Healing dislodges that false self or identity that was created as a defense against our toxic environment. For years we wore this mask and pretended, finally when we have it off it feels weird. As though a big part of ourselves has been removed.
There is a kind of a void – an empty feeling. We are relieved of the heavy burden we carried but feel disoriented. Emotionally the negative energy is released but physically the traces still linger. We wake up thinking, Who am I? What really is my reality? We are in remission – we have beaten the demons but are still trying to make sense of who is the real ME.
We have let go of one shore and are not quite on the other side. It is confusing and exhausting, trying to stave off our earlier mindset. Like a newborn, we have to relearn and reorient ourselves to our new mental state. Moreover, it takes time to regain the person who was lost and build a stronger ‘ME’. We have recovered but are still in the process of finding and putting together our fractured selves.
Fractured Selves/Unstable Identity
Childhood trauma robs us of our sense of identity. It splits or fragments our still-developing personality. We build a persona to survive the hostile environment. Additionally, we have to partially and sometimes totally erase parts of ourselves in order to avoid being rejected or totally annihilated.
In response to trauma, the personality dissociates into at least two parts – Apparently Normal Part (ANP), the logical left hemisphere that attends to daily functioning, and Emotional Part (EP), the emotional right hemisphere which stores our unconscious memories of the trauma that we were unable to act upon.
You Can’t Fake It Till You Make It
My mother’s death was a painful loss. It was exacerbated by the subsequent insidious traumas, slowly adding to my cup of woes. Till finally, my narcissistic aunt accused me of trying to seduce her husband. The psychological blow cut me from my naturally developing sexuality. My development was arrested at 13 years. I felt 13, my responses were of a teen, physically my body remained stuck in mid-sexual development.
As I grew older, I felt like an anomaly and did not fit in. In social and work situations I had to be on guard, to know how to respond. I tried acting adult but I knew I was just faking it. Seriously, it is a lie that you can fake it till you make it. You have to really feel it, but you are unable to feel it because that hurt child got stuck in her pain and did not grow up.
You are unable to be present because you are mired in the past.
Trauma fractures our normal sense of the timeline, we get caught in a limbic loop. Any similar kind of event is enough to trigger one to a state of helplessness. For me, any male-sexual interest would send me back in time. I was unable to deal with romantic relationships and the only relationship I had was with a man, 20 years my senior – the father figure I desperately craved for.
Unfortunately, since my trauma occurred during my developmental stage my brain got wired in a faulty manner. So even after I was out of the abusive situation, my behavior and reactions were programmed to respond as though I was still in the war-zone Overwhelmed, hyper-alert, hyper-sensitive, and hyper-reactive.
Only until I could release that pain which I had suppressed did I start feeling present. The healing of that wounded little girl helped release the psychic armor I carried in my heart and body. I did not have to hold it all in, to be strong, to carry on.
Shedding The Layers – Trauma Identity
As we recover from our childhood trauma, we become more and more aware of our feelings and reactions. In fact, no longer are we in a constant state of reactivity. The unending stream of intrusive thoughts come to stop, gradually we realize that our thoughts are not our identity. We are someone else. And it feels frightening. Because for so long we held on to that pain identity and we have not known anything else.
Carolyn Myss coined the term, woundology, to describe how some people define themselves by their physical, emotional, or social wounds. In her book Why People Don’t Heal and How They Can, Myss states that many of us get addicted to our pain. Because it is what defines us.
It takes courage to explore our suffering and to peel away the layers of trauma. Healing requires we acknowledge, understand, accept, and grieve. We have to grieve for what happened, for the betrayal and hurt.
It also means letting go of the deep sense of loss of what could/should have been and accepting what really happened. It means letting go of our phantom life.
The Dark Night Of The Soul – Disintegration
As we heal, we come to realize how much our present day is controlled by our past. We developed so many coping strategies which may have helped us survive but are detrimental to our current lives. Gradually, we become aware of our personalities, our beliefs, our behavior and realize this is not who we really are. We know we have to change but those ingrained beliefs keep us locked in the prison of our minds.
In order to really heal we have to face the truth and let go of our protective defenses. It is means disintegrating the fake personas we created to survive our abusive childhoods. It feels frightening to let go of our carefully constructed facade. Nonetheless, we have to let go of the false ego we lived with. It is a real struggle to go through this ego death. However, we must face the dark night of the soul to release the trauma we suppressed. We may have to re-live it or at least re-visit it, in order to release its draconian hold. It is the only way to bring to light and begin anew.
Only until we can face, accept, and integrate all parts of ourselves can we begin to feel ‘whole again.
