Updated: Feb 8
For many years I wrote a 'Healing Thought of the Day' email for my audience. Every. Single. Day.
Over the years several people reached out to ask me if I would compile the healing thoughts into a book so that they could 1) have it all at their fingertips, and 2) carry the book with them throughout the day.
I love to deliver on all request as much as I can. However, with a full priate client load, traveling to speak, hosting a popular podcast, and running recovery groups I didn't have time to add book production to my plate.
That's when an editor at Conari Press reached out and asked me if I had a book I wanted to write; they wanted to publish anything I had to offer.
(Gotta love when you work hard and build up such a reputation that publishers contact you and offer to do whatever you want, right? That's also the story of how Your Life After Trauma came to be as well.)
So, the editor offered and I said, "Why, yes! As a matter of fact I do have a book idea. Let's take all of the healing thoughts and deliver what my audience keeps asking for."
And so we did. Heal Your PTSD is a book about how to heal PTSD and trauma that touches on science, philosophy, pyschology, coaching and transformation — and all in a way that is easily digestible.
The entire format of the book is written in 150-word snippets designed to advance one idea plus an action step so that you learn how to activate and embody the subject in ways that are useful to you.
Ready to put a little more power into your healing purpose? Read on!
WHAT PROFESSIONALS SAY
"Rosenthal encourages others with the disorder to use the lessons and tools that she says turned her life around. This is a cheerleading, you-can-do-it kind of book, with step-by-step lifestyle modifications.
― Nancy Szokan, The Washington Post
"Heal Your PTSD is not just a book to help you get past your trauma, it will also help you finally heal from it and get over it."
Mark Goulston, MD
"An ideal workbook for trauma survivors to use in their journey to emotional health."
Robert Scaer, MD
HERE'S A SNEAK PEEK
Now, it's your turn to experience what the book is all about. Check out this excerpt and let me know your thoughts!
Activating Your Self-Definition Process
Access your best self.
In psychological terms an identity crisis is “a period of uncertainty and confusion in which a person's sense of identity becomes insecure, typically due to a change in their expected aims or role in society.” Isn’t that exactly what happens after trauma?
The ensuing identity loss can shift you into enormous self-doubt, feeding the frenzy of the post-trauma physiological responses and further disempowering you as you (consciously or unconsciously) struggle to determine: Who are you now? Are you defined by your past, present, or future?
Reduce the confusion by stabilizing the chaos: Resolve the identity crisis by deliberately developing a self- definition that gives you boundaries, perspective, inspiration, motivation and direction that place you in alignment with what feels good, natural and right. In the post-trauma world those feelings are the highest currency as they give you the energy to engage in recovery and succeed.
Name one quality you admire about who you are. That can be the way you treat others, your work ethic, your commitment to family, some act you have performed, or even how you continue to get out of bed in the morning despite the PTSD fog and weight.
Name the one thing here: ___________________.
Now, challenge yourself to intentionally make use of that quality five times over the course of the next twenty-four hours.
Self-definition helps you gain clarity about yourself, your choices, and what your future can be.
When you think about answering the question, “Who am I now?” a useful guide includes two key factors:
Values are things upon which you place great importance. They are the principles by which you live your life and the standard to which you hold your own and others’ behaviors. Being clear on your values (qualities and experiences that are important to you) is like having a road map for living; it tells you when to turn and which road to go down in order to get to the desired destination.
Desires are critical in your post-trauma world. Getting back in touch with what you want puts you in touch with a life-affirming energy. And also, it puts you in touch with your desire to live. Asking yourself, “What do I want?” in any moment—and focusing on healthy answers to that question—then giving those things to yourself puts you in the process of beginning to create the experiences and life you’re most wishing to have.
Start identifying your values and desires. Crease an 8.5 x 11 piece of paper into two columns; label them “Values” and “Desires”. Then, write out as many values and desires you can think of. When you’ve exhausted your ideas put the page down and return to it at a later time to continue.
Reclaiming control requires you to respond versus react, create versus accept. All of this begins with your vision. Your thoughts create your reality. You live, experience and feel what you think, which means what you think (and how you represent it to yourself through the voice in your head, the interpretations you assign and the pictures you make in your mind) is the number one most critical element in coping and eventually healing PTSD. Where you focus your attention and what pictures you make in your mind work in a feedback loop of thought and feeling creation. This is exactly the origin of your control. By developing daily practices that strengthen your ability to decide what pictures you allow your mind to create you take back a little bit more control, moment by moment. Notice when you have a bad feeling. Pause and imagine there’s a movie screen in your mind. What picture(s) does the thought project on the screen? Let the picture fade to black. Then, lighten the empty screen and deliberately project a new picture: one that reflects a kind/happy/hopeful/supportive/feel-good image.
