Trauma & Dissociation
Trauma can take many different forms. I believe that trauma is any event or experience that overwhelms a person’s capacity to cope. Often when people hear the word trauma, they think of experiencing war or combat, natural disasters, or other life-threatening experiences. However, trauma can encompass many more experiences that you may not be thinking of. When I ask individuals about trauma, they often report that they don’t have any. But as I hear more of their stories, I often hear histories of difficulties that have created blocks in people’s lives that inform how they view themselves and how they interact with the world. People experience and respond to things differently, which is why trauma is based on one’s perception. Something that is not traumatic to one person may be traumatic to another.
Trauma doesn’t have to be a horrific car accident or an experience of sexual assault. Although those things are absolutely traumatic, trauma also includes being bullied or repeatedly being given the message that you aren’t good enough. I believe that many negative belief patterns and unhealthy behaviors stem from traumatic experiences or wounds from the past.
When trauma is repeated and long-term, the result is complex trauma. This is often played out in people’s lives through critical self-talk and unhealthy behaviors or what I call, living out of your trauma. You respond as if people are untrustworthy or out to get you. Or you may believe that you don’t deserve good things or that something is inherently wrong with you. Complex trauma is often accompanied by dissociation. Symptoms can often include: panic attacks, history of drug and alcohol abuse, eating disorders, self-harm, suicidal ideation, inattention, being zoned out, not being able to remember important parts of conversations, and going through the motions, among other things. Some common traumas we see are:
Abuse and neglect experienced in childhood
Children who had trauma before adoption
Growing up in a dysfunctional family which may or may not have been affected by addiction
Having a narcissistic parent
Kidnapping or captivity
At Safe Haven we use a phase-oriented approach to trauma treatment, which is strongly recommended in the treatment guidelines created by the International Society for the Study of Trauma and Dissociation. This phase-oriented approach includes:
Phase 1: Improving safety, stabilization, and management of symptoms
Phase 2: Facing, processing, and integrating trauma memories
Phase 3: Continuing integration and personal growth
Many of the experts in the trauma and dissociation world, often repeat Kluft's phrase, "the slower you go, the faster you get there.” This phase-oriented approach is designed to minimize emotional flooding. It is our goal at Safe Haven to help you work through your past safely without becoming emotionally overwhelmed to the point of being unable to function in your day-to-day life. At Safe Haven we integrate a variety of modalities including DBT, EMDR, Onsite’s Trauma Stage Processing, mindfulness, yoga, and other somatic interventions to safely address past trauma in a stage-oriented fashion. At Safe Haven know that you are seen as the expert on your own life. You have a choice and a say in every step of your treatment.
*Whether you decide to pursue services at Safe Haven or elsewhere, it is highly recommended that your provider give you the Dissociative Experiences Scale before jumping into EMDR. This is to assess for level of dissociation. Dissociation is something individuals develop in response to extremely overwhelming experiences, but the whole purpose of dissociation is to hide, so it is not always noticeable to you or your clinician. If you dissociate, know that treatment should start slow. I have heard one too many stories from my clients about going into crisis after starting EMDR too soon. It is my hope that you find the treatment you are searching for and that you are safe through the process of healing.
A Word on Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID)
Natalie LeQuang is specially trained by the International Society for the Study of Trauma and Dissociation (72 hour certificate in Complex Trauma and Dissociation). She has been working with dissociative disorders in some capacity for the past 8 years. Her journey started in 2010, when she completed an internship on Sheppard Pratt’s Trauma Disorders Inpatient Unit. Since then, it has been her passion and mission in life to provide awareness, effective diagnosis, and treatment to those with histories of the most horrific trauma, who have learned to use dissociation to survive. If you struggle with DID, please know there is hope. Natalie has experience working with dissociative disorders and has seen tremendous reduction in symptoms and incredible growth. Although you may not believe it yet, we believe you are bright, strong, and incredibly resourceful, therefore completely capable of recovering from your past.