In response to trauma or emotional abandonment our psyche will splinter or fracture. Ideally parents help us to mediate as young ones the big feelings we have to deal with and help us to integrate them. But in situations of abuse or neglect this doesn’t happen and we are left to contain unbearable feeling. Since all feelings occur and are felt in the body if our parents don’t help us to do this we are left with the split off feeling buried or held in tissue or psychic space. Memories associated with the feelings and accompanying sensory traumatic events then become somatic and walled off, they still affect us we just don’t know why and how.
Jung wrote on how dissociation works and this overview comes from Donald Kalsched’s excellent book The Inner World of Trauma : Archetypal Defences of the Human Spirit.
individuals who might be described as ‘schizoid’ in the sense they had suffered traumatic experiences in childhood which had overwhelmed their often unusual sensitivities and driven them inward. Often, the interior worlds into which they retreated were childlike worlds, rich in fantasy but with a very wistful, melancholy cast. In this museum like “sanctuary of innocence”… (they) clung to a remnant of their childhood experience which had been magical and sustaining at one time, but which did not grow along with the rest of them. Although they had come to therapy out of a need, they did not really want to grow or change in the ways that would truly satisfy that need. To be more precise one part of them wanted to change and a strong part of them resisted this change. THEY WERE DIVIDED IN THEMSELVES.
In most cases these patients were extremely bright, sensitive individuals who had suffered on account of their sensitivity, some acute or cumulative emotional trauma in early life. All of them had become prematurely self sufficient in their childhoods, cutting off genuine relations with their parents during their developing years and tending to see themselves as victims of others’ aggression and could not mobilize effective self assertion when it was needed to defend themselves or to individuate. Their outward façade of toughness and self sufficiency often concealed a secret dependency they were ashamed of, so in psychotherapy they found it very difficult to relinquish their own self care protection and allow themselves to depend on a very real person.
Kalsched goes on to point out that such people developed what Elaine Aron has called a virultent persecutor-protector figure in the psyche which jealously cut them off from the outer world, while at the same time mercilessly attacking them with abuse and self criticism from within. Kalsched believed this figure had a daimonic cast calling on the idea of Jung that energy split off into the psyche can become malevolent and acts as a powerful defence against what Aron calls ‘linking’ with others and with the vulnerable innocent or inner child it has been called in to protect. The figure may not only be malevolent it may also be angelic or mythical or heavenly in cast. Together with the inner child/innocent this force formed an active psychic dyad (or duplex) structure which Kalched calls the archetypal self care system.
Jung showed that under the stress of trauma the childhood psyche with draws energy from the scene of the earlier injury. If this can’t happen a part of the self must be withdrawn and ego thus splits into fragments or dissociates and it is a natural psychic defence mechanism that must be understood and respected.
Experience becomes discontinuous. Mental imagery may be split off from effect, or both affect and image may be dissociated from conscious knowledge. Flashbacks of sensation seemingly disconnected from behavioural context occur. The memory of one’s life has holes in it – a full narrative history cannot be told by the person whose life has been interrupted by trauma.
For a person who has experienced unbearable pain, the psychological defence of dissociation allows external life to go on but at a great internal cost. The outer sequalae of the trauma continue to haunt the inner world, and they do this, Jung discovered, in the form of certain images which cluster around a strong affect – what Jung called ‘feeling toned complexes’. These complexes tend to behave autonomously as frightening inner beings, and are respresented in dreams as attacking ‘enemies’, vicious animals, etc. (not under the control of the will… autonomous.. .opposed to conscious intentions of the person…. they are tyrannical and pounce upon the dreamer or bearer with ferocious intensity.)
In dissociation the psyche may also splinter into various personalities which may carry rejected aspects of the person. The mind becomes ‘split apart’ and such defences involve a lot of internal aggression as one part of the psyche tries to attack and protect the other more vulnerable, rejected parts. The psyche cannot integrate these parts without therapy and active help.
In the course of natural therapy for such people the hostile attacking or protective force that acts to keep the person remote and in lock down will begin to arise in dreams and active imagination. Elain Aron’s book The Vulnerable Self in Chapter Six “Dealing with Inner Critic and Protector-Persecutor” outlines some of this process as she give more insight into the role the persecutor-protector plays for highly sensitive individuals. She also gives some examples which will help fellow sufferers to deal with their own dreams or nightmares where such forces arise. After dreaming we can through a practice of active imagination find a way to interact with these forces and help get them working more for us than against us. Aron’s book will help you in this regard too.
Donald Kalsched’s book is also an excellent reference for anyone suffering trauma. It is more analytical in tone and quiet detailed. The self care system that works to protect us can end up working against us too, this is the prominent point Kalsched makes in his book. The inner persecutor-protector will sometimes work to organise a suicide if the psyche feels too much under threat from internal or external forces. The persecutor-protector needs to really be understood by anyone attempting to free themselves from the crippling effects of childhood trauma.
I have a second associated post to post after this with some of the information from Elaines’ book on the persecutor-protector. I will post it and link it to this post later on.