For a long time you’ve been living as your Survivor Self — that part of you driven by fear, that sees threat everywhere. The neurophysiological changes trauma causes put in place PTSD symptoms that grow over time and become entrenched leading you into a life of coping, managing and shrinking life down to a size that seems safe and over which you feel you have control.
But this is no way to live. Moving through your days afraid, attempting to outrun symptoms and avoid meltdowns isn’t living; it’s drifting through a life that wasn’t meant for you.
The real life you are supposed to be living is one in which you feel secure and competent, confident and capable; expecting to be able to handle what happens because you are rooted in the present with strength and courage.
How can you make the shift from powerless to powerful?
This shift is the root of all PTSD recovery processes. It is what enables you to move away from fear and toward a sense of peace and calm.
What I’m about to suggest may seem simple, but it’s a practice that yields powerful results. Excerpted from an article I recently wrote titled, “After Trauma: Learning to Accept the Who You Are Now,” there are four small and manageable actions you can take to engage a part of you that knows how to release the past and live in the present.
It all hinges on making contact with the The Good In You, which resides in a place that you feel empowered, able and connected to The Real You. In this place your Survivor Self takes a back seat and you relearn what it means to feel good about being in your skin. Some ways to practice making the shift from Survivor Self to The Real You include:
Get in touch with the rest of you. Acknowledge the qualities you admire about yourself by making a list of them. Choose words that clearly explain what characteristics you appreciate about who you are today. Then, write out a sentence about why you appreciate that and what it means about you. (i.e. “I appreciate that I __________ because it means __________.”) Share the list with someone else to wholly step into and own it.
Do something nice for yourself. Show yourself you like you even though you may be struggling. When you do something nice for yourself you make a choice and act from that positive side of who you are. The more you do this the more you live as that person the more you shift the balance between symptoms and recovery.
Do something nice for someone else. When you commit a random act of kindness your brain automatically releases serotonin, a powerful mood enhancer. The feel-good feeling that floods you creates an experience (remember, the brain changes due to new experiences) that reconnects you to feeling good about who you are.
Take an action that makes a difference in the world. The post-trauma world can feel very isolating. You’re different from many of the people you now know, yes. But you’re also the same as many people too. What do you feel passionate about or interested by in the world at large? Tapping into your community/global values and engaging with them allows you to connect with others who share your focus. It also allows you to find a tribe in which to feel a sense of belonging that creates a bridge out of your isolation.
This is a fact: You can change who you are. Your identity, like your brain, is designed to evolve constantly. The more you consciously seek to claim control over the change in your identity (the way you seek to change your brain) after trauma the more you heal, the more you live, the more successful you become at both recovery and creating a self and life that feels good to you.