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Trauma or Personality Dysfunction: Unraveling the Complex Relationship

Scrabble pieces spelling "Who are you"

In the world of mental health, the interplay between trauma and personality dysfunction is a fascinating and intricate subject. Trauma refers to distressing experiences that overwhelm an individual’s ability to cope, while personality dysfunction involves patterns of thoughts, emotions, and behaviors that deviate from norms and impact personal and interpersonal functioning. One question that often arises is whether the symptoms lead to a personality disorder diagnosis or if trauma plays a significant role in shaping an individual’s personality. In this article, we will explore this relationship, shedding light on interesting facts and information that can help us better understand this complex interconnection.

Trauma’s Impact on Personality

Trauma encompasses diverse experiences like physical or emotional abuse, neglect, accidents, loss of a loved one, or exposure to violence. In response to these overwhelming events, individuals may develop a spectrum of emotional and behavioral reactions as coping mechanisms. When confronted with trauma, the body and mind initiate a stress response, triggering the release of stress hormones such as cortisol and adrenaline. This physiological reaction readies the individual for fight, flight, freeze, or fawn responses in the face of danger. Furthermore, traumatic experiences can lead to neurobiological changes within the brain, particularly in regions linked to emotional regulation and memory. These alterations can significantly impact an individual’s personality traits and how they respond to subsequent stressors.

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Author

Tina Balachandran

Clinical Director & Clinical Psychologist

Tina is a licensed clinical psychologist with over 18 years of experience across clinical, aviation, and organisational settings. As a Certified Complex Trauma Professional, she uses an integrative strength-based approach to work with adults dealing with trauma and consults with organisations following critical incidents. She also works with couples, helping them learn how to replace negative conflict patterns with positive interactions, repair past hurts, and begin creating a shared meaning and purpose in their relationship.

The Development of Personality Dysfunction

Personality development takes root in childhood, profoundly shaped by early experiences and interactions with caregivers and the environment. When children undergo trauma during pivotal developmental phases, they might develop maladaptive coping strategies and enduring personality traits that extend into adulthood. In the realm of personality dysfunction, defense mechanisms are frequently employed to shield oneself from distressing emotions or thoughts. While mechanisms like denial, projection, and dissociation can offer short-term relief, they may impede emotional growth and the cultivation of healthy interpersonal relationships in the long term. At times, personality disorders emerge, marked by persistent behavior patterns that change course from societal norms, ultimately causing notable distress and functional impairment. Examples include borderline, narcissistic, avoidant, and obsessive-compulsive personality disorders.

Trauma’s Role in Personality Dysfunction

Traumatic experiences can serve as precursors to the emergence of personality dysfunction, as exemplified by the development of avoidant personality traits in individuals who endured severe emotional neglect during childhood, posing challenges for establishing close adult relationships. Research underscores the co-occurrence of trauma and personality disorders, with trauma potentially exacerbating existing dysfunction or contributing to the emergence of supplementary symptoms linked to specific personality disorders. Additionally, complex trauma, characterized by prolonged exposure to traumatic events, can give rise to Complex Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (C-PTSD). This condition shares symptomatic parallels with personality disorders, including emotional dysregulation, interpersonal complexities, and disturbances in identity.

The Chicken or the Egg: Symptoms Leading to Diagnosis

The process of determining whether symptoms primarily stem from trauma or indicate a personality disorder presents complexities. Mental health professionals navigate this challenge through comprehensive assessments, encompassing an individual’s history, life experiences, and present symptoms to ensure accurate diagnoses. While trauma undeniably shapes personality development and can foster the emergence of maladaptive traits, it’s imperative to acknowledge that not everyone experiencing trauma develops a personality disorder. The development of personality is a multifaceted interplay of genetic, environmental, and experiential factors. While trauma can be a significant contributor, it often intertwines with other life elements that collectively influence an individual’s personality trajectory.