You and your life are measured by the sum of all things.
Gaining perspective means seeing things from a 360 degree view. This encompasses four important vantage points:
the arc of your whole life from the day you were born until your last breath
the arc of the simple moment you’re in: from0-60seconds
the negative aspects of what you have experienced in either arc
the positive events that have made a difference in either arc
Who you are is an ever-evolving compilation of these these elements and their many individual facets.
Answer the following four questions to begin exploring yourself in these areas:
Describe in writing who you are (so far) from what you know about you from birth until today.
Set a timer for 60 seconds. During that single moment sit and be present with yourself. Suspend judgment. Then, describe who you are based on what you notice about yourself in those 60 seconds.
Describe who you are due to the negative events you have experienced.
Describe who you are due to the positive events you have experienced.
And now for the real challenge: Set your PTSD symptoms aside. Define yourself according to everything else about you.
You are one personality, but many selves.
As a zygote (a newly fertilized egg) you began with a whole, pure, untraumatized self. Then, life happened. In response to experiences different selves developed. This is normal for everyone, regardless of trauma.
The difference with trauma is that it causes fragmentation of the coherent self: Rather than work together as one unit selves exist in a state of frantic chaos with confrontational agendas.
Now, within your overall single personality these selves represent conflicting internal states, desires and beliefs that affect your daily thoughts, feelings and behaviors.
Reflect on what it feels like inside of yourself. How do you experience the presence of different parts? Name some of the parts/selves you notice operating on a consistent basis.
The purpose of your parts is to allow you to do, be, think, feel, act and behave according to your choices.
You contain parts for every behavior. For example, if you choose to indulge anger, there’s a part of you that knows how to do that very well. On the other hand, if you choose to be mindfully aware of when anger is coming on and take an action to divert it, there’s a part of you that knows (or can learn) how to do that too.
A significant mission in recovery is deciding which part(s)/selves you want to have the most power in your daily life. Then, making choices and taking actions that give them that power to direct and redirect the course of your day.
The more choices you make, the more actions you take the more strongly you craft who you are, the more you decide which self is ultimately in control, the more you succeed in healing.
Begin building a newly whole self:
Identify and list your most dominant parts, (e.g. your warrior self, addictive self, sad self, I-want-to-give- up self)
Individually acknowledge what each one needs/wants
Make a plan for how they can work together to achieve their objectives
Identify five negative parts of yourself and then five positive parts of who you are.
What choices and actions need to be made and taken for you to live more from the five positive parts and less from the negative parts?
Give a proper good-bye to the old you.
In a perfect world when you depart from a close friend you take the time and create the opportunity to exchange some meaningful words and perhaps even clasp for a good long hug.
One of the problems with trauma is that things happen so fast. There is no time for good-bye as a part of you is ripped away and severed from your daily existence.
Through traumatic events out of your control you instantly lost a part(s) of yourself or your chance(s) to be someone that you liked. That’s so absolutely unfair.
The grief and sadness (even anger) that comes from this truncated separation can fuel PTSD symptoms. Or: You can soothe the burn by acknowledging the old you, validating why and how you feel about her, and giving a meaningful sendoff.
Write a letter to your past self or who you could have been. Tell that self everything you love about her and why she still remains meaningful to you. Then, say whatever you think she would like to hear to soothe the disconnection that happened much too quickly.
[Of course, this part will always be with you. The process suggested here is one that actually reunites you in a way that feels comfortable and connected.]
Reintegrating the fragmented parts adds power, confidence, calm and self-mastery to your healing process.
PTSD recovery is tough enough without your interior self feeling disjointed and out of control, which is exactly why addressing the identity crisis at the core of trauma can be so useful in recovery. Pulling yourself back into one solid entity—constructing a post-trauma identity—that works in concert with itself brings all of your energy into a central, accessible location. From there you can make substantial choices and take meaningful and successful actions that move you forward in recovery.
