May 23, 2010

Book Review -The Haunted Self; van der Hart, Nijenhuis and Steele

Structural Dissociation of the Personality

The leading theorists on the subject recognize that reactions to extreme stress can lead to one or more differing diagnosis, and that inherent in said traumatic reactions is structural dissociation of the personality. Where three types of structural dissociation have been postulated: primary structural dissociation, secondary structural dissociation and tertiary structural dissociation.

Primary structural dissociation involves simple PTSD, and dissociative amnesia, where the Emotional Personality (EP) and the Apparently Normal Personality (ANP) have become disenfranchised or fragmented. The EP " fixated in the trauma and associated experiences....[and the ANP] fixated in avoidance of the trauma, manifesting detachment, numbing, and partial or complete amnesia" (Steele, van der Hart, and Nijenhuis, n.d., para. 8).

PTSD is not only about personal protection or self preservation but in its essence a mechanism of such endeavors, thus becoming a self-perpetual entity in of itself (the EP can develop into a sub-personality, a component of Dissociative Identity Disorder [DID]). Almost as if it has become self-aware and not only will it steer one away from danger, but also away from its own demise; a seemingly serendipitous supra-intelligent guidance of the subconscious.

The EP has evolutionary roots in defensive mechanisms that propelled us through the traumatic experience(s), an inborn reactionary system that can become entrenched within the mind. The EP's success in our survival leads us to firmly identify with this part of ourselves and engages in obsessive and compulsive rumination of the defensive mechanisms and exhibits as symptomatology.

The ANP has become the mode of operation whereby the individual can engage everyday operational tasks. Such as "...attachment, energy management, reproduction and rearing of children, socialization, play, and exploration" (para. 12). To do so, the ANP’s main function is to avoid the intrusive thoughts and fear potentials.

In a constant threat environment, the evolutionary response system and the benefits of survival further encapsulates the differentiated states of mind. Secondary structural dissociation is a result of this prolonged and saturated state of being. A fluid environment demands that we engage in concerted efforts to survive, to do otherwise means death. Animalistic reflexive defense mechanisms such as the fight or flight response or submissive freezing, delve into the realm of “…complex PTSD or disorders of extreme stress (DES), trauma-induced borderline personality disorder, and dissociative disorders not otherwise specified” (para. 12).

Tertiary structural dissociation results from the complete fragmentation of the EP and the ANP. Whereby numerous ANP’s can develop to engage different aspects of a persons life, such as putting on your “work hat” to enable the separation of a traumatic existence to a work self, the social self, etc. Here we find the diagnosis of DID, where traumatic associations or triggers have inundated the individual and submerges them into a function of constantly changing identities governed by situational exchanges.


  1. Ok, this may sound a bit strange, but I've been trying for years to find a proper way to find a solution to this. I'm hoping your experiences and struggles can lead me in the right direction.

    I knew a man who entered the National Guard when he was already diagnosised with DID. He also has severe depression and anxiety. Before his first deployment he was hospitalized for a few days. This was covered up. He was then deployed for a year, refused medication, and nothing was done. This man was given a gun and allowed into combat situations. He is a danger to himself and others. He is now being deployed again.

    Is there anything I can do? Is there anything I should do? It just seems like there is no way I can properly report something like this. Or do I just leave it alone?

  2. Not sounding strange at have uncovered the ugly truth about the revolving door of multiple deployment. We have our soldier's who on average are having 3 an 4 tours of duty. That's 3 or 4 years of combat. In WWII the US was only in the war for 4 years and the average soldier had 1 tour of duty.

    To get as many soldiers to the battle zone they use and reuse our soldiers until they are used up.

    Do you do something about that? Depends on your investment to the cause, I live it so I have no other choice. You...maybe the least you could do is talk to everyone you know and tell them what is being done to our soldiers and veterans.

  3. Great article Scott - thanks.

  4. I am searching for a therapist in houston who has read this book and can work with me. I am relocating from europe and need to continue therapy in houston


Please share your comments, stories and information. Thank you. ~ Scott Lee