Trauma-Informed Treatment and Support

  1. Holistic Approach: Regardless of whether symptoms stem from trauma, personality dysfunction, or both, a holistic approach to treatment is essential. Understanding the role of trauma in an individual’s life can inform the therapeutic process and help tailor interventions accordingly.
  2. Psychotherapy: Various therapeutic modalities, such as cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), dialectical behavior therapy (DBT), and psychodynamic therapy, can be effective in addressing both trauma and personality dysfunction. Trauma-focused therapies, such as Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR), can specifically target trauma-related symptoms.
  3. Creating Safe Spaces: Trauma-informed care emphasizes creating safe and supportive environments for individuals seeking help. Compassion, validation, and understanding are vital components of this approach.

The relationship between trauma and personality dysfunction is complex and multifaceted. While trauma can undoubtedly impact personality development and contribute to the emergence of maladaptive traits, it is essential to recognize that personality disorders result from a combination of genetic, environmental, and experiential factors. In understanding this interplay, mental health professionals can provide trauma-informed care that addresses both the underlying trauma and the associated personality dysfunction, fostering healing and growth for those in need. For individuals facing these challenges, seeking professional support is a crucial step towards reclaiming control over their lives and well-being.

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Author

Tina Balachandran

Clinical Director & Clinical Psychologist

Tina is a licensed clinical psychologist with over 18 years of experience across clinical, aviation, and organisational settings. As a Certified Complex Trauma Professional, she uses an integrative strength-based approach to work with adults dealing with trauma and consults with organisations following critical incidents. She also works with couples, helping them learn how to replace negative conflict patterns with positive interactions, repair past hurts, and begin creating a shared meaning and purpose in their relationship.

Dr. Iram Kassis

Consultant Psychiatrist

Bhavna Sharma Naik

Bhavna Sharma NaikBhavna is an embodiment of expression in Hindi, and what better way to convey her feelings than through the art of dance and movement. From the tender age of 5, she has dedicated her life to learning, practicing, and performing various dance forms from around the world. Dance has been her refuge, helping her navigate through pain, hurt, and worries, ultimately leading her to the path of sharing this wisdom through rhythm and movement therapy. With over 22 years of teaching experience, Bhavna has transformed numerous students, spanning kids, adults, and children with autism, using movement as a medium for both enjoyment and meditation. She firmly believes that movement serves as a non-verbal language that connects body, mind, and soul, enabling individuals to express their inner selves. As a Visharad in Indian classical dance and holding certifications in yoga, Pilates, fitness, and a diploma in special needs education, Bhavna is well-equipped to guide others on their transformative journey through dance and movement.

Latifa Al Kuwari

With a passion for museums and a background in art history, Latifa Al-Kuwari serves as Head of Academic & Outreach at 321 Qatar Olympic & Sports Museum and a mother of three. With her 5 years experience in the Learning & Outreach Department she creates and delivers special programs tailored for diverse audiences. Her expertise lies in fostering museum engagement & enriching educational experiences for museum visitors.
Mo Eraky

Mohamed Eraky

Coach Mo Eraky is a dedicated father of two girls, aged 9 and 6, making him an advocate for women’s empowerment by default. With an impressive 20-year career in aviation, he boasts 9 years of experience in commercial, sales, and events, as well as 11 years in talent management. Coach Mo is the founder of the Baby Steps Marathon in Strava, coaches the Wireless Warriors Dragon Boat team, and proudly serves as an Asics Frontrunner Ambassador. He’s a true triathlon and sports enthusiast, holding certifications as an ICF-PCC coach, CPLP-ATD Performance Consultant, NLP Practitioner, DiSC Practitioner, and an expert in emotional intelligence and situational leadership. As an Aviation Management Professional (AvMP) and cancer survivor, Coach Mo’s resilience shines through, having lived in various countries, including Qatar, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and Bristol-UK for the past two decades. He embodies strength and passion in all aspects of life.

Sheldon Smith

Sheldon Smith

Founding Principal, Northview International School

Experienced Principal with a demonstrated history of working in the education management industry. He has been working away from Canada for the past 24 years, covering Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand and Qatar. In Qatar, he previously worked for Al Khor International School (8 years) and Al Jazeera Academy (4 years).

