Posttraumatic Dissociation as a Mediator of the Effects of Trauma on Distressful Introspectiveness

Article excerpt

This paper focuses on the stable personality trait of introspectiveness, exploring the relationship between introspectiveness and childhood trauma, dissociation and emotional distress. Ninety Israeli women were recruited from emergency counseling services and from academic and office employment settings. Pearson correlations between traumatic experiences and various dimensions of introspectiveness revealed significant links. Negative emotional and sexual experiences were the trauma variables that contributed most to this relationship, whereas a tendency to be aware of feelings toward family and about mortality were the dimensions of introspection that added most to this association. Prior trauma history, dissociation, introspectiveness, and emotional distress were significantly interrelated. The data from a path analysis performed suggest that introspectiveness may be better explained by the independent effect of dissociation rather than directly by trauma or by emotional distress. Theoretical and clinical implications are discussed.

The transient state of attention to the self has been termed self-attention (Carver & Scheier, 1981), or self-awareness (Buss, 1980). This paper will focus on the more stable personality trait of introspectiveness and will explore its relationship to dissociation and childhood trauma. Introspectiveness alludes to the degree to which dispersed attention is directed inward, toward the self, or outward, toward the outside world (Mechanic, 1979). Experimental research suggests that introspective characterological tendencies are associated with more accurate self-descriptions (Gibbons, 1987) and with increased negative affect (Gibbons, 1990; Hansell & Mechanic, 1986). Pyszcynski and Greenberg (1987) challenged the implied directionality of these findings when they argued that people with depression have a negative self-scheme. Introspective people who are depressed may be more likely to selectively remember negative information about themselves.

Little is known about possible pathways to the development of introspective traits. Carver and Scheier (1981) offered some helpful theoretical perspectives on the subject. They regarded introspectiveness as part of a self-regulatory feedback cycle aimed at keeping the organism "on track" in its pursuit of important objectives. Our clinical observations led us to believe that the self-regulatory introspective process in clinical child-abuse survivor populations cannot be effectively terminated by withdrawal from the self-regulatory feedback cycle. Clinical populations of trauma survivors often display a particular form of withdrawal from painful awareness called dissociation that has been shown to have a posttraumatic etiology (e.g., Kluft, 1991; Spiegel & Cardena, 1991). Because dissociation involves the disintegration of normally integrated systems of the self, such as memory, thoughts, sensations, feelings, behavior and awareness, we posit that trauma-related dissociation may impede the self-regulatory feedback cycle thought to be associated with growth-promoting reflective introspection, leaving survivors trapped in a chronic, distressful introspective state. We also believe that psycho-traumatic injuries require the inward allocation of attention resources and that this inward allocation of resources can, in turn, interfere with adequate monitoring of the external environment, hence contributing to the experience of dissociation. In this study we examined the role of introspectiveness in the aftermath of trauma and its relationship to dissociation and emotional distress. We predicted (1) a positive relationship between past traumatization and introspective self-monitoring, possibly reflecting an inescapable effort to control painful reminders. We expected that introspectiveness would be associated with emotional distress and predicted that (2) past trauma, introspectiveness and dissociation would emerge as co-occurring phenomena, not unlike the contradictory symptom clusters in Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (intrusiveness and numbing/avoidance). …