I learned something about myself recently that shocked me. I realized I had tied my identity to the trauma I’d been through. In other words I was presenting as a victim. I would NEVER have believed that about myself and I didn’t like seeing it.
I think it mostly stemmed from the “Elephant in the Room” phenomenon. Those of you who have gone through a really intense, traumatic experience that a lot of people know about will get this. When you show up at events, parties, whatever, afterwards and people see you for the first time, “post-trauma” they don’t really know what to say. They’re often uncomfortable and usually lead with talking about the traumatic event. This is especially true if the trauma involves deep loss, shame or humiliation.
I dealt with this reaction so many times I came to expect it. If the person didn’t bring it up I’d bring it up because I was sure they were thinking about it. Even with prospective clients I’d bring it up because I was afraid they’d Google me and see stories about it.
At first I think that was mostly true. But over the last many months each time this would happen I’d feel drained and uncomfortable afterwards. I’d think, “Am I ever going to get to where that issue, that awful thing, doesn’t have to be front and center?”
Then I realized maybe I was the one making it so! So I made a conscientious effort not to mention it. After all, what was the worst that could happen if the other person was thinking about it but I didn’t mention it?
Most often the subject never came up. If the person I was talking with did bring it up I’d say, “Well it was certainly the most difficult thing I’ve gone through. And it has also been one of the most profound periods of growth in my life. Grateful that life is moving on.” Then I’d move the conversation to other subjects.
This shifted my entire energy. It helped me remember all that I was and all that I had to offer.
It helped me remember that we are not what happened to us. The big traumas are just small pieces of the rich, beautiful tapestry that is YOU.
Here’s my advice for reentering society after a life-changing traumatic experience:
- For a time, it will likely be the first thing that comes up in conversation and that’s probably healthy.
- But after a while, it’s time to move on. In order to do that I recommend this:
- Before going into any event that might include people who will know what you’ve been through remind yourself to be relaxed, remember your value, hold your head up and be natural
- Make a point not to bring up the “Awful Event”
- Develop a short, authentic, positive response to anyone who does bring it up
- Even as you move on and make the Big Event a smaller piece of your story, stay open to real connection and concern, to authentic conversations. Healing from deep trauma is a process. Even as we reenter society and return to our old communities and normal activities we are often still healing. It is usually helpful to share the experience with someone who is genuinely interested and has gone through something similar.
And above all else, remember you are so much more than what happened to you.
I love working with people who are determined to reclaim their careers, lives and place in society after intense, identity-challenging ordeals. If you are facing such a challenge and would like to talk with me please just send me a notice on the form at http://www.cylviahayes.net/coaching/.
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