Anshu Jain

Anshu Jain

A versatile on-stage personality with over 13 years of experience in hosting 250+ events, spanning sports, corporate, and entertainment. A sought-after digital content creator known for creativity. A successful brand promoter, explorer, and fashion enthusiast. A seasoned voice-over artist with a track record of prestigious projects and a facilitator for talk shows.
Kirsten Hutchison

Kirsten Hutchison, MT-BC

Kirsten is a board-certified music therapist from the United States. She has practiced music therapy for children and adults for over 15 years, in the US and Qatar. She specializes in working with children and teens with developmental and behavioral disabilities and differences, and loves using music to support learning and growth. She has lived in Doha for 5 years. When she’s not doing music, she loves playing games with her family, crocheting, and exploring the beautiful world we live in.

Kamila Janik, MSC, BCBA

Kamila JanikIn her professional capacity as the Director at the Child Development Center (CDC) for Special Needs, Kamila’s role involves supervising the provision of multi-disciplinary therapy services for children with autism and related developmental disorders. Kamila strongly believes in the provision of trauma-informed, empathetic, and child- and parent-centered therapy, which includes approaches such as music therapy, play-based ABA therapy, speech therapy, feeding therapy and occupational therapy. Kamila is a Board Certified Behavior Analyst (BCBA), who holds a Masters degree in Disability and Rehabilitation Studies, and is currently completing her doctorate in Education with a special focus on mental health and wellbeing of mothers of children with autism. At CDC, Kamila has incorporated approaches such as mindfulness and music therapy for reducing anxiety, stress, and enhancing emotional regulation and overall mental wellbeing among children and parents of children with autism disabilities and therapists.

Stefan Lindberg-Jones

Stefan Lindberg-Jones

Stefan Lindberg-Jones, a seasoned entrepreneur and host of “The Head Guy Podcast,” is a dedicated advocate for mental health. As the CEO and Owner of Ginger Camel LLC and Lindberg-Jones Ltd, his journey, marked by personal challenges including dyslexia, divorce, bankruptcy, and pandemic-related setbacks, has deepened his commitment to mental well-being. Stefan’s podcasting career began with “Your Onion Podcast” in 2016, running until 2022, and transitioned into “The Head Guy Podcast,” where he engages in insightful conversations exploring mental health, resilience, and success. He also founded “The Pancake Club,” a community fostering support and mentorship among entrepreneurs. Stefan’s inspiring journey underscores the importance of mental health in life and entrepreneurship, making him a beacon of hope and wisdom for others.
Arafa Alhammadi

Arafa Alhammadi

Offers specialized programs in holistic health, EQ life coaching, self-awareness, wellness, and fitness, personal and professional development and training as well as real-world applications, for those who are interested in self- or career development.
Najla Al Kuwari

Najla Al Kuwari

Mother to 4 boys and founder of young mothers Qatar, which is an educational initiative directed to new mothers. We discuss all matters relating to pregnancy, birth, breastfeeding and newborn care on social media platforms.

I am also a member of national maternal mental health committee and an advocate for mental health awareness.

Menatalla Metwally Said ElBadway

Menatalla Metwally Said ElBadway

I am a fourth-year medical student with a minor in computer science, deeply passionate about mental health advocacy and patient rights. I bring a diverse range of experiences to the table, including serving as the President of the Qatar University Student Surgical Society, Founder and President of the Qatar University Student Surgical Society, and a current College Representative at Qatar University. I also have a background in social media marketing and event organization, having interned at QU Health and worked with the Qatar Interprofessional Education Student Association. My skills encompass Adobe Photoshop, marketing, video production, social media management, event planning, and more. I’m excited to contribute to the Flourishing Minds Festival and support the cause of mental health as a universal right.

Mahnaz Mousavi

Dr. Mahnaz Mousavi

Mahnaz Mousavi is the Director of Student Wellness & Counseling Center at Georgetown University in Qatar. Dr. Mousavi, is a licensed psychologist in the District of Columbia, U.S.A and is a BCIA Board Certified in General Biofeedback. She earned her Ph.D. in Counseling Psychology from the University of Akron in Ohio and her postdoctoral master’s degree in Clinical Psychopharmacology from the California School of Professional Psychology in California. Dr. Mousavi’s initial master’s degree in Clinical Psychology is earned from Iran University of Medical Sciences in Tehran. As an integrationist, some of her areas of interest include working with young adults, crisis intervention, childhood abuse, trauma, psychological assessment, mindfulness, and biofeedback, with a focus on multicultural and cross-cultural counseling and counseling university students. Her academic contributions include a book in Iran on Childhood Abuse in Iran, articles in peer-reviewed journals, and regular presentations at conferences and meetings.

