mental health Mandy Kloppers

Dissociation, avoidant coping and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder

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Emotional avoidance is a common symptom of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), serving as a way for people with PTSD to escape painful or difficult emotions.

Avoidance refers to any action designed to prevent the occurrence of an uncomfortable emotion such as fear, sadness, or shame. For example, a person may try to avoid difficult emotions through the use of substances or dissociation.

Dissociation disrupts four areas of personal functioning that usually operate together smoothly, automatically, and with few or no problems:

  • Consciousness
  • Identity
  • Memory
  • Self-awareness and awareness of surroundings

Breaks in this system of automatic functions cause the symptoms of dissociation. Dissociation can range from a mild sense of detachment to a more severe disconnection from reality and can occur as a result of an earlier trauma such as illness, war, child abuse, accidents and natural disasters. Many people still suffer PTSD symptoms as a result of the Covid pandemic.

PTSD and dissociation

If you have a condition such as PTSD or a dissociative disorder, you may sometimes have felt “disconnected” from yourself. If so, you may have experienced common but distressing incidents like these:

  • Having flashbacks to traumatic events
  • Feeling that you’re briefly losing touch with events going on around you (similar to daydreaming)
  • “Blanking out” or being unable to remember anything for a period of time
  • Memory loss about certain events, people, information, or time periods
  • A distorted or blurred sense of reality
  • Feeling disconnected or detached from your emotions
  • Feeling that the world around you is unreal and distorted
  • Feeling numb or distant from yourself and your surroundings2
  • An altered sense of time and place

The avoidance cluster symptoms of PTSD

People engaging in avoidance may feel emotionally numb, such as feeling distant from others, losing interest in activities they used to enjoy, or having trouble experiencing positive feelings such as happiness or love. Avoiding emotional experiences is common among people who have PTSD. Emotional numbness can result from high levels of stress. If you’re feeling burnt out, emotionally or physically exhausted, or overwhelmed, you might feel detached from your feelings.

Research shows that people with PTSD often try to avoid or “push away” their emotions, both emotions about a traumatic experience and emotions in general. In addition, it has been found that trying to avoid feeling emotions may make some PTSD symptoms worse or even contribute to the development of PTSD symptoms after experiencing a traumatic event.


Mandy Kloppers
Author: Mandy Kloppers

Mandy is a qualified therapist who treats depression, anxiety, OCD, PTSD, trauma, and many other types of mental health issues. She provides online therapy around the world for those needing support and also provides relationship counselling.