Trauma creates major shifts—shifts in mindset, in the way you see the world and in the way you see yourself. Major trauma can transform your identity and cause you to take on characteristics shaped solely by the traumatic experience. To a certain extent, the transformative power of trauma is normal, but for survivors to heal, they must develop a post-trauma identity that is independent of their traumatic experiences. Let’s take a closer look at how you can successfully develop an identity after trauma:
Examine your pre-trauma identity.
How did you view the world and your place in it before your traumatic experience? Which of your perceptions were accurate? Which personality traits did you like or dislike? For example, if you are an assault survivor, did you view the world as a safe place before your assault? Did you view yourself as a forgiving person or street smart? As you examine your perceptions and identity before trauma, withhold any judgments, simply note your observations.
How did the traumatic experience change your identity?
Take an honest look at how you’ve changed since the traumatic event. Are you less outgoing? Less trusting? More likely to avoid certain places? How do you view yourself now? Do you feel more vulnerable? Less capable of protecting yourself? Is your identity rooted in the traumatic event? For example, do you view yourself as a war survivor or abuse survivor as opposed to a parent and spouse? If so, how does this new identity shape your interactions with the world or with your family and friends?
It’s important to note that most trauma survivors’ identity is shaped by their experience with trauma to some extent. Because trauma changes your understanding of the world, it’s normal that it will also change your understanding of yourself. However, it’s important that trauma survivors develop an identity that isn’t solely shaped by their traumatic experiences.
Who do you want to become?
Just as you’ve been changed by trauma, you can also decide to continue to transform your identify and the way you see the world long after any traumatic event. Take another look at your current identity. What are the characteristics you like and dislike? And what are the characteristics you wish you had? For example, if you find that your traumatic experience has caused you to become more socially isolated, maybe you would like to develop your social skills and make new friends. As you create your list of characteristics for your new self, remember that these are the things you want to become despite the trauma you’ve experienced.
As you move forward to develop your post-trauma identity, remember to be kind to yourself and take baby steps towards your recovery.