To begin, use any of these post-trauma identity actions to infuse your recovery with more clarity, opportunity and success:
Get in touch with parts of yourself that you admire (even though you may doubt their existence they are present); identify, name and choose how to choose and act from their perspective
Use your non-trauma related skills and traits for added strength in healing
Develop a self-definition in which the fact of your trauma becomes a small part of the larger concept of who you are
Define you and your life first by the affirmative, powerful, supportive, reliable and feel-good elements (look for them, they are there) of who you are
(Re)connect to a positive and empowered sense of successfully achieving tasks, objectives and actions
Create a vision for the future you that feels productive, meaningful and prepared to handle life
Use healthy choices and actions to expand the way you, others and the world perceive you
Teach your fragmented selves to work as a team
Strengthen your recovery focus by having a clear healing intention (see page 66 for how to create an active intention)
Honor, respect and work with your past selves
Without a doubt, trauma changes you. It teaches you things about yourself, others and the world that challenge beliefs and alter how you interact. Since your trauma you may notice that you feel you are different from who you were before the event—even if that event was birth. You may feel you have lost access to important parts of yourself, or lost qualities or characteristics that were important to you. If your trauma occurred before you had a chance to form an identity, you may feel that trauma prevented you from becoming who you wish you had a chance to be. While all of that feels true... it’s a myth.
Here’s the real truth: If you can remember or imagine an alternative self then that self already exists in you.
Right now you have the option of engaging any self that seems relevant to healing. Is it the four year old, the twenty year old, your compassionate self, your intentional self or your _____ self that you really wish would step in and help out right now?
If you’d like connection to that part all you have to do is ask....
Identify the part of you that seems like she would add the most benefit to your process today. Then, find ways to connect with her: Invite her to participate in your recovery effort; spend time with her in some fun activity; let her spirit, energy and advice infuse you with a sense of connection, direction and stimulation.
Regardless of the trauma(s) you survived your core self remains constant like an eternal flame.
When you live from your core you live from your true self—The Real You, which is always available and held within your identity the way your heart is held within your body. At any time you can choose to liberate elements from this part of who you are to both deepen your identity connection and lead you forward in genuine movement.
Think of identity as having three levels:
Level 3 is how you’re partially defined from the outside and comes from your interactions in the world. On this level you present yourself to the world and definitions occur based on how you’re perceived by the people around you.
Level 2 is how you’re partially defined from inside your head based on your thoughts. Here is where you create your conscious vision of yourself through posturing to be known in a certain way.
Level 1 is how you’re wholly defined by the deeply internal feelings of your authentic, core self. At this level there are no outside or inside influences, there is just the true You allowing itself to be known.
Clear some time to sit quietly, closing your eyes if that feels comfortable. Imagine your Core Self visits you and the two of you have a chance to chat. Ask for guidance about how to connect with, embody and behave from this part of you.
Your core self is your identity DNA; it is who you are beneath all the layers of post-trauma garbage.
When you have the flu various body parts and functions experience changes due to the presence of a virus. Your DNA, however, remains unchanged. Despite your flu symptoms (and long after they are gone) you will always have a specific set of chromosomes arranged in a specific way and carrying your unique genetic information.
Like your genes, experiences can turn on and off parts of who you are, activating different elements of your identity DNA. Some parts will activate more easily than others but they all have the same potential to engage or disengage. The deciding factor is your ongoing experience, which you can create through focus, dedication and action.
Do you see yourself predominantly as a survivor, someone who has been victimized, can’t get justice and will always be damaged by the past? Having this mindset is like jumping into Lake Michigan in January and then lounging on the beach: you’re just asking for pneumonia. In this scenario every moment will appear threatening and energy-sapping and the identity DNA you activate will increase your stress and continue to bring you victimizing experiences.
However, every element of identity is constantly mutable, which means the present moment—and its details— can all be changed.
Get out of the cold and take yourself to a Caribbean island; pull your chair into the heat of the equatorial sun and let the warmth revive your spirit. Balance your negative, threat-seeking self by allowing its opposite to occasionally appear: Approach the world as if people are waiting to help, support and love you.
Imagine this: PTSD is a virus to which your mind and body must mount a defense. When the virus has been overcome your core identity DNA will once again emerge as the authentic you. The fever of your soul will dissipate, your appetite for life will return and slowly you’ll regain your strength to engage in new experiences and adventures.
You cannot go back to who you used to be.
It’s natural after trauma—when the world suddenly seems unrecognizable—to immediately look for what seems familiar. One way to do this is to seek what you remember is familiar about you and then try go back there. Or, if your trauma occurred at a very young age, your impulse might be to focus on what you wish you’d had a chance to have, be or do.
