Parts of self trapped in trauma time


pexels-photo-296301.jpegWhat are parts of self? Do I have parts? Does everyone have parts?

We all have different parts of ourselves. You likely have a part when you talk to your kitty: and another part when you talk to your boss, partner or friend. These parts are not rigid – they are flexible and malleable.  You can move in and out of these parts with ease, usually in a matter of seconds. Furthermore, you can properly switch from talking to your cat to your partner.  When you use the appropriate part at the right time and in the right situation, we call these parts integrated.  Parts are also sometimes called ego states. However, if a person has experienced extensive childhood trauma, they will be vulnerable to dissociation and in these dissociated states, move into parts that are trapped in a time when a traumatic event took place in their childhood. Sometimes a person will move into the child state.  Other times, a protective part such as an angry  teen part will move into the person’s consciousness to try to protect the child part.  When a part shows up at an inappropriate time or place, we sometimes call this a dissociated state.

Parts are ego states split off at the time of a childhood traumatic event or events. For example, a child experiences feeling intense pain and vulnerability after being physically abused repeatedly at six years old. The six-year-old doesn’t grow up. Instead this six-year-old stays six even though real-time child continues to grow up. Once an adult, she finds herself triggered, or distressed when the threat of feeling the same way she did at six presents itself in a present day event. She may then move into this child part, or more likely, move into a protective and angry part that reacts in a defensive, dismissing way to protect the vulnerable child part. For this person, interpersonal relationships are challenging because every time in the present that this person is reminded of  the past, they will act from another part – a vulnerable six-year-old part, an enraged “monster” part (in the worst case), or some less intimidating but still challenging angry part. They may continue to feel triggered in the present over and over again until the trauma of the past has been processed.

These parts or ego states don’t integrate. Put simply, these parts are trapped in trauma time. They are child parts, teen parts, or infant parts. The older parts (such as teen parts) typically try to protect the child or infant parts.  This process has been carefully outlined in two important theories: Structural Dissociation Theory and Internal Family Systems Theory.  Sometimes a part can appear as a monster, or demon part, however, this part isn’t really a monster, or demon but rather a part doing its best to protect a vulnerable child part. A monster will almost always dissipate, or disappear from a person’s system once it believes that the adult (Functional Adult State) can take control of their internal system, and the trauma that drives the monster to activate is processed.

For more information on dissociation read blog posts at this site on dissociation.

Ways to integrate parts include group processing therapy and E.M.D.R. In group you talk about your trauma and process it with a trained facilitator.  This therapist creates a safe place for you to re-experience some of the feelings that created the need for protective parts in the first place.  With E.M.D.R. you process the original traumatic events in a controlled safe way once you master skills to control dissociation.


Crystal Arber MSW RSW


Making Sense of Trauma Group

Crystal Arber:

Making Sense of Trauma

Making Sense of complex and post traumatic stress injury.

Making Sense of Trauma Group is back by popular demand.


Every Wednesday evening  starting

October 11th from 7:00pm – 8:30pm for seven weeks.



There are six seats available with the possibility of another group running on Thursday’s should the group fill up fast.


  •  An educational skills building group for those who are interested in learning how to contain distressing symptoms caused by past traumatic events or PTSD like symptoms.
  • In this seven week closed group you will learn how traumatic experiences affect the nervous system, and brain.
  • You will learn types of treatment available.
  • You will learn the difference between complex developmental trauma and PTSD.
  • You will learn skills to manage and reduce distressing symptoms, i.e. dissociation (zoning out) anger, avoidance of people or places, mood swings, hypersensitivity to sounds, attention…

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Limbic System and Window of Tolerance


When our amydgala is lit up in the limbic system of our brain, our ability to see the big picture – dissappears. The fight flight freeze response takes over. We literally suffer from tunnel vision. If we are outside the window of tolerance, ( Ogden & Fisher 2015) and in hyperarousal, we become irritable, edgy, angry, -ready for a fight or ready to flight – take off.

When in hypoarousal we get foggy, fuzzy, dissociate, depressed, unable to move, numb, frozen.Either way,  we are ready for the worst case scenario. Outside of the window of tolerance we catastrophize, awfulize, distort reality to fit our negative beliefts.

I bet you are reading this thinking, “wow, why do we even have an amydgala?” Bottom line, we can’t be thinking about a paying our credit card when a threat actually occurs. For example, if we hear a rattlesnake within our proximity,our thinking brain needs to shut off – it needs to be offline so that our fight flight freeze response can do its job!  But what about when there isn’t a threat in our environment and we go out of the window of tolerance alot? When Post Trauma Stress  is the concern, we can get triggered alot. (Think that the past is in the present when its not). To get back into the window of tolerance where are thinking brian is ON, first ground yourself. Orientate yourself to the present.

The following skills will help you ground yourself :

Temperature: ice in hand, face in  cold water.

Drinking cold water slowly

Hot shower

5 – 1 grounding  Five things you see, Five things you hear, Five things you feel. Four things you see, Four things you hear …

Mindful doing


Gregorian chants

Listen to a kitty purr

Spend time with a horse

Diaphramatic breathing.


Once you are grounded then ask yourself where is the evidence that supports my negative belief? What was the trigger ( Where was the past in the present)? Keep a journal so that you can get familiar with your triggers and obtain some control over these triggers.

Adapted by  Crystal Arber      CC 2017