Tag Archives: Dissociation

What Is The Difference Between Repression And Dissociation?

the difference between repression and dissociation

what is the difference between repression and dissociation?

I have frequently referred to the concepts of DISSOCIATION and REPRESSION on this site as, of course, both are highly relevant to the subject of childhood trauma. But what is the difference between the two?

REPRESSION :

In terms of psychoanalytic theory (of which Sigmund Freud is considered to be the ‘father’) REPRESSION can be divided into two types :

  1. PRIMAL REPRESSION
  2. REPRESSION PROPER

I briefly explain these two types of repression below :

REPRESSION PROPER :

This refers to an unconscious process whereby the part of the mind that Freud referred to as the ego prevents distressing and threatening thoughts from ever permeating consciousness. Freud believed that often such thoughts were kept banished from conscious awareness as otherwise they would produce intolerable guilt (generated by the part of the mind that he referred to as the superego). 

Examples of types of thoughts that Freud believed are kept repressed by this process are those concerning certain types of sexual and aggressive impulses and instincts (generated by the part of the mind Freud referred to as the id) that we have learned from our environment (influence of culture, parents etc) are unacceptable.

PRIMAL REPRESSION :

the difference between repression and dissociation

The term primal repression refers to an unconscious process whereby the ego buries distressing and threatening thoughts, feelings and memories down below the level of consciousness into the id.

So, to summarize : in the case of repression proper, distressing and threatening thoughts are prevented from ever gaining access to conscious awareness whereas, in the case of primal repression, distressing and threatening thoughts, feelings and memories which have gained ephemeral access to consciousness are banished from it (buried in the id).

However, Freud also pointed out that there is a high price to pay for the unconscious process of repression in so far as this hidden, buried information that has been forced down into the id will create symptoms of anxiety.

DISSOCIATION :

In the case of dissociation (one of the core features of complex PTSD), thoughts / feelings / memories do NOT get pushed down into / buried in the id ; instead, they become separated / compartmentalized in a different part of the ego.

So, we can finally summarize in this way :

  • In the case of repression, mental information / content is split off into the id.
  • In the case of dissociation, mental information / content is split off into a separate part of the ego.

NB : This distinction relates to how the terms are used in psychoanalytic theory ; in other areas of psychology, the term ‘dissociation’ can take on other meanings (as the articles listed below will show).

To learn more about dissociation, you may like to read some of my other articles (listed below) :

 

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

When Parents Threaten Their Child With Violence

I have written elsewhere about how my mother was prone to unpredictable, unprovoked outbursts of extreme hostility when I was very young but it is only now I feel I want to be a little more specific – something has prevented me from going into detail up until now, although that ‘something’ is very hard to define, despite the fact I have (I hope!) gained a fair amount of insight into my past and its effects upon me.

When she was angry my mother’s verbal rage knew no limits ; her frequently repeated threats or hurtful statements included :

  • ‘I feel evil towards you! Evil!’ (The second ‘evil’ delivered in a particularly melodramatic, emphatic and malevolent tone)
  • ‘I feel I could knife you!’
  • ‘I feel murderous towards you!’  (or, if I was ‘lucky’, she’d be slightly more restrained and scream at me the rather more banal phrase, ‘I wish to Christ I’d never bloody had you!’ (though delivered in a tone of devastating conviction and palpable authenticity; one could almost feel the hot waves of hatred emanating from her).

(There may well be still worse examples which I have either repressed or which occurred when I was too young for them to form long-term memories – I simply can’t know; but this, of course, is true of everyone).

At the time, being on the receiving end of these, how shall I put it, rather less than maternally loving statements, I think I felt very little; just numb, in fact, as if everything had gone hazy and foggy. It seems I must have mentally shut down as a form of self-preservation; this is a psychological defense mechanism I now know to be called ‘dissociation‘).

For years, even decades, I kept these memories at the very back of my mind, so to speak, but, of course, that will have only worsened their psychological effect.

It is only now, decades later (I was about twelve-years-old when my mother’s verbal aggression was at its most vehement, just as I was entering puberty) that I feel ready to attempt to mentally process such experiences. However, painful this may be, avoiding doing so is likely to be even more so.

Very few of the articles I publish on this site are so personal and I apologize for, once again, indulging myself. However, my next post will be more objective and its topic directly related this one : ‘The Effects Of Parental Threats Of Violence Upon The Child.’

 

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

More on How Trauma and Stress can Affect the Child’s Developing Brain.

Our brains developed over millions of years of evolution. Different parts of the modern human brain evolved at different periods of this enormous time span.

The most primitive part of the modern brain, which evolved first, is known, rather unflatteringly, as the REPTILIAN brain. This part of our brain is ‘in charge’ of BASIC SURVIVAL PROCESSES such as the physiological aspects of the well-known FIGHT/FLIGHT RESPONSE such as heart rate.

In contrast, the part of our brain which developed most recently (the NEOCORTEX) is involved with HIGHER LEVEL PROCESSING such as complex learning, talking and forming relationships with others.

Children who experience CHRONIC and SEVERE TRAUMA as they are growing up automatically UTILIZE THE MORE PRIMITIVE PART OF THE BRAIN FAR MORE THAN NORMAL as they are driven by the adverse environment that they inhabit to FOCUS ON SURVIVAL

This comes at the expense of the development of the regions of the brain concerned with higher level mental functioning – indeed, this part of the brain can become SIGNIFICANTLY UNDER-UTILIZED, thus IMPAIRING ITS DEVELOPMENT. This can lead to the child:

– developing a brain which is smaller than normal

– developing less neural connection in the parts of the brain involved with higher level mental processing.