In either scenario this process only causes heartache. As you have probably already discovered, you can’t go back. You can imitate that old self or mourn lost opportunities, but you can never be that old self again or revise your history. Right now stop trying.
Instead, flip your point of view: That old self, real or imagined, lives on in a parallel reality. You are in a new reality and must make your own way. Rather than reject who you are today in favor of that other self make her proud of you.
Think of who you used to be or wish you’d had a chance to become. What can you do today that would make her proud of and respect who you are?
A very strong part of you wants you to heal.
A main factor in how you define yourself is the context in which you understand where and how you belong. Since your trauma(s) naturally your identity has changed because your understanding of who you are and the world in which you live has dramatically altered.
Losing a sense of safety, control and certainty shifts you into a less than feeling. Perhaps today you see yourself as someone robbed of innocence, trust, love, well-being, and a feeling of being able to protect yourself. You may imagine and even deeply feel that you are damaged, emotionally or psychologically disfigured, or undesirable. This new self-definition affects how you see the world, think about yourself and others, and make choices and take actions.
Though your new identity seems bleak another part of you sees the bigger picture. That’s the part that inspires and motivates you to move toward reclaiming a more positive, solid, stable and proactive sense of self. While your less than self may dominate control over who you are today, your more than self gains ground in every moment you work toward restoring yourself. It is your more than self that forms the basis of who you will become when you (re)construct your identity.
Your more than self wants many good, positive and healthy things for you. Get in touch with her today. Invite her to sit beside you and make a list of all the things she wants for you.
In different moments and situations different selves rise up to take control.
When you’re struggling after trauma there are moments you feel strong, and others in which you feel weak; days you have clarity, and others that feel as if you move through a fog. You probably cycle through those experiences very aware of how different selves seem to leap into action without any organization and often without your consent. For example, you know that when you feel doubt, sometimes, out of nowhere “that other self” steps forth with faith and belief. Or, you want to experience courage but just when you try to access it another self steps forward full of fear.
How you ultimately decide which self is in control (and when) comes from deliberate choices, actions and a clear definition of which self/selves you want to engage in daily life.
Name the self that most often takes control of how you think, feel and behave.
Is this the self who will help you heal so that you transform into a strong, confident and capable person?
Which self would you rather see calling the shots?
What are the benefits of this self being in control?
How can you access, connect to and invite that self to emerge more often?
The more choices you make, the more strongly you craft who you are, the more you decide which self is the one most in control.
How do you do this? You’ll find ways that suit your particular personality and situation. In the meantime, test out these ideas:
Understand what drives your dominant selves. Name the dominant selves you identified on page 96. Now, identify and describe the purpose of each one.
Identify which important qualities each self possesses. Becoming clear on what each self offers helps you know which self to call upon and in which circumstances.
Talk to each of the selves you identify. Ask what they want for you, and how they can help you achieve that.
Write a letter to each self. Describe how you want them to give the help they have to offer, and when, and in what way, specifically.
Practice accessing each self. In moments that don’t matter allow each of the selves you most want to experience to take over control; allow them to stay in control for as long as possible.
For a while this process may seem strange and as if you’re playing a silly game. That’s okay. The more familiar you become with who those selves are and how you can access them the more you become consciously familiar with who you are, in your entirety. The more you do that the more you become present, the more opportunities you will have to step forward into your chosen self and the life you most deeply desire.
Who are you now? Whomever you choose to be.
If your identity were a company it would be about to experience a massive overhaul of personnel and departmental reorganization. In restructuring your identity after trauma you collapse the fragmented self and worldview that trauma put in place; from the rubble you construct a new orientation that promotes wholeness, plus a perspective based on a mission and vision designed to support the success of your desired life.
What, or who, is at the core of the being that is you?
Spend some time meditating on or daydreaming or journaling about what self you imagine is at the very center of your heart. Describe that person:
As long as your heart beats that person remains a substantial part of you. Identify three elements that you feel have, can and will remain true about you no matter what:
Why are these elements important to you:
How can you embody them through your choices and actions today?
Constructing your post-trauma identity will affect who you are all the way down to a cellular level.
How you see yourself (and how that makes you feel about yourself) plays a huge role in both your body and mind. When you change the perceptions you hold about yourself and the meanings you ascribe to who you are you change your body chemistry which in turn changes your mind; the feedback loop and its benefits are endless.
