“Healing means recognizing that The Trauma You is just one aspect of who you are. Sure, right now it may be the dominant aspect, but it’s still only one part of the whole you. Recovery gains strength by learning to (re)recognize the rest of who you are with more and more clarity.”
Betrayed spouses and professionals alike claim the devastation of infidelity is a trauma; a trauma much like that which is experienced by soldiers or victims of violent crimes or incredible illnesses.
In 1981 Michele Rosenthal was 13 years old when she found herself struggling to survive Toxic Epidermal Necrolysis Syndrome (TENS), a freak allergy to a medication that turned her into a full-body burn victim almost overnight.
With a mortality rate of up to 70% this rare illness was so unknown that none of her doctors had ever seen a case. By the time she was released from the hospital she had lost 100% of her outer layer of skin. Within 5 years she was a “complete and total insomniac, anorexic, melt down mess.” She had been traumatized. Recovering from trauma seemed impossible.
Today Michele claims that she is 100% free of any trauma and shares her experiences and advice on healing from two different websites: ChangeYouChoose.com and HealMyPTSD.com.
In this article, Michele offers her thoughts on how after her trauma she found herself having a hard time accepting who she had become. And this is a typical scenario for many who have been traumatized by infidelity as well.
Not liking who you are is a tough burden to carry and figuring out how to transform into a person you’re more comfortable with is a core concept of healing, according to Rosenthal. Please read on.…
Post-trauma and PTSD symptoms are like an oil slick that oozes over your entire life. If you were a bird right now your feathers would be matted and separating and your sensitive skin would be exposed to the elements. To fix this you’d focus on preening – a survival skill that would override all other healthy behaviors. But preening means you’d ingest the oil and get sick; the bird you used to be would become dehydrated, anemic and underweight.
In the world of trauma recovery we all become a shadow of who we were or could have been. We become birds of another kind of flock, one that operates on a philosophy of “less than” as symptoms and distorted post-trauma beliefs tether us to the ground and eliminate our ability to fly.
When you look in the mirror how much do you like the person you see? When I looked in the mirror after trauma I didn’t even recognize the person looking back much less like her. She was conflicted, vacant, flat, lifeless and quick to anger. I had a hard time accepting that was who I’d become, so I pretended I could imitate my old self. The result: I became even more disconnected from the present moment.
Not liking who you are today is a very common experience in the symptomatic post-trauma and PTSD world. Feeling out of control of your physical, mental and emotional experiences, disconnected from your authentic self, distracted from creating a life of your choosing and divorced from a sense of safety all combines to create a Who You Are Today that might not jibe with who you thought you would or want to be.
One of the major problems in this space is only seeing the negative in the moment you’re in. Your negativity bias is an innate mechanism that allows you to remember the bad more vividly and easily than the good. There is an evolutionary bonus to this: you learn survival skills from looking back and seeing threats, plus assessing how to notice and react to them more quickly in the future. Applied today, that means you quickly and automatically catalogue all the things you hate about yourself.
How often do you take the time to appreciate the good? Despite how trauma has changed you, your core self still exists. More than that you still contain meaningful, positive elements despite what you have experienced. If you feel compassion for puppies in shelters or children with special needs; if you feel passionate about ending world hunger or saving the environment you are evidencing more of your good self than you may be realizing.
Give the good in you some time in the spotlight. Healing means recognizing that The Trauma You is just one aspect of who you are. Sure, right now it may be the dominant aspect, but it’s still only one part of the whole you. Recovery gains strength by learning to (re)recognize the rest of who you are with more and more clarity.
When you notice positive elements of who you are you put some space between you and your symptoms. Part of how we heal is recreating a sense of safety and control. Identifying the Who You Are Today in terms of things you actually like about yourself shifts you out of a state of powerlessness (a PTSD hallmark) and into a state that’s more neutral (on your way to powerfulness).
Healing is all about making choices and taking action steps. Get acquainted with the other side of who you are. Some ideas for doing that include:
Get in touch with the rest of you. Acknowledge the qualities you admire about yourself by making a list of them. Choose words that clearly explain what characteristics you appreciate about who you are today. Then, write out a sentence about why you appreciate that and what it means about you. (i.e. “I appreciate that I __________ because it means __________.”) Share the list with someone else to wholly step into and own it.
Do something nice for yourself. Show yourself you like you even though you may be struggling. When you do something nice for yourself you make a choice and act from that positive side of who you are. The more you do this the more you live as that person the more you shift the balance between symptoms and recovery.
Do something nice for someone else. When you commit a random act of kindness your brain automatically releases serotonin, a powerful mood enhancer. The feel-good feeling that floods you creates an experience (remember, the brain changes due to new experiences) that reconnects you to feeling good about who you are.
Take an action that makes a difference in the world. The post-trauma world can feel very isolating. You’re different from many of the people you now know, yes. But you’re also the same as many people too. What do you feel passionate about or interested by in the world at large? Tapping into your community/global values and engaging with them allows you to connect with others who share your focus. It also allows you to find a tribe in which to feel a sense of belonging that creates a bridge out of your isolation.
Be fair to yourself. Who you are today has its drawbacks and recognizing them is the first step to change. But recognizing the parts of you that are good, worthwhile and meaningful has a powerful effect on recovery too. The better you feel the more you heal. Developing a way to positively engage with your identity even while you’re changing unwanted elements of it strengthens your recovery process while at the same time helping you to achieve something truly priceless: posttraumatic growth.
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