In short, then, the primitive part of the brain becomes OVER-EXERCISED, whilst the part of the brain which has most recently evolved becomes UNDER-EXERCISED.

impaired-brain-development-in-children

The three regions of the brain shown above evolved at different times in our evolutionary history – the most primitive part is called the REPTILIAN BRAIN and controls our basic survival mechanisms. The most recently evolved part is the NEOCORTEX which is involved in higher level mental processes such as abstract thought.

 

EFFECTS OF PRIMITIVE PART BRAIN BEING ‘OVER-EXERCISED’.

 

This results in the child becoming HYPER-SENSITIVE to the ADVERSE EFFECTS OF STRESS.

Because of this, such a child is far less able to deal with stress (i.e. s/he has a far lower stress- tolerance threshold) than children who have been fortunate enough to grow up in a more benign environment (all else being equal).

In other words, children who have grown up in traumatic environments MAY EXPERIENCE SEVERE PHYSIOLOGICAL STRESS RESPONSES TO RELATIVELY MINOR TRIGGERS/PROVOCATIONS.

Such dramatic responses are especially likely if the triggering event reminds the child, however indirectly, of the original experience of trauma.

Children suffering from such a condition may:

– have great difficulty concentrating/focussing their attention

– experience high levels of restlessness and agitation

– have high levels of anxiety

– behave aggressively/violently when under stress

– bully others (often, subconsciously, to gain a sense of control in a world in which they feel essentially powerless).

 

POST TRAUMATIC STRESS (PTSD) IN CHILDREN:

If the child develops PTSD as a result of his/her traumatic experiences his/her body will develop a chronic tendency to OVER-PRODUCE STRESS HORMONES (e.g. cortisol) on a day-to-day basis which may INTERFERE WITH HIS/HER ABILITY TO LEARN.

 

OTHER SYMPTOMS OF PTSD IN CHILDHOOD:

dissociation (‘zoning out’)

arrested development (e.g. suddenly stops talking)

nightmares/night terrors

– frequent waking during the night

– violent play (e.g. acting out violent scenarios with toys)

– frequent drawing/painting of extremely violent scenes

bed wetting

– somatic complaints (e.g. stomach aches, headaches etc)

– anxiety/depression

– general behavioural problems / acting out

– problem drinking/drug use

 

THE GOOD NEWS:

However, the positive news is that, because of an innate quality of the brain called NEUROPLASTICITY, it is able to repair and ‘rewire’ itself, thus reversing the damage done in childhood. The following experiences may help this to happen:

– physical activity

– the development of new skills

– relaxation and avoidance of stress

– healthy, pleasurable experiences

– the development of warm, emotionally fulfilling relationships

– enjoyable social activity

On the other hand, the following are likely to hinder recovery:

– continued exposure to stress

– substance misuse

(Click here to read more about this).

RESOURCE :

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

 

Complex PTSD

 

complex PTSD

Complex PTSD:

There has been some controversy regarding the difference between post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and complex PTSD amongst researchers.

During the early 1990s, the psychologist Judith Herman noted that individuals who had suffered severe, long-lasting, interpersonal trauma, ESPECIALLY IN EARLY LIFE, were frequently suffering from symptoms such as the following:

– disturbance in their view of themselves

– a marked propensity to seek out experiences and relationships which mirrored their original trauma

– severe difficulties controlling emotions and regulating moods

– identity problems/the loss of a coherent sense of self (click here to read my article on identity problems)

– a marked inability to develop trusting relationships

and, sometimes:

– adoption by the victim of the perpetrator’s belief system

Furthermore, some may go on to become abusers themselves, whilst others may be constantly compelled to seek out relationships with others who abuse them in a similar way to the original abuser (i.e. the parent or ‘care-taker’)

It is most unfortunate that, prior to the identification of the disorder that gives rise to the above symptoms, now referred to as complex PTSD, those suffering from the above symptoms were NOT recognized as having suffered from trauma and were therefore not asked about their childhood traumatic experiences during treatment. This meant, of course, that the chances of successful treatment were greatly reduced.

Research has now demonstrated that the effects of severe, long-lasting interpersonal trauma go above and beyond the symptoms caused by PTSD.

Complex PTSD Symptoms :

The main symptoms of complex PTSD are as follows:

1) severe dysregulation of mood

2) severe impulse control impairment

3) somatic (physical) symptoms (e.g. headaches, stomach aches, weakness/fatigue)

4) changes in self-perception (e.g. seeing self as deeply defective, ‘bad’ or even ‘evil‘)

5) severe difficulties relating to others, including an inability to feel emotionally secure or empowered in relationships

6) changes in perception of the perpetrator of the abuse (e.g. rationalizing their abuse/idealization of perpetrator)

7) inability to see any meaning in life/existential confusion

8) inability to keep oneself calm under stress/inability to ‘self-sooth’

9) impaired self-awareness/fragmented sense of self

10) pathological dissociation

The DSM IV (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual IV) first named  complex PTSD as: DISORDER OF EXTREME STRESS NOT OTHERWISE SPECIFIED (DESNOS). Now, however, complex PTSD is listed as a SUB-CATEGORY of PTSD.

Whilst it is certainly true that there is an OVERLAP between the symptoms of PTSD and complex PTSD, many researchers now argue that PTSD and complex PTSD should be regarded as SEPARATE and DISTINCT disorders.

You may also wish to read :

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

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