Remember: A thought produces a physical reaction. Literally, every thought you have (positive or negative, powerful or powerless) creates chemical releases in your brain that create reflective sensations (feelings) in your body (along with other alterations in physical processing).
When you diligently put in place a plan (and stick to it) for creating an identity that feels good to you—and optimizing how you interact with your body and mind—you will find yourself feeling, thinking and behaving differently. Strengthening this process begins with giving yourself permission.
Right now, give yourself permission by writing yourself a letter that begins, “__________, I give you permission to _____________.”
Throughlines connect the past to the present.
In books, movies and plays a “throughline” is a connecting theme that runs from beginning to end of the plot. It’s a consistency in the objective(s) of a character. Rocky, for example, remains committed to becoming a boxing champ. He loves boxing in the beginning of the film and soars to its heights by the end.
“What is your trauma throughline?” might not be a question you’re asking yourself, but it can be an instrumental question to answer in post-trauma recovery—especially if you’re seeking your post-trauma identity. Who are you now? Definitely, you’re different than who you were before trauma, but is anything the same?
Sometimes, it can help to look back at who you used to be in order to discover some clues. This is true whether you have a clear before/after break, or even if you were traumatized at birth and don’t have a direct sense of who you “used to be.”
No matter what your trauma has been or when it happened, there are positive throughlines in who you are, what you love and what you do. To discover them, think back over your past and ask yourself:
What have I always loved?
What’s my favorite memory?
What was my favorite activity as a child?
What has always made me laugh?
What has always made me feel a sense of belonging?
What have I always wished for?
What have I always wanted?
What experience have I always enjoyed?
How can you create experiences of some or all of these things in your life today?
Inventing the new you = Curiosity + Adventure + Willing Uncertainty
Like the rest of recovery becoming your future self is a process that requires successive steps taken slowly over a period of time. You will be translating thoughts, feelings, and ideas into hardcore evidence in the physical world. If that sounds challenging think of yourself as an inventor:
You conceptualize and sketch out the gadget, then build the physical prototype.
Many of the previous concepts in this book have introduced you to methods for conceiving and developing aspects of the new you. Implementing visualization and solidifying processes to bring that self closer on a daily basis will begin your transition into embodying elements and aspects of the self you wish to engage.
Ultimately, that self will feel so close that you easily step into those shoes and stay there for increasingly long periods of time, ultimately settling fully into the persona and lifestyle you have chosen and designed.
Based on what you know so far about who you want to be when your recovery is complete, spend some time each day (1-2 minutes is plenty, more if you feel comfortable) imagining that your future stretches out ahead of you. On that road, path or trail imagine you can see The New You moving toward you. Hold the image and allow her to come as close as possible.
Sometimes you have to play make believe in order to become the person you want to be.
Becoming The New You is a process that takes time not only to achieve but to get used to as an idea. You’ve lived as a survivor for so long; it would be reasonable to expect that your shift of self-perception might take some time to evolve from a place of powerless negativity to powerful positivity.
As you develop your ability to shift into “I can handle it!” mode and your new self there will be times you will lack utter faith in the truth of those things or disbelieve that you already are or can be who you most desire. That’s okay. In those moments a great solution is to just out and out pretend.
When you act “as if” you role play to explore what it would feel like and require for you to be exactly who you wish to be. Acting as if can be an extremely effective way to transition yourself into actually being because it allows you to model the behavior you want. It’s like trying on a pair of shoes and walking around the store: You don’t yet own the shoes, but you’re trying them out and imagining how they will feel if you did own them.
When you act “as if” you are behaving from a place of role playing confidence. This engages your imagination, rehearsal mechanism and immersion processes. In a place of expanded freedom pretending allows you to develop tools, perceptions, successes and experiences that show you who you can be. Then, these skills naturally transfer into moments when you are yourself. From what you learn you can build on, enlarge and eventually become exactly that person you most desire.
Identify a quality or personality trait you would like to have. Study someone (you personally know or know of, or a character in a book or movie) who has it. See what clues you can pick up from their behavior and actions.
Then, imitate them: Pretend you too have that quality. What would you say? What would you do? What would you think? How would you behave, dress, play, work, etc.?
In acting “as if” you ask yourself to practice living the truth of something even though you admit you do not yet own it.
This is very different from lying, which is deliberately telling yourself something you know to be false without admitting it.
When you “act as if” you develop necessary skills for handling problems, responding to fear-based thinking and taking actions.
