You trust no one, see danger everywhere, and walk with a sense of powerlessness and worry even while at the same time you may develop an aggressiveness you don’t understand. Slowly you morph into a tight, controlled, rigid, restrictive, anxious, fearful, numb and disconnected individual. What happened to who you used to be? What happened to the person who believed in goodness, in safety, in connection, in your own confidence and self-efficacy, in your essential purpose and experience here on earth?
Trauma is what happened. Author Michele Rosenthal elaborates:
Right now you’re inhabiting a trauma identity. Or, as I often call it, a survivor identity: a way of seeing yourself and your world through the perspective of victimhood, threat, danger, symptoms, and the need to keep yourself safe.
In her book Your Life After Trauma: Powerful Practices to Reclaim Your Identity (W.W. Norton, 2015), Rosenthal creates a detailed pathway to take to move out of a trauma identity and into who you want to be. This approach may surprise people who think they simply are who they are, and it will surprise the many trauma survivors who believe the trauma they survived irreparably “broke” them.
One of the best parts of this work is that Rosenthal acknowledges that many of us never had a “before” identity, having experienced trauma so early that we never had a chance to create a non-traumatized identity. We, too, she says, can become the person we dream of. What it takes, in addition to identifying the personality components you want to have, is repetition. She spends a great deal of time explaining how neuroplasticity works, and how you can use it.
It’s not, of course, all about choosing:
In their quest to develop one self with core control of their identity, many of my clients discover that the self they choose needs to develop additional skills before it is truly ready to take control.
Some of the skills she’s referring to are the typical ones of learning to do something you have never done before, but many of them are habits of mind that will help solidify your emerging self. Other steps include acknowledging your lost self, validating yourself now, and making a blueprint for your future self. The last chapter presents ten common obstacles to creating your post-trauma identity along with practical suggestions for overcoming each of them.
Creating a new self post-trauma isn’t easy, but with Rosenthal’s help it may be possible.