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How to find yourself again after trauma
July 10, 2022
It can be hard to figure out how to find yourself again after trauma. Traumatic events or periods of your life have a way of absorbing so much of your energy that you lose yourself in them. You cease to be who you were before, and you become defined by your trauma.
It’s common to emerge from something traumatic with a deeply shaken sense of self. You may feel as if you’ll never be able to overcome your trauma, that you’ll always be stuck living as this new version of yourself. But that’s not true. You can find yourself again, and you can even reinvent yourself.
You do not have to be defined by your trauma anymore. Finding yourself again is part of the healing process, and we’ll tell you how to do it.
Why Trauma Changes You
First, let’s talk for a bit about why trauma changes you so much. Trauma actually disrupts the regulation of your body. In other words, there are measurable, physical changes happening to you when you experience trauma. It’s not all in your head.
When you experience trauma, you experience hyperarousal. This is a sense of “too much.” It causes you to feel overwhelmed, and you may begin to panic. Or, the reverse might happen, and you might experience hypoarousal, which is “too little.” This can manifest as lethargy and apathy.
Some people will alternate between this extremes and others will get stuck in one of them. Either way, your body’s energy levels are completely unregulated as a result of trauma. We all have our ways of coping with this.
Some people seek an escape- alcohol, drugs, sex. Even something as innocent as binge-watching tv shows can be an escape from trauma. Others just dissociate. They “space out.” Their mind goes somewhere else. No matter which coping mechanism you use, the result is the same: numbness.
How To Find Yourself Again After Trauma: Resensitize Yourself
One common approach to trauma therapy is to desensitize the patient. Make them face their trauma, relive it until it no longer affects them. But leading experts in the field say this approach may not be best. Since trauma victims have already found ways to numb themselves, further desensitization might make things worse.
Instead, the way to find yourself is to resensitize yourself. This involves finding ways to emerge from the numbness you’ve created, to allow yourself to feel again by moving on from your trauma and dwelling on the present.
How To Feel Again
Part of learning how to find yourself again after trauma is recognize that you’ve become your own enemy. As you’ve numbed yourself, you’ve unconsciously named the part of you that experienced the trauma, the overwhelming pain, as your enemy. And you’ve shoved that part of you away.
Accept this, and you’ve taken the first crucial step back. But be warned- healing from your numbness will feel like pain at first. There is no way forward unless you face that pain. It’s just like when your foot falls asleep. As the feeling comes back, you feel pain before things are back to normal. Except that’s just pins and needles, and this will be much worse.
Eventually, the pain will start to recede. You’ll begin to calm down again. Instead of overwhelming pain you’ll feel manageable grief. Sit with that grief, don’t try to ignore it or move on from it. But don’t obsess over it, either. Just let it be. After a while, you’ll emerge from the other side. And for the first time in a long time, you’ll be able to feel joy. This is how to find yourself again after trauma– learn to feel again. That’s the first step.
How To Find Yourself Again After Trauma: Concrete Steps
As you learn to let go of your escapes and your numbness, as feeling begins to return to your life, there are some things you can do to help the process along. It’s at this point that you need to remember that finding yourself doesn’t always mean “becoming exactly who you were before.”
Part of how to find yourself again after trauma is accepting that who you were before is, at least partially, gone. Even if you had never experienced trauma you wouldn’t be the same person now that you used to be. Nobody is. We all grow and change as time goes you, you just had the misfortune of being changed by something awful instead of through all the normal ways.
So you shouldn’t expect to be able to return to your old self completely. You’ll be finding new ways of being you. And some old parts of you will emerge, too. The core bits of who you are will still be there, but you are still a new person. First your trauma reshaped you, but now your healing will reshape you.
Try New Things
Trauma has a way of defining you. But more than that, trauma victims often feel that they’ve been defined by others’ opinions of them. And quite often that’s true. As you sought to always escape from the reality of your life, you cut yourself off from the real world. Other people had to define you, because you weren’t defining yourself.
But that all changes now. As you heal, it’s time to discover who you’re going to be. Listen to new music, try new foods, travel to new places. Open yourself up to all kinds of new experiences. Right now, you’re not all that different from a teenager.
As teens grow into adults, they spend years trying to figure out who they are. And the person that emerges into adulthood is always quite a bit different from who they were as children. There are basic similarities still, but there are so many differences.
This is why teenagers change so quickly. It’s why it seems like they have a new favorite band, or a new hairstyle, or a new crush, every week. They’re figuring out who they are. And that’s what you’re doing now. Be ok with it. This is how you heal and move on. Try out new things. See what you like. You might be surprised at who you turn out to be.
As you learn how to find yourself again after trauma, you need to know that you don’t have to figure all this out on your own. Everyone is interested in themselves- we all like to know about ourselves. That’s why personality tests are so common and so popular.
Many people, even those who haven’t experienced trauma, struggle to understand who they are. They can’t identify their strengths, weaknesses, motivations, and basic characteristics. But they want to know these things because it helps them be better versions of themselves.
Personality tests can be a huge help. Enneagram, MBTI, and StrengthsFinder are all excellent tests that can help you to sort out some of the basic characteristics of your personality. It can’t tell you everything, but it’s an excellent starting point.
You may not be the same person you were before, but that older version of you has left his or her mark. They’re still inside you, at least a little bit. As you figure out how to find yourself again after trauma, it might be helpful to spend some time thinking back to who you were before.
What were your hobbies? What did you do in your free time? What were your strengths and weaknesses? These things may not be part of who you are anymore, but they’ll still give you an idea of who you’ve become.
If you’re overcoming childhood trauma, those questions may not be helpful. Instead, focus on what your trauma took from you. These will be broad ideas like “joy” “freedom” or “my childhood.” Start there, because at least then you’ll know what it is you’re looking for as you find yourself again.
After you’ve remembered who you used to be, you can look ahead to envision who you want to be. You can think of all the parts of your old self you loved the most, but also the parts you didn’t like very much. Remember, you’re learning how to find yourself again after trauma. That means you’re at least partially reinventing yourself.
You get to choose who you’ll become. You don’t have to let other people define you anymore, and you don’t have to be defined by who you were. So, now is the time to ask yourself: who do I wish I was? What do I want to do? What parts of me am I glad are gone?
As you imagine who you want to be, start to plan how you’ll become that person. What do you need to do? Do you need to go back to school? Get a new job? Move to a new city? Then do it! This is part of the healing process. This is how to find yourself again after trauma. Don’t settle for just finding who you used to be, find who you want to become.
How To Find Yourself Again After Trauma: One Last Thing
One thing all trauma victims struggle with is loving themselves. Regardless of what traumatized them, there’s always a loss of self-worth. There’s always a nagging thought in the back of your head that you don’t deserve to move on with your life.
But that thought is a lie. You deserve to move on, and you are worthy of love. So love yourself. If you want to be happy, to heal, you need to learn to love yourself. If you don’t, the only person you’ll find after trauma is someone you don’t love.
Learning to love yourself guarantees that, as you learn how to find yourself again after trauma, the person you find will be someone you love. And isn’t that what we all want in the end?
Few things have the power to control us that trauma has. It can ruin our lives and completely redefine who we are. But only if we let it. Our trauma does not have to define us. We can overcome it. We can master it.
Learning how to find yourself again after trauma is not easy, but it can be done, and it must be done. You’ll never heal fully if you don’t.