Think back over your life and the things you’ve learned to do. Riding a bike, for example. You didn’t get on the bike and immediately ride like a pro. Instead, you acted as if you could do that: You pedaled and steered and kept practicing until you could ride like a pro.
Sometimes releasing old PTSD habits begins by modeling the behavior you would like to become a pro at. What one habit do you feel ready to reduce? How can you act as if you’ve succeeded at that today?
Become your own superhero (in three (easy) steps).
Step One: Make a list of people you admire. For each person, summarize the qualities and traits that person possesses that you respect and desire. Choose one person at a time and spend the day impersonating him or her: dress the same, listen to the same music, eat the same foods, talk, walk and behave as he or she would. Approach every moment, interaction, conversation, errand, choice and action as if you are that person. Inhabit and offer their opinions, perceptions, beliefs and attitudes.
Step Two: After you have role played the person you admire enough to feel comfortable taking on those qualities, adapt the feelings and thought processes you access from this perspective into your own self and life. Inhabit the feeling of being that other person while you behave as you. For a little while you will act “as if” you are as whatever qualities that person possesses (they may not feel natural). Eventually, however, you will become so familiar with those characteristics and how to access them in yourself that you will truly be acting as you.
Step Three: When you feel comfortable with this process, take it to an even deeper level: Imagine that your future healed self already exists as fully and completely as the person you most admire. Prepare to spend the day impersonating your future self. Spend some time sketching out the specifics of what this would look like in all the details as you did in Step One. Then, approach every moment, interaction, conversation, errand, choice and action as if you are this future self.
Your ideal self is rational and wise.
Buried deep within you have an Ideal Self. This is true even if your trauma started at birth. This ideal self makes smart decisions, good choices, thinks of long-term objectives and predicts short-term consequences. Dominated by the prefrontal cortex this self sees the big picture of you and the relationships and world in which you engage.
Think of your ideal self as an older sibling: Someone who is empathetic and loving, accepting and supportive, partnering and loving, protective—and super, super smart.
The more time you spend imagining this person the more real she will become, the more access you will have to her, the more she can guide you.
At some point today sit in a quiet space (close your eyes if that feels comfortable) and focus on the intention to invite your ideal self to enter the room. Perhaps she will appear right away, or perhaps it may take some time. When she shows up invite her to come as close as feels comfortable. If it feels natural, engage her in conversation; ask any questions or for any guidance you desire. (If your ideal self doesn’t appear just practice being in a space of openness to her.) Repeat this exercise in whatever way it happens for you on a daily basis for the next consecutive thirty days.
Own your self-definition.
Your “I am” concept and statement are part of the belief system from which you are operating every moment.
Right now, write out the first statement that comes to mind:
I am ______________________________________________.
That’s your healing-in-progress statement and it’s perfect. However you describe yourself today is 100% okay.
Now, here’s the good news—today, you have a choice. You can decide you will always be defined by:
Trauma and its effects.
Many factors beyond trauma.
Which will it be?
The healed “I am” is an unmapped road that sits patiently beneath your feet. It can lead anywhere. “I am” is your compass. The more you practice and develop a comfort level with it and the possibilities it presents and represents, the stronger your post-trauma identity grows, the more control you have over how your life unfolds.
Imagine it’s ___ months from now and you have achieved your recovery objectives. Take a moment to sit with the idea of who you will be. Then, write out an “I am” statement in that person’s voice:
I am _____________________________.
Your beliefs are who you are. What you believe influences your choices, guides your actions and creates the world in which you live. Think your everyday experience is random and out of your control? Think again!
If you’re miserable, hate yourself and experience the world in a wholly negative way then you can be sure that your beliefs about yourself and the world are incredibly negative.
Becoming fully aware of what you believe, plus the positive/negative ratio of your beliefs helps to refine your recovery focus.
Give yourself a belief litmus test:
Fold a piece of paper into three columns. Label them “Myself”, “Others” and “The World”. Write out as many beliefs about each as you can think of. Then, ask yourself the following questions:
How many beliefs are positive?
How many beliefs are negative?
How do you see these beliefs affecting the way you make choices and take actions?
Assess each negative belief: How would it benefit you to shift this to a more neutral or positive perspective?
For each negative belief what would be a (slightly) more positive belief?
Assess each positive belief you noted in the three columns: If you were going to embody them more actively each day what would that look like? How can you make that happen?
You possess unique skills and qualities that naturally bring success in specific situations.
