|Understanding Peritraumatic Dissociation|
Peritraumatic dissociation is the clinical term used to refer to dissociation at the time of the trauma. Dissociation is the normal response of our central nervous system when we are faced with intense physical harm, fear or terror we are unable to avoid, escape or shield ourselves from. In a state of dissociation, we undergo a partial or complete disruption of the normal functioning of our mind. We can no longer feel physical pain, shed tears, access or express emotions, communicate or interact with others. We become disconnected from our physical bodies and emotions.
Dissociation is a natural response we share with all living beings. In the wild, a prey pursued by a predator remains very much engaged in the form through the length of the chase. Fully present in its body, it is actively immersed in the flight mechanism aimed at saving its life. However, the instant the predator's jaws closes on its throat, the prey's body becomes limp and loose. Dissociation allows the nervous system to shield itself from a level of physical, psychological and/or emotional harm, the intensity of which would be impossible for the mind to absorb. The dissociative state in wildlife and human beings is characterized by the dazed, faraway, glassy, disconnected stare we get when our lives, physical safety, emotional well being, or all of the above, have been suddenly, violently altered.
While peritraumatic dissociation provides a temporarily effective defense mechanism in cases of severe trauma, in the long term however, it is associated with decreased psychological functioning and adjustment, and responsible for a number of lasting, debilitating symptoms and conditions.
Experiencing with peritraumatic dissociation early in life, especially at repeated intervals, permanently stretches the flexibility of the boundaries between the conscious and subconscious levels of the mind. Journeying back and forth between the conscious state and the dissociative state, at an early age, establishes a lifelong pattern or learned habit to retreat to the dissociative state whenever an uncomfortable experience is encountered. Adult victims of childhood peritraumatic dissociation can find themselves slipping into a dissociative state anytime their level of physical, psychological and/or emotional comfort is altered. This automatic reflex prevents them from being able to react in a conscious, cognitive manner and take the appropriate steps necessary to respond, defend or protect themselves accordingly.
Symptoms of dissociation resulting from trauma may include feelings of sudden separation or disconnection with oneself and the world (known as depersonalization), as if reality had suddenly become less real, vague, dream-like or lacking in significance, mental self-defense mechanisms aimed at blocking trauma (known as psychological numbing), a general feeling of indifference or suppression of emotions (known as disengagement) or sometimes amnesia regarding the events of the abuse.
Clinical studies of peritraumatic dissociation have shown it to present a risk for chronic post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and post-traumatic symptoms later in life, regardless of the level of trauma exposure or general dissociative tendencies. Additional symptoms found along with dissociation in victims of traumatic abuse include anxiety, low self-esteem, the production of recurrent medical symptoms with no discernible cause (known as somatization), depression, chronic pain, interpersonal dysfunction, substance abuse, self-mutilation and suicidal ideation or actions.
Trauma-related clinical hypnotherapy enables us to go back to the initial sensitizing event, in other words to the original cause of the trauma. We may not always be consciously aware of what the initial sensitizing event is. In many cases, what can be considered an insignificant event from an adult perspective was in fact an event of great emotional impact on a small child. While the event appears lost to the adult consciousness, it remains an active survival tool we carry within, an engrained reaction that becomes instinctive when dealing with similar triggers. When the sensitizing event is reinforced by other life events, a pattern of behavior, or survival techniques, are set in place that become extremely resistant to change in the conscious mode. Reframing the initial sensitizing event with hypnotherapy allows us to work at the subconscious level to reveal and bring resolution the trauma wounds of the past.
Hypnosis techniques address the currently held behaviors specifically. When old negative behaviors are correctly addressed, room is created for new positive behaviors to be formed. Healthy and beneficial positive emotional associations are brought forward, initiating new routines for the mind to focus on. Once former negative behaviors are reduced and released, active techniques are used to find, create and maintain new emotional balance. Hypnotherapy allows us to communicate directly with the subconscious mind, thereby enabling us to correct, rectify and treat a wide variety of physiological and psychological symptoms.