In my second post in my series about trauma, I discuss how powerful the realization (and validation) of realizing you have post-traumatic stress disorder (or symptoms of PTSD) can free a person from a lifelong assumption that this is just who they are. To view my first post and overview about PTSD go here.
I’ve worked with many individuals who experienced traumas during their childhood and/or young adult years. They have been living with the negative psychological impact of their traumas for as long as they can remember. When I tell them that they have post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) or symptoms of PTSD, they are often shocked. “I thought this was just who I was, that this was just my personality.” These individuals have been living with the symptoms of PTSD for so long that they’ve come to believe that these symptoms are their personality: just the kind of person who doesn’t trust anyone or the kind of person who thinks the world is completely dangerous and feels watchful or on guard all the time. They may believe that their personality is that of someone who doesn’t want relationships and can’t feel close to others. Someone who has trouble enjoying life or feeling love for others. Someone who is easily irritated or angered. Someone who just doesn’t sleep well and can’t concentrate. They believe that this is how life is, and how they’re always going to be.
Once we identify that their “personality” may actually be masked by the debilitating symptoms of PTSD, some clients begin to wonder who they really are. I had a client once ask me, what will be left of me without my PTSD? What if I’m just an empty shell underneath? In my practice I have never come across an empty shell. I often find as we lessen the weight of the PTSD symptoms through treatment and peel the layers off, underneath is a person with their own unique personality wanting to live a meaningful and fulfilling life. One question that I often ask my clients to help them glimpse into who might be within them: If a miracle happened today for you, what would that be? Would it be relief from your suffering? Erasing the past? Curing your addiction? Forgetting the trauma? What would be your miracle?
And if that miracle happened today, then what would you do?
The you inside that answers that question, may be a glimpse of the you underneath. You’ve been there all along and you are not your PTSD or your trauma.