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Student Blog

Finding The Root of Your Trauma and Uncovering Your True Potential



Our national awareness about the effects of trauma fluctuates depending on the news. While men and women in the military are particularly vulnerable, they are not unique. But their experience helps us understand. Veterans with PTSD will report that symptoms are not always present, but they will also tell you that they won’t go away. 






Too many events can trigger a recurrence of memories, feelings, or nightmares. Conventional wisdom recommends staying away from distressing thoughts. Unfortunately, running away from them only intensifies their pursuit.


 A Vietnam veteran with whom I had the privilege to work told me that he knew that he needed check-ups for his PTSD periodically. He found the return to the clinic to be necessary and terrible. In the therapy sessions, he blurted out damning stories that he was still carrying, hoping that daylight could bring forgiveness. 


He improved and felt better, but still knew he might return in the future. He left treatment, knowing that he still had a hole in his heart. But he thought he could now be more available to those who loved him. 



Unavoidable: Acknowledging the Wound


In my therapy practice, I tell people what they don’t want to hear. You can’t just run to the light; you must examine the dark side. 


Patrick needed to stop drinking before it killed him, but he couldn’t look into the dark closet where he hid from his abusive father as a boy. 


When he finally returned to therapy, it was too late. His physician had already given him the terminal diagnosis. However, he decided to address his opponent when he left. He shared stories of the abuse, his sense of powerlessness, and his mother’s failure to save him. He finally reached peace and died sober. 


Lisa wanted me to tell her it would be alright, just as her previous therapists had done. She didn’t want to reveal to anyone that her father raped her repeatedly as a young teen and that the images still erupted into nightmares.


When she experienced and was able to process fear in the safety of therapy, she believed in the possibility of change. Outside the consulting room, though, she had to resist the temptation to return to denial. 


Patrick’s death certificate listed the cause of death as heart failure. That was, but one of the vital organ systems that had started shutting down as the effects of long-term alcohol use took his life. His liver was beyond repair; he was on dialysis and required oxygen. Yet he turned the last six months of his life into a personal self-examination. He showed me that you don’t have to fear facing the pain in your life.







What About You?


Have your feelings tugged you one way while your head demanded you to follow a different road? Does it seem more natural to block out the pain and pretend it’s gone? Have you found that insight by itself is empty? 


Lisa only solidified her understanding and advanced in her healing when she confronted her older sisters about their father’s behavior. The pain for them was too great. 


First, they denied anything happened. Then, they admitted it happened to them too. Finally, they dismissed it. “That was just Dad,” they said. The experience forced Lisa to stand alone with outrage and anger. She could no longer forget. She could no longer deny it.


The path to healing requires you to acknowledge the wound you carry. That burden is the source of your distress. What about the positive psychology approach that emphasizes latching onto the goodness in the universe? 


Dr. Dyer says we only have to connect to our source to heal. However, a one-sided healing process is incomplete and out of balance. Healing must utilize all of your experience, both positive and negative.


There are three steps to making peace with the hole in your life.






1. Quiet the Noise and Focus on the Self


This is not contemplating your navel or being so self-absorbed that you can only talk about yourself. You need to be immersed in your environment. It is sensing all that is going on inside and outside you. 


One of my clients pursued this consciousness through a mindfulness meditation course. She found it exhilarating. She could be aware of the clock’s tick, but more importantly, the infinite space between each click. 


She said it was being in the now, feeling the rush of blood in each beat of her heart and the chill of a breeze touching her face. She said she felt fully alive in the now. 


Her enthusiasm waned, and she became frustrated that she couldn’t feel that way all the time. She had had a glimpse of the peak experience described by Maslow and had a sense of what being fully awake and fully aware of herself could be. This experience opened her to the potential to be all that she could be. 






2. Imagine Yourself Without Bounds


You do not have to be defined by the hole in your life. Stretch the possibilities of your idea of what you could be. Know that you can accomplish anything. When your fear does not limit you, you must choose who you are. 


The horizon becomes more apparent, and you realize you’re invited to decide who you are becoming. You are all that you have been and much more. 



3. Choose Who You Are


You are naturally pulled back to your old self-concept and the negative voice that says you can’t change. At this point, you must re-evaluate whether you wish to hold onto the damaging resentments, the bad feelings, or the implicit, hidden “shoulds” in your world. 


When you choose who you are, with each breath, you will feel freer from the worry of the past and know that the hole in your life still exists but doesn’t have to define you.







Your Perspective Is Blocked If You Remain Trapped


All of us have a particular hole in our lives. Usually, it arises from your early years before age 5. The title of John Bolby’s classic work, “Separation and Loss,” gives us an intuitive appreciation for what it is about. The loss could be the early loss of a parent to death. But it doesn’t have to be that dramatic; it can even be a brief time away from the primary caregiver. 


It could be a problematic physical illness for the infant or toddler. It is so salient that the experience is encoded at a non-verbal level with a distinctive meaning attached to the emotion.


 Do you remember before you were 5? No, most people don’t. We begin to form a coherent self-narrative around kindergarten.  


Before that, memory is spotty. Scientifically, our best understanding is not that memory doesn’t exist but is not encoded with words. It is a pure emotional memory. 


The feelings attached to those early experiences drive your behavior and become associated with your life story as it unfolds. From behind the curtain of awareness, those old experiences influence your choices now. 







Personal Growth Requires Reframing


As long as you recount the past injuries in the same old context, you never gain a new perspective on the old hurt. A retired physician came for therapy and knew that his resentment about his overly critical, domineering father poisoned the relationship between his wife and his son. He even had dreams of himself at age five, angry and unforgiving. 


Intellectually, he could explain that he was acting out that 5-year-old’s feelings at his current age, but he couldn’t stop himself. He scoffed at my request that he turn around, look at that little boy, and love him. 


When he finally did that, the crisis in his marriage subsided. His son started talking to him. His reframe recreated his life relationships. He went past his father’s grave for the first time. 


Embarking on a journey of self-reflection, where you courageously confront your life’s hurts, is the key to unlocking profound, life-changing experiences. This process liberates you from the limitations imposed by these hurts, allowing you to redefine your life.


This article presents a clear roadmap to guide you on your personal growth journey. The three steps outlined here will empower you to examine your life's hurts, redefine your experiences, and ultimately, choose who you want to be.  


First, quiet the noise in your world. Turn off the TV. Take some time for yourself to walk or just be alone. Refuse the next social invitation when you accept only to be polite.  


Listen to your story told in the context of your early experiences or dreams each night. Let yourself inhabit the feeling of those stories and memories. 


Second, refuse to let those old hurts define you. Feel the freedom to envision yourself without bounds. And finally, choose who you are to be, just for yourself. Look back and see if you can love that little girl or boy who grew into you. See if you can fully appreciate the saying, “The girl is mother to the woman; the boy is father to the man.” 



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