• advertisement

Our Mental Health Blogs

PTSD and Your Lost Self: 3 Ways to Reconnect

My trauma happened in childhood and completely severed me from any healthy sense of self. Later, one of my biggest problems in recovery from posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) was this: I felt completely disconnected from who I had been before my trauma and who I had never had the chance to be because of my trauma. I grieved that lost girl and the woman she might have become. In fact, the grief I experienced was so vivid it felt like a jab in my soul. I resented that trauma had taken from me so many opportunities at the same time that it turned me into someone I neither liked nor completely understood.

Reclaiming a Sense of Connection After Trauma

One of my biggest problems in recovery from posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) was this: I felt completely disconnected from who I had been before my trauma.Then, one day I noticed that while I wasn’t who I was, or could have been, there were some good things about who I had become. In fact, there seemed to be a self that was wanting to come out but, caught in the vortex of PTSD symptoms, I didn’t know how to let her become who she wanted to be. Discovering how to engage and succeed in that process was a major hallmark of my recovery.

It always amazes me how we can feel something in recovery that feels so unique and personal to us, and then discover that other people feel it too. Yesterday I received this question from a survivor:

. . . my trauma that changed me . . . The person I was is buried deep . . . she tries to come out . . . What are things you can do to help get back to being a you that’s better and stronger?

That’s a fantastic and proactive question to ask in the PTSD recovery process. The more you develop focus and desire the more you reclaim control and purpose, which leads to success.

Connecting with Your Self Lost to PTSD

Whether you have a clear before/after break, or never had a chance to know yourself without trauma, it is possible to transform the pain of the past “if only” feeling. The process of learning how to become the person I wanted to be versus the person trauma turned me into was long and challenging, but I learned three important things along the way:

  1. You cannot go back to who you used to be. I spent a long time trying to go back; when that failed, I tried to imitate who I had been. Neither work. That old person didn’t know all the things you now do know about yourself, others and the world. That new information will always be present in any identity you choose.
  2. You can bring the past into your present. If you can remember who you used to be then you can identify what you valued back then and see how that aligns with what you value now. Offering yourself new experiences that link up to old values is one way of creating a connection between your past and your present. If you can’t remember a self before trauma, then you can use your imagination (a very key element in neuroplasticity, by the way) to create an image of who that would have been, identify what values that represents, and also create new experiences that allow you to embody those values.
  3. You can choose to go forward into the future. It’s easy to think that who you were or didn’t have the chance to be is better than who you can become. That’s false. While PTSD symptoms make you feel less than, your more than self waits to be discovered. One way to start moving in that direction is by becoming clear on who you want to be when you have achieved your recovery goals. What kind of person is that? Your perception of that can begin with a person who has reduced or even eliminated symptoms and then expand into how you will live, work, love, laugh, play, etc.

Trauma leaves in its wake many losses; resolving the loss that deeply affects identity is a core element of recovery and healing. In my own process, this meant acknowledging who I had become and what I didn’t like about myself, recognizing what I missed about my old self and finding ways to reconnect, creating a vision of who I wanted to be and setting up experiences that allowed me to explore, discover, embrace and embody the elements that made me feel a connection to that. The shift from powerless to powerful in PTSD healing must go all the way down to the core of who you are—of your identity. It gains strength from linking to your other selves in ways that resolve pain and loss, plus increase action and connection.

Michele is the author of Your Life After Trauma: Powerful Practices to Reclaim Your IdentityConnect with her on Google+LinkedInFacebookTwitter and her blog

8 thoughts on “PTSD and Your Lost Self: 3 Ways to Reconnect”

  1. PTSD since the age of 5, ( incest) Have recurring more and more different PTSD’s? I had tried to kill myself in the 1980’s by drinking, my family labled me an alcoholic and bi polar. Yes, after 3 yrs of drinking it took alot of work not to become bi polar from drinking.I am not on med’s nor seek therapy at the age of 58 now. I’m not over anything just trying to enjoy my life. ( I am afraid to enjoy A glass of wine around them, have to sneak with friends) If I show any sense of emotion like cry over the lose of my dog or my siser (who passed 10 yrs ago) or something they tell me it’s ok you are bi polar OMG