Over your lifetime there have been things that, as you did them, you knew you excelled. Maybe that was growing turnips, or mixing paint, skateboarding or doing origami. Maybe it was sitting still and daydreaming, or tying your shoes with the perfect loop and knot. These capabilities are sort of like your liver: Even when you don’t think about it you carry it with you everywhere and (unless you abuse it) it’s very willing to work when and how you need it to.
Suspend judgment about the value of what you’ve noticed you’re good at. All that matters is getting back in touch with a part of yourself that is good, productive and tied to a sense of your knowing, sensing and feeling something good about what it means to be you.
Your innate strengths exist regardless of how often you have recently used them. Imagine they’ve been frozen and are patiently waiting to be unthawed. If the sun were to shine down brilliantly upon them what would happen when the ice runs off into rivers of cold, fresh, flowing water?
Take a look at who you are today: What are you good at?
Make a list of ten things you’ve been naturally good at over your lifetime.
When was the last time you actively used these skills? Plan how you will use three of them over the next week.
What you’re good at defines you.
When you look at yourself as a PTSD survivor the view can be pretty depressing—necessary to acknowledge but not exactly uplifting, which is why the following idea is so very, very necessary...
Flip the self-definition equation by a) defining yourself solely by what you’re good at, b) acknowledging how that skill improves the life of or is helpful to someone else.
When you identify what you’re good at and then share that natural tendency in a way that helps others you deepen your self-definition as a person who can positively affect lives beyond your own. Feeling useful connects you to a sense of community, which develops a positive context for you place in the world. This can lead to purpose, mission, and a vision for the future.
Identify five things you’re good at, plus three ways each one improves the lives of others. What would it take to share those gifts more than you currently are?
Sustaining your motivation and momentum for healing requires inspiration.
When challenges amplify what you don’t want it helps to have stimulation that keeps you tuned in to what you do want.
If right now you’re thinking, “Beyond feeling better I don’t know what I want!” that impulse is a-okay. Most survivors initially can’t see ahead. Being unable to imagine the future is very normal.
Whether you can or can’t see ahead you can deepen your perspective and feed your need to be inspired by looking outside of yourself. The lives, accomplishments and attributes of others can help you gain clarity about what’s going on inside of you. Since it’s often easier to be clear about others than yourself you can use an external perspective to clarify your internal one.
Identify someone (a friend, family member, colleague, acquaintance, media personality, fictional character) who lives, works, plays, thinks, acts and/or behaves in ways you want to. Get clear on your desire. Name it: “I want to ___________.” Why do you want that? What does it mean to you? How would your life change if you had it?
Now is a great time to re-introduce yourself to the whole you.
With very little effort you could list tons of adjectives describing yourself as a trauma survivor. Could you do the same for the rest of you?
Consider yourself in this moment. Make a list of things you appreciate about who you are as you are today (even if you feel a lot of disdain for that person). Write your answers here:
If you can’t think of a single thing that you appreciate about who you are try this:
Take every action you do today and find a reason to appreciate what it means about you. For example, you opened this book. What positive quality does that mean you have? Name it. You spent most of the day in bed? What positive quality does that mean you have? Name it. You drank a glass of water? What positive trait quality does that mean you embody? Name it, and then continue...
Deepen this process: Ask others to share what positive qualities they notice in you. Then repeat the exercise by assessing yourself and your behavior and finding additional examples.
Connect to your core.
Living disconnected from your core authentic self decreases your strength, courage and confidence. It also makes it more difficult to access resilience, productively utilize your imagination, or take necessary actions to move forward.
Trauma changed you the way snow changes a landscape: it can cover it completely but the landscape itself (the ground, the hills and valleys or flatness of it—its essential nature and composition) remains unaltered.
Despite what trauma has done to change you in terms of symptoms, lifestyle and other shifts, the core of who you are still exists unchanged. If you were wired for compassion, you still are. If you were wired to be a musician you still can be. If you were wired to be joyful, helpful, adventurous or spiritual those qualities still remain waiting to be activated.
You have only to decide to cultivate a connection to who you were or imagine you could have been to start creating pathways of connecting to your core self again. In doing so, you increase your creativity, flexibility and sense of personal grounding—all great bonuses that increase healing momentum.
Who is your core self? Take a few moments to imagine what kind of qualities define (or you would like to define) your most authentic self. Make a list of everything that comes to mind. Place a star next to the five that are most important to you today. What can you do to connect to those qualities and exhibit them in your life this week?
Even when you finish your trauma recovery you will still be in the process of constructing your post- trauma identity.
