How childhood adversity and dissociation affects adulthood

There are many ways childhood adversity may affect adult life. In this post, I would like to write about how childhood adversity may obstruct adult selves due to dissociation. I will start by defining childhood adversity, dissociation, and identity crisis, and then provide what effects they may have on forming a person’s identity.

1. WHAT IS CHILDHOOD ADVERSITY?

Childhood adversities come in many forms, including but not limited to: domestic violence, sexual abuse, emotional abuse, physical abuse, maltreatment, and even living with a member of the family who is dealing with serious mental illness.

2. WHAT IS DISSOCIATION?

Dissociation is when one feels a disconnection between themselves and the world around them. For instance, you may feel like you are not inside your body, or think that the world is not real.

This happens when one’s mind is dealing with too much stress or a traumatic event to protect the person from experiencing exponential pain. It may help the person cope with severe trauma at the time it was being experienced. However, when dissociation is triggered on average, neutral days, it may interfere with one’s ability to be fully present in interpersonal relationships, career aspirations, leisure, and so on.

If dissociation lasts for a more extended time, and when you are a child, when you cannot process a significant stressor, it may become a dissociative disorder.

3. WHAT IS AN IDENTITY CRISIS?

According to psychological articles, “identity crisis is the failure to achieve ego identity during adolescence.”

Typically, during adolescence, one learns about themselves and what others think about them and develops an idea of who they are. However, there may be obstacles that prevent them from developing an identity, and these people may experience an identity crisis later on in life.

4. WHAT IS ONE EFFECT (IDENTITY CRISIS) OF DISSOCIATION FUELED BY CHILDHOOD ADVERSITIES IN ADULT LIFE?

There are many forms of dissociation and dissociative disorders. In this article, I am only focusing on dissociation caused by childhood adversities. The individuals who have experienced childhood adversities may end up experiencing dissociation. Many people with C-PTSD (complex PTSD) explain that they have been dissociated all their lives to avoid the extreme stress caused by a traumatic event(s). As a result, one may be unable to go through steps to recognize who they are, what they want, and what they need in life concerning their surroundings. Therefore, this may cause an individual who has experienced childhood adversities to encounter an identity crisis later on in their adulthood.

5. WHAT CAN THE PEOPLE WHO HAVE EXPERIENCED CHILDHOOD ADVERSITIES, DISSOCIATION, AND IDENTITY CRISIS DO IN THEIR ADULTHOOD TO OVERCOME THEIR UNIQUE DIFFICULTIES AND CHALLENGES?

1) Realize it’s not your fault and that you can get better.

– You may have to grieve your losses (a safe family, friendships, schoolings, studying, playing) as a child, or the loss of time to develop yourself as a result of dissociation. It was never your fault that you experienced trauma and adversities when you were so young. At the same time, now that you’ve realized yourself and started to explore ways to get better, you will experience the recovery process, which can be time-consuming, but worth it!

2) Self Help

  • Mindfulness and other Grounding Skills: By practicing mindfulness, you can help yourself stay connected to the present moment. (e.g., breathing slowly and focusing on your breath. Try counting three things you can see, hear, smell, touch, and taste. Walking barefoot, wrapping yourself in a blanket and try feeling it.

  • Journaling: Try writing down what you are experiencing (your emotions, thoughts, likes, and dislikes, or artwork)

  • Peer support: There are support groups online, such as on Facebook.

  • Looking after yourself: It may be stressful to look after yourself in times of stress, identity crisis, PTSD, or dissociation. But try to get enough sleep, eat well, and exercise regularly.

3) Professional Help

  • Consider psychotherapy (trauma-informed therapy +treat other mental health issues): This is the recommended treatment for dissociative disorders. Also, it is useful for healing from trauma and identity crisis.

  • Medications (such as antidepressants, antipsychotics, or mood stabilizers): No medicine directly deals with dissociation, but you can use them to deal with additional problems that hinder your recovery processes such as depression, anxiety, or suicidality. You can consult your GP or a nearby hospital/center for help with this.

4) Career counseling (if you’re struggling with career choices)

(This blog was originally published on OurAdvocate Site on Wix in 2018.)

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