Nov 1, 2022

Arrivals and Departures, Part 6: Five Questions that Every Trauma Survivor Asks

If you’re coming back from my last article — What defined my brokenness and who did it serve? Part 2 —  welcome back to the Arrivals and Departures series!

When clients realize they are not inherently damaged and broken, what follows is huge relief. It is absolutely wild to witness the relief real time — it’s spiritual, it’s physical, it’s cognitive. It’s everything. The next part is really hard, though. Because then we ask ourselves — if I’m not inherently broken or damaged — why did I think I was? Who told me that and how did it benefit them?

After coming face to face with these questions, we come to another therapeutic clearing. A wide open space from which something can be created and designed. And another question emerges that changes it all — it redirects us to a pivotal and identity revealing part of therapy.

At this juncture in therapy, clients are equally elated and wide-eyed when they see the blank space in front of them. They’ve learned — I’m not broken and I’m not damaged. They’ve also learned that someone very early on convinced them that’s who they were was damaged and broken — not because it was true — but because that person - usually a caretaker —  needed for them to be those things. And they needed that in order to escape responsibility.  Because of their own trauma,  they continued the cycle with their own children.

Clients also learned that they are not their caretakers AND they are not damaged because of their trauma history. They’ve internalized that they are actually perfect and whole and integrated. And that the trauma cycle stops with them. Following these realizations — a magical and wonderful thing happens in therapy — clients’ minds and bodies intuitively move to the question —

In light of this reality,  how do I choose to self-define?  This is my favorite question in therapy. I love supporting people in creating an entire life and identity — I’m talking a partnership, a career, a home, a parenting philosophy — everything — that is congruent with their core values.  This is what I was talking about earlier when I said —  

Your being is perfect. Your being is whole. Your being is integrated.

Want to learn more about How Do I Know If I Have A Borderline Personality Disorder? Click HERE

Because when we deconstruct all the stories, the bad memories, the traumatic experiences — when we chip and chip and chip away at all of the bad — we arrive at the core of who you are. We get to mold that core to reflect the person you’ve always been and never got to be and the person you’ve never been and want to become.

This is a part of therapy where we look back at the most joyful moments of your life. We don’t take anything for granted. That amazing semester you had in France during study abroad in college? You might have shrugged that off as  “wistful adolescence”, but our work will be to uncover the underlying reasons why that time was so wonderful for you. Was it living in a new place? Was it distance from family? Was it studying what you loved? Was it centering friendships?

We will take a serious look at your best moments in life and understand what made those moments sparkle for you. What was available to you in those experiences? What parts of your identity were most alive when you were in those moments? Who were you with? Who were you not with?

We will also look at your current life and understand the highs and lows. Are you in a temporary low spot in life because you are working toward a goal? Or, healing from an illness? Is your low spot a reflection of a trauma response, like fighting or freezing, that we can transform into a response that better reflects who you are? The best and worst moments and all those in-between times are important for this process. And they each serve different purposes.

The goal of this phase in therapy is to determine your authentic self — the version of you that is fully self-expressed without the confines of insecurity, people pleasing, and low self-worth. Replicating the best moments of our history is often not the answer. Sometimes we feel unbridled happiness because we are loved by another person.

But inside we know we are selling ourselves out. Or, we are living lavishly because of a large paycheck, but we dread going to work every day. This is the time to honestly evaluate your history and determine where you were truly resonant and where you were selling out. Our work us to untangle your past experiences with a renewed sense of identity to answer the question, How do I choose to self-define?  

Are you ready to see this question played out step-by-step? Check out the next video in the Arrivals and Departures series to hear the next question in the trauma recovery journey!

If you want to talk to a licensed therapist, click HERE to learn more about Dr. Cammy