability to break the psychological tie to the traumatic past
  • guilt
  • self-blame
  • loss of ability to control feelings
  • loss of sense of being able to act according to free will
  • a sense of being worthless
  • a loss of a feeling of groundedness
  • a loss of vitality and feeling of ‘deadness’

SEPARATION:

  • a feeling of emotional disconnection from own self
  • a loss of feeling emotionally connected to others
  • loss of sense of connection between different parts of the self

Source: Zepenic, 2016

Trauma-Informed Stabilization Treatment:

Fisher advocates Trauma-Informed Stabilization Treatment (TIST) as a therapy for those suffering from a fragmented sense of self. TIST combines internal family systems, structural dissociation theory, sensorimotor psychotherapy.

Fisher believes that a fragmented self is related to the fight/flight/freeze defences because the fight part of self functions as a protector of the self whereas the flight and freeze parts may prevent dangerous situations escalating. Once an individual gains insight into this, according to Fisher, recovery becomes more likely (e.g. recovery from borderline personality disorder, or PTSD.

What Are The Main Symptoms Of Complex PTSD?

Does Your Personality Feel ‘Fragmented’?

Childhood Trauma And ‘Shattered Assumptions’ Theory

About David Hosier BSc Hons; MSc; PGDE(FAHE)

Psychologist, researcher and educationalist.

Leave a Comment

Post Navigation