Noura Al-Thawadi

NouraA pioneer and coach, she is the founder of the be.fit180o team and the QAthletics Academy. She is the first Qatari coach targeting age groups from 4 to 14 years old for running and jumping since 2019. She holds a diploma in sports club and sports institution management and is a Level 3 running and fitness coach.

Iain Tulley

Iain TulleyIain Tulley spent 35 years in UK Healthcare, 15 years as Chief Executive.

Prior to joining HMC, he was Chief Executive of Avon and Wiltshire Mental Health Partnership NHS Trust, one of the largest mental health Trusts in England. He was previously Chief Executive of Devon Partnership NHS Trust and East Devon Primary Care Trust. Tulley has held a number of senior healthcare management posts; he also worked at the Department of Health and was involved in developing a National Service Framework for Mental Health in the UK. He originally trained as a nurse in Scotland before retraining and becoming a manager. During his time as Chief Executive, he has promoted clinical leadership, enabling clinicians to lead and develop services for the benefit of patients. He describes his only priority as improving the quality of the patient experience.

He believes that the development of Mental Health Services in Qatar will further enhance the world ranking of our health system.

Moses Amonje

Moses AmonjeMoses is a Physical Literacy and Physical Activity Champion, with vast experience, of over 18 years in youth empowerment, community development, project planning, project implementation, networking, resource mobilization, and working at different levels from grassroots, national, and international levels. He has extensive experience working with diverse groups of individuals in both local and global capacities.

As the Acting Head of Activation, at the Qatar Olympic and Sports Museum, Moses advocates for the promotion of physical activity and consumption of healthy diets from a tender age so as to prevent and manage the sharp rise in Non-communicable and Cardiovascular diseases including mental health among the Qatar Population.

Through the Activation Zone at the Qatar Olympic and Sports Museum, Moses supports the public in achieving their health and fitness goals by equipping them with the knowledge and skills needed to take control of their health, and overall wellness, by introducing them to physical activity, and sports.

Amna AlMuhannadi

Amna AlMuhannadiAmna AlMuhannadi is a certified Ayurvedic lifestyle instructor and a psychological and social counselor with over a decade of experience in the field of health and wellness. She is recognized as an influencer in promoting healthy living and wellness tourism.

Amna provides workshops, consultations, and retreats, and she is a co-founder of ATLAAD, a natural beauty brand. Her approach involves blending alternative medicine and ancient healing practices with modern science to achieve holistic well-being.

Dr. Mohammed Jaham Al-Kuwari

Dr. Mohammed Jaham Al-KuwariDr. Mohammed Jaham Al-Kuwari boasts a remarkable career as both a General and bariatric Surgeon and a prominent figure in the world of sports administration.

Previously served at the esteemed Hamad Medical Corporation, Dr. Al-Kuwari has become a distinguished consultant in General and bariatric Surgery, currently practicing at The Masters Medical Center. His medical expertise and dedication to improving the well-being of his patients have earned him a reputation as a compassionate and skilled healthcare professional.

Beyond his medical endeavors, Dr. Al-Kuwari is a passionate cyclist and accomplished triathlete. His love for these sports led him to co-found the Qatar Cyclist Center, a hub for nurturing local cycling talent. In 2016, he received a resounding vote of confidence when he was elected President of the Qatar Cycling Federation, a role in which he excelled.

During his tenure, Dr. Al-Kuwari has been a tireless advocate for promoting cycling and triathlon sports in Qatar. His visionary leadership has seen the organization evolve, leading to the creation of a dedicated Triathlon unit within the Federation in 2017. As a result, the Federation has been rebranded as the Qatar Cycling and Triathlon Federation, reflecting his commitment to expanding the reach and appeal of these sports.

Dr. Mohammed Jaham Al-Kuwari’s multifaceted contributions, both in the medical field and the world of sports, make him an exceptional individual who continues to impact the lives of many in Qatar positively.