  2. Wow! I love it when I hear things more than once in just a few days that’s when I know to listen! I was just telling my therapist I wanted to go back to being the person I was before the memories of trauma came rushing in to my life 8 years ago. My trauma was 35 years ago and I repressed it all that time.I love what you said “The shift from powerless to powerful in PTSD healing must go all the way down to the core of who you are—of your identity. It gains strength from linking to your other selves in ways that resolve pain and loss, plus increase action and connection.” Can I quote you on my blog? http://healingtakesalifetime.blogspot.com/ Don’t know if it helps but my therapist told me “you have always been who you are and it is just a matter of healing” which is why I love your comment. Thanks = mauigirl

    1. @Lisa, sorry for the delayed response! Yes, absolutely, quote me any time and spread the healing word; we’re all in this together. If you have a blogpost about some positive aspect of healing feel free to contact me about reposting it in the Survivors Speak series on HealMyPTSD.com.

  3. I have suffered extreme PTSD I was a soldier for a few years should have died in a car accident and left me with nothing but my life recovered fully that was the easy part diagnosed with a panic attack disorder and came off clonazepam all with in 2 and half years every day I feel every emotion a human can feel but I make the best out of it nothing is imposable im 20 years old and accomplished so dam much under my circumstances and in a nut shell what I do every day is failure is not an option so the only option is success, I takes time and with ptsd although you want to wake up and you want it to be gone it wont you have to cope using the right methods that work for you 🙂

  4. What do you do if your incest was when you were still in diapers and you hadn’t even developed yet. Then how do you know who you are without the trauma?

    1. I think that you (me) would have to try to remember the things that have spoken to me over the years – little things, wild things, almost always dismissed and certainly don’t know what to do with them things. Like for me- even though abuse taught me to keep my head down and not attract any attention, I’ve always been fascinated by cosplay and people who dye their hair wild colors. Or sometimes it’s the things that make us jealous. When I see someone doing ___ , I feel angry and jealous. (For me, people who create freely and enjoy having a body like snowboarding, sports, dance) It’s hard to see who we are without the abuse in the picture, and not because there is some negative payoff like some books say. But because it’s always been there. There was no before time to connect to, no safe place to go back to in memory. As I heal my stuff, I don’t even know who is emerging, what she will look like, how her life will be. I just know it’s good and worthwhile. And If I just take care of a piece today, eventually the puzzle will fit together.

  5. This hit the nail on the head for me. My trauma was the end of a very serious relationship that completely shatter my world. Because of how important it was to and the extremely hurtful way they ended it. I was finally able really see it for what it was. For a while i just kind of did my thing and lived my life. At first i got right back on my feet. Then things between us got uglier. And round two of pain happened. For a while i isolated myself and then summer came and i started being social again. Making new friends. Creating a new memories as if the entire span of that relationship never happened. As time went on i noticed my mind was more aware of reality and i began questioning mine. I didn’t really give it much thought other than trying to suppress it until the aanniversary of a friends death and the sheer question of why she had to die was the straw that broken my mental dam and i lost it. I started meds and they have helped but since November ive been deciphering the construction that my mind has done. A week ago i finally got my appointment with a psychologist and she labeled everything i told her as signs of ptsd. It makes sense. But it also makes it hurt more, knowing just how much I’ve lost. I lost all trust in myself, my thoughts, and my memories. Reading this article lets me know that I’m not alone in this. I don’t have the common, easy to tell symptoms. For a year and a half no one could tell. Even my therapist was surprise , but she agreed it made sense. But this is completely accurate for what has happened to me. Thank you for these tips. And good luck in your continued recovery.

    1. @Kristin, I’m so glad the ideas resonate with you! Sounds like you’re on the road to recovery yourself. Freedom is a glorious thing — I’ve been healed for almost a decade and can vouch for the powerful transitions recovery brings.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Follow Us

Subscribe to Blog

  • advertisement

in Trauma! A PTSD Blog Comments

Mental Health Newsletter

Sign up for the HealthyPlace mental health newsletter for latest news, articles, events.

Mental Health
Newsletter Subscribe Now!

Mental Health Newsletter

Sign up for the HealthyPlace mental health newsletter for latest news, articles, events.

Log in

Login to your account

Username *
Password *
Remember Me