Ego death can feel scary because it is the ultimate threat to the ego: complete loss of “self,”. As a defense mechanism, the ego creates intense fear.
One of the reasons why psychedelics help heal trauma is they shatter the ego-held belief systems and dissolves the ego state surrounding the trauma.
The Void – Feeling Empty
The disintegration of our trauma identity creates a sense of ‘not-knowing who we really are. You feel light and free, the pain and intrusive memories no longer gnaw away your soul. But it feels strange. You just don’t know what to feel and how to react. You feel like a baby again learning to navigate the world and relationships.
We are present in the Now but are not sure WHO exactly is present.
Even though we want to let go of our past it can be hard to make a swift shift to a new identity. Daily relational dynamics could quickly send us back to our old way of functioning if we get stressed, challenged, or triggered.
Remission – Avoiding/ Managing Triggers
A cancer patient who is in remission has to take care not to trigger the cancer cells which may still be lurking within her body. She has to take precautions to avoid things that could precipitate a relapse. Same with those of us who have healed our trauma. We have to take steps to avoid being triggered into our old state of mind. All it takes for us to fall into the dark hole is a word, a tone of voice, a smell, a sensation, a face, a place, or any situation or thing that causes you to feel unsettled or fearful.
Awareness is the best self-protection. We need to avoid situations or people that we know will push our buttons. Or we need to know when to walk away.
And the moment we feel triggered and vulnerable, we need to immediately give ourselves emotional first-aid,
My never-fail strategy is to put on my headphones and listen to healing sound music. Getting back to our new mental state asap is important if we want to continue being in our new healed state. This period is critical for the re-wiring of our brain to its new state.
Survivors Need To Remember To Practice Emotional First Aid To Avoid Getting Re-traumatized
New Beginnings & New Identity
Beginnings are really an ‘in-between,’ times, the ‘not-knowing’ time. The beginning of a butterfly happens in-between the caterpillar and the butterfly.
The hardest times in life to go through were when you were transitioning from one version of yourself to another.
For me, it has been a big leap from a hurt 13-year old to a knowing 50-year-old woman. I do feel sad at having missed enjoying my teens, my 20s, 30s, and even 40s. I existed by did not really live.
As trauma survivors, we will be in remission for a long time. We may feel better, with a stronger sense of identity, and live in the present. Nevertheless, we will always have to be on our guard, protect our space, maintain boundaries, and not get sucked in other people’s dramas.
New Positive Experiences Rewire Our Brain
Each day can be an opportunity to explore and learn, with practice we will get better. The more positive experiences we have the stronger our sense of self gets, the stronger we feel the more confident we will feel navigating the world. Our experience of our past becomes integrated with our present.
New positive experiences cause our neurons to rewire and change faulty brain development. With brain change comes, come thought change, we automatically begin thinking different. That becomes our default state.
When you don’t have to think about how to feel, act or behave you know you have transitioned to your new identity – you feel reborn. And it really feels so good.
Image Source: Pixabay
Life After Trauma, Second Edition: A Workbook for Healing by Dena Rosenbloom
In an Unspoken Voice: How the Body Releases Trauma and Restores Goodness by Peter Levine
Choosing ME Before WE: Every Woman’s Guide to Life and Love by Christine Arylo
The Road Back to You by Ian Morgan Cron and Suzanne Stabile
POWER: Surviving and Thriving After Narcissistic Abuse: A Collection of Essays on Malignant Narcissism and Recovery from Emotional Abuse by Shahida Arabi
Thank you for this fantastic post, Cheryl! Especially the part about new positive experiences.
Thanks, Sam your words of appreciation. So glad you found my post helpful. Much love
Wow, such a similar trauma. When I was 13 I walked into the living room before school and my autistic father flipped out over the buttons on my pants. He called me a pervert among other things and stormed out. My mother leaned over and said “don’t look now but that’s it for this marriage.”
I asked if I had done it and she said yes. A short while later they were divorced.
I thought that my body broke my family.
Like you, I was developmentally arrested at 13.
Doug, that must have been so traumatizing. Glad your mother made you her priority and made that difficult decision. Hope you are healing. Believe you will get better. Much Love
Cheryl, I loved this post. Our work is never done, is it? This article nailed for me in so many ways. The video is great too. thank you so much for your writings. Sorry, I haven’t been here but I’m here now. Onward my friend.
Ruth, thank you. It is true, we are a work in progress. But yes, post-healing is a wonderful feeling. We can focus on and enjoy the present moment. Our thoughts don’t control us, we control your thoughts and life.