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Hard to Change when Your Identity Is So Wrapped Up in a Traumatic Past

29 Jul

Hi, Belleruth,

I was molested starting at one month by my grandfather and two friends…first orally then other ways as time went on.

At age seven I was raped on vacations in the summer by my Grandfather until I got my period.

I always had memories and dreams that clued me something had happened, but then at age fifty I saw the first molestation and over the years I saw and re-experienced more and more.
 
Over the last forty five years I have done therapy, a few years of meds. Yoga meditation, inner child work therapy,  guided meditation, de-traumatizing body work, many years of rebirthing, some EMDR, processing support group,  and just talking with friends..

These past years I have returned to meditation and Yoga and faith for stabilization.

Everything has helped a lot.

My issue is that I get sick a lot and injure myself and have pain throughout my spine, knees, hands etc.  With almost no pain threshold, it hurts a lot, and until recently, when I finally got a great Yoga, pilates and water arobics mix with an incredible diet and supplements AND STOPPED RUNNING AROUND LOOKING FOR HELP, WENT BACK ON LEXAPRO, TEN MILIGRAMS a Day, AND CAN MANAGE NOW...

Other, more important issue is that I have alienated all my close friends.. have many, many not so close friends, but the closest ones are sick of hearing about my pain, and about twice a year I get enraged and lash out at someone who doesn’t understand or care.
 
It causes more alienation and humiliates my family, and has alienated my older daughter.

I can deal with the pain and rage most of the time - then something just gets unhinged in me, and I let go in a text or note, saying all the right things but the inner rage comes thru and hurts the other person.

I also talk too much about things that alienate my husband and older daughter by my obsession with health.

Is there help for this ?

Linda

Dear Linda,

Thanks for the terrific question.
 
And congratulations on all the work you've done over the years to manage and, in many ways, surmount the awful experiences you were put through at such a vulnerable and formative age.

It's also clear that you have an incredible amount of insight into yourself and you know how to take responsibility for your own reactivity and the behavior that winds up being hard on others.  So let me first just start out by saying that if I were into wearing hats, I'd be taking mine off to you for all that you've accomplished.

The only thing I’d add to your current strategy is maybe some therapeutic massage. A lot of trauma survivors suffer from chronic pain, often from pain-generating kinins that get trapped in the muscle tissue from the biochemical cascade caused by the body’s habituated response to trauma.  So a lot of that stuff gets stuck.  Massage can help move it out mechanically – it can literally feel crunchy under the fingers of a skilled massotherapist who understands the body’s response to trauma. This might be worth a try, even though I like the idea that you’re no longer running around looking for silver bullets.

It seems to me that you're now at the point where you can just plain work on impulse control - in other words, becoming more aware of your triggers and when you're about to do something alienating to someone else - and just keep a lid on it.  Walk away.  Meditate, say a mantra, do Cognitive Behavioral tricks.  Write those emails but do NOT hit 'send' – in fact, best to wipe out the address in the "TO" line, before you start writing!  But the bottom line: keep a lid on it.  You know better than anyone that it gets you nowhere - just deeper into a lonely hole.

I know that doesn't sound like very clinical advice.  But you've got all the insight you need.  Now you just have to apply that incredible will of yours to changing your behavior.  Not so easy, I know - but sometimes that's the best advice:  just do it, as the Nike people like to say.  (I do love that saying.)

Two thoughts that might help you do this:

One, if at all possible, see if you can cultivate a sense of humor about the position you're in.  If you can do this, even if only in teeny increments, it will help you immeasurably with distance, perspective and stabilization, just as your faith, yoga and meditation do.  It will also help you to feel more a part of the crazy human condition we all share, although I grant you, you've been subjected to far more lunacy and cruelty than most. But it will allow you to more fully join your fellow travelers on this crazy human journey.  And it will slowly but surely take some of that edge off.

Two, see if you can transform your sense of your own identity to extend beyond just being the survivor of hideous, traumatic abuse.  I believe the problem for many who've suffered, survived and successfully managed deep and difficult emotional issues the way you have, is that it becomes their primary identity.  

And as long as that's the case, it's very hard to shake loose from it, even with all your excellent coping skills.  But if you can train yourself to transcend this primary identity, and open your sense of yourself to other aspects - wife, mother, friend, artist, community member, worker... whatever applies - this could have a powerful impact on everything.  

You might even want to create a daily mantra, spoken to yourself just as you wake up, fall asleep and right smack in the middle of your meditation and prayer practices (where you'd be in a maximally receptive, altered state - terrific for creating inner change).
 
For instance, your mantra could be, "I am not my trauma; I am far greater than my trauma.  I am a loving mother, wife and friend..."  You could do this in stages, adding complexity and nuance to this newly opened up sense of self.
 
But trust me on this:  your biggest problem now is that your identity is too bound up with your traumatic past.  That was necessary for a long time, as you worked so hard to heal.  But now you're stuck there and you need to transcend that. 

The good news:  it's totally do-able.

Does this make sense to you?  I hope so.  Please let me know how it goes.

All best,
Belleruth

Belleruth Naparstek

Psychotherapist, author and guided imagery pioneer Belleruth Naparstek is the creator of the popular Health Journeys guided imagery audio series. Her latest book on imagery and posttraumatic stress, Invisible Heroes: Survivors of Trauma and How They Heal (Bantam Dell), won the Spirituality & Health Top 50 Books Award