Persistent trauma can lead to a phenomenon known as structural dissociation. This protective mechanism often arises when individuals, including those with disabilities, cannot escape traumatic situations and must coexist or frequently interact with distressing stimuli.
Individuals facing such trauma may internalize their anger, resentment, and pain, directing these emotions inward. This internal division enables them to shift their emotional focus away from the external source of harm and toward their inner landscape. The complexity of structural dissociation is closely linked to the severity, frequency, and duration of traumatic experiences and the extent of exposure to trauma.
What is Structural Dissociation?
Structural dissociation is a psychodynamic process in which separate “selves” or “parts” develop to manage various aspects of enduring trauma. This fragmentation leads to dividing an individual’s personality into distinct parts, each housing unique emotions, behaviors, and specific roles within the inner system. Consequently, this division can result in rapid shifts in mood, with individuals transitioning from joy to anxiety or experiencing moments of emotional numbness in a relatively short timeframe.
Thankfully, several therapeutic approaches are available to assist individuals dealing with structural dissociation, including those within the disabled, neurodivergent, and chronically ill communities. One effective method is parts work therapy, which can be seamlessly integrated into specific treatment modalities such as Internal Family Systems (IFS) and Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR). These therapies provide essential support and healing, aiding individuals to regain a sense of well-being.
What is Parts Work?
Parts work therapy is aptly named, designed to guide individuals through the various facets of themselves that have emerged in response to chronic trauma. The ultimate goal is to restore the individual’s sense of calm and presence within their everyday life.
For example, during therapy, you may find yourself delving into a particularly distressing memory. In this process, one part of you may yearn for relief by addressing this memory. In contrast, another part acts as a protective barrier, shielding you from the intense emotions such exploration may evoke.
It’s crucial to note that most individuals possess various facets within themselves. This doesn’t imply multiple personalities or structural dissociation, but rather the presence of different parts that can surface in various situations. For instance, the critical inner voice that emerges when you make a mistake may resemble a disapproving figure from your past. This inner critic is a part of you, yet it can also feel distinct from the part responsible for the error.
Chronic trauma often lodges itself within specific parts of our inner system, typically within a “younger” self that retains the emotional age at the time of the trauma. Parts work therapy seeks to address this traumatic information and alleviate the emotional burdens, fostering a harmonious integration of the various “parts” within us.
How do we use “Parts” Work within EMDR?
EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing) is a psychotherapeutic approach crafted to assist individuals in working with emotional distress and chronic trauma. This therapy pairs exceptionally well with parts work, as both modalities share a common focus on fostering a sense of completeness and functional integration. EMDR plays a pivotal role in supporting parts work by facilitating the reprocessing and integration of memories that may remain unresolved, often held by the younger “parts” of the self.
These lingering memories are often painful and tend to be pushed aside and concealed by different aspects of our being. EMDR serves as a tool to dismantle the barriers that isolate distressing and traumatic memories, allowing us to delve into the roots of these memories, including our beliefs about ourselves and our perception of the world. EMDR plays a crucial role in integrating these memories and reducing the trauma responses that may surface.