A hallmark of trauma is its capacity to overwhelm our minds and beliefs. Traumas deeply affect the way we see ourselves, other people, and the world. Trauma can lead individuals to see themselves as helpless or damaged and believe that negative outcomes will continue in the future (Bromberg, 2011). One of the most important consequences of trauma is the dissociation of the mind. That is, trauma can block the processing of experience into narrative memory. As a result, the mind only partially knows itself and its past.
Dissociation is a defense against trauma. The unconscious motive for dissociation is to escape from the overwhelming emotions associated with a traumatic memory. When people are overwhelmed by terrifying emotions, they cannot integrate the experience with the rest of their personal history. Dissociation is a short-term coping strategy that actually maintains mental health. Most people have a natural tendency to forget dreadful events and upset emotions. If experiences of some events are too overwhelming to be taken in as part of who we are, then these experiences become detached pieces of ourselves.
Healing involves accepting, acknowledging, and mourning parts of the self that have been dissociated. This allows the memories of painful life events to become part of a personal life narrative. The availability of a trusted other, such as an attachment figure, friend, or therapist, can effectively increase a person’s capacity to access and tolerate internal conflicts (Howell, 2020). The discovery of the repressed and dissociated aspects of the self is truly a creative process.