Your identity (r)evolution will continue as long as you live and breathe. While a lot of growth happens naturally without your designing it, some of the most important growth comes from the work you deliberately choose, founded on your desires and in alignment with evolving you in the direction you most want to go, regardless of obstacles along the way. Stretching yourself will be critical to future growth in ways that excite, challenge and celebrate you.
Stretching means identifying new desires that continue to gently edge you out of your comfort zone and into territory that is unfamiliar. You don’t grow by staying inside what’s known; you grow by being bold enough to step outside what’s familiar and bravely seeing what new situations require in terms of strength, confidence and action. You want to always be capable of surprising yourself; stretching allows you to flex this skill in ways that further develop you as a person.
When you have settled into a comfortable relationship with your post-trauma self and/or the idea of it start looking around for the next step. Ask yourself the following questions and let the answers guide you toward new decisions and experiences:
What have I always wanted to do but never made the time for?
What have I always wanted to do but been too afraid to try?
What have I always wanted to have, be or do but others’ opinions stopped me?
What part of myself do I really admire? How can I embody this part even more?
Where in my life do I feel stifled? What would it take to feel like I’d been set free?
What natural, healthy part of myself do I suppress? Why? How can I let that part become more active?
How can I share my natural strengths in a way that benefits others?
How can I use my natural strengths in a professional way?
How can I use what I’m good at to continue to develop my post-trauma identity?
Celebrate who you are.
Healing often includes many painful moments. Facing fears and memories, disappointments and betrayals, plus the host of other uncomfortable actions you take to move forward introduces many scary moments. The tendency in trauma recovery is to get lost in all of what brings you pain, grief, loss and sadness; you forget that there are still good, honorable, respectable and wonderful things about you.
Up to this moment you’ve spent plenty of time criticizing and critiquing who you are. Probably, too, you’ve spent a lot of time memorializing and even romanticizing who you used to be or could have been. Today turn in a new direction, one that might seem counterintuitive and yet has important and significant application at this moment in your healing journey:
Identify five things that make you feel proud of yourself (come on, dig down and find them!):
For each item create one experience in which you honor it over the course of the next seven days.
You are here in this lifetime to be you.
A computer’s operating system receives multiple updates related to revised programming and technological advances every year. As you grow emotionally, psychologically and intellectually your processing system (strategies, beliefs, meaning, perceptions and interpretations) also requires updating.
When you change your perceptions, interpretations, applied meanings and beliefs you change your connection to the past, which allows you to change who you are in the present, which changes the possibilities for your future. This can be done with the integrity of truth and honesty through a process of updating your point of view.
Your specific trauma(s) has passed. Even in the moment it occurred it was, in itself, an objective occurrence. The event has zero power to create any kind of change in how you define who you are. The alterations you notice in your self-concept come directly from your own perfectly deserved, normal and relevant internal physiological and psychological responses to trauma filtered through your neurobiology, belief systems and meaning.
In every moment you retain the possibility to reverse, revise and overcome those changes.
You are here to express your self, your soul, your voice, your perspective and your uniqueness through your entire life. You are meant to do this via choices and actions that make you feel good and true and necessary and real and purposeful day after day.
Identify one perception, interpretation or belief that causes you discomfort and distress and that you know restricts your ability to move forward in feeling better. Examine the truth of you identified. Knowing what you know now (as opposed to immediately after your trauma) what’s a more updated way to look at it? What’s more in alignment with who you want to be?
Let your soul sing.
Choreography to be danced to the music of “What I Want Is...”, sung by Your Soul
Step One: Identify five people you admire. Consider the whole person: how he or she talks, thinks, acts, behaves, works, achieves, dresses, eats, etc. These can be actual people you know, or people you know of; people who are alive and those who have passed. In a notebook outline what you admire about each person. What featured or dominant qualities do they have that particularly resonate with you?
Step Two: When you complete the assessment of each person, turn to a new page in your notebook. Combine all of the traits, qualities and characteristics you identified for each person: pull them together onto one page.
Step Three: Sit in a quiet place and slowly read over the list. If these elements belonged to you how would that feel? What would you look like, talk like and act like? How would your life be different? How would that change who you are?
Step Four: Identify the top ten qualities you’d like to own. Decide to embody one trait at a time. If you were going to develop them in you, what would have to happen? What actions would you have to take? Develop a plan to incorporate one characteristic each week. Throughout the week focus on that one new attribute and how often you can embody it.