Structural Dissociation

We all have multiple parts. According to experts such as Richard Schwartz, Janina Fisher, Onno Van Der Hart and others, people with trauma or complex past experience develop multiple parts which function in ways which best help them to survive their early environment.

The more complex our past experiences, the more elaborate and complex our inner system needs to be in response to this. Elaboration of parts of self for survival is called “structural dissociation”, and is seen as an adaptive response to frightening, overwhelming or adverse conditions.

The role of these parts are to try and help our survival. As well as the “going on with everyday life” parts, there may be fight, flight, freeze, collapse/submit, or attach functions. Parts can also include emotional parts, embodied parts, or parts we disown or rarely acknowledge such as vulnerability. In some cases, parts can develop further as different “people” inside us. Generally speaking, the more difficult or complex our early experiences, the more complex the inner system may be needed for survival.

While elaboration  into  parts may help survival, it may also eventually cause problems. Parts may literally “hijack” us when activated, making us feel or act in ways which feel out of character, impulsive, or dangerous to our everyday self. We may find ourselves doing things again and again that we swore we would never do, or which feel embarrassing or “unlike me”. We may be blind to danger, attracted to the wrong people, stuck, or driven by forces we don’t understand.

A good book to learn more about this is “Coping with Trauma Related Dissociation” by Van Der Hart, Boon and Steele. For people who want to know more, “Healing the Fragmented Selves of Trauma Survivors” by Janina Fisher is another great start. Many people find that trauma-informed professional help is also essential to support them to gradually  know, honour, and appreciate their parts. The Blue Knot Foundation can refer you to a therapist in your area if you need help. The aim of therapy is to increase mindful awareness, acceptance and integration, rather just than being hijacked by parts. Its a slow process but ultimately very rewarding.

 

 

 

 

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