Suhaila A. H. Ghuloum,
FRCPsych, L.R.C.P& S.I., M.B., B.Ch., B.A.0

Dr. Suhaila GhuloumDr. Ghuloum is a Senior Consultant Psychiatrist at Hamad Medical Corporation, Professor at Doha Institute for Graduate Studies, and an Associate Professor of clinical psychiatry at Weill Cornell Medicine, Qatar.

She has national and international involvements in mental health, including with the GCC, WHO, the Arab Board, the Royal College of Psychiatrists, the World Psychiatric Association, and the World Federation for Mental Health. She was a key member in drafting the Qatar Mental Health Strategy and Law.

Dr. Ghuloum has several research projects and publications, in addition to presentations at regional and international conferences.

Joanna Rekik

Joanna RekikJoanna, a wife and mom of three boys, spent over a decade calling Qatar home. Transitioning from the corporate world, she recently embarked on a new journey, becoming a business owner specializing in digital marketing. Beyond her professional pursuits, Joanna is a passionate advocate for mental health, emphasizing the significance of work-life balance and prioritizing self-care for mothers, readily sharing her experiences through her blog, “Mama in Transit”.

Shefa Ali

Shefa AliShefa, with over 15 years of corporate experience, is a leading figure in coaching and motivation in Qatar. Her background in corporate communications and her roles as a Life & Business Coach, Motivational Speaker, and Wellness Advocate have made her a sought-after expert. She divides her time between consulting, coaching, workshops, and delivering keynotes for various organizations. Shefa is also a prolific writer and editor, contributing to publications like The Conversation by Amanda de Cadenet and a weekly column in Gulf Times, a prominent newspaper in Qatar. Her diverse client base includes organizations across multiple industries.

Dr. Nelli El-Ghazal

Nelli El-GhazalDr. Nelli El-Ghazal holds a Ph.D. in School Psychology from the Pennsylvania State University and serves as a Child and Adolescent Psychologist in the Department of Psychiatry, with an instructional role at Weill Cornell Medical College. Her extensive background encompasses experience in the U.S. school system and private practice. Since joining Sidra in 2017, her clinical focus has revolved around addressing school-related emotional and behavioral challenges, as well as devising solutions for diverse learning and psychological needs. Dr. El-Ghazal actively collaborates with local schools to establish mental health support programs and frequently conducts training for parents, students, and faculty at educational institutions. She has also contributed as a guest lecturer at HMC and the Doha Institute of Graduate Studies, and she holds an associate editor position with an international school psychology journal.

Pierre Daniel

Pierre DanielFrench adventurer and endurance athlete, living in Doha for the past 15 years.

Marketing professional, with an everlasting passion for sport and physical activity. Through his journey, he became an ambassador for an active and healthy lifestyle. In 2018, Pierre ran 477km around Qatar in seven days, unassisted, establishing the Fastest Known Time for the circumnavigation of the country and setting a Guinness World Record at the time for the fastest north to south crossing of the country.

Through his personal development as an endurance athlete, Pierre developed a holistic approach in preparation for challenges, including physical and mental mindfulness, goal settings condition, preparedness, and more. Pierre is also a certified endurance coach, helping athletes develop their potential and reach their goals

Abubaker Ali

Abubaker AliFormer Qatar athletic and Coach.

Dr Ameera

Dr. Ameera Al-Kharaz

Dr. Ameera is a Consultant Psychiatrist at Hamad Medical Corporation (HMC) in Qatar. She completed her psychiatric board training at HMC and received commendation for her fellowship in Quality Improvement and Patient Safety from the HMC/Institute for Healthcare Improvement (IHI) Fellowship Program in 2016. Since 2019, she has served as an Improvement Advisor and Coach, earning certificates from IHI. Dr. Ameera has also successfully completed the CCITP, ICP, and QMEP Quality Programs at HMC.

She has a special interest in life and wellness coaching, helping individuals reach their full potential and lead healthier, more fulfilling lives.

Dr. Ameera finds fulfillment in her clinical work, collaborating with patients, and her role as a quality advocate, facilitating programs and quality improvement projects within the Mental Health Service and across HMC.