After the fog clears from a painful relationship, a loss, or some other traumatic experience, you'll suddenly realize you have no idea who you are anymore. Even though it's scary and overwhelming to realize this, I want to encourage you to rethink what this really means.
Here's what happened: That period in your life took so much of your time and energy that you had to, in many ways, put yourself on hold in order to survive. So then, if you're at the point where you're curious about your interests, values, or meaning, it means you are no longer in survivor-mode.You are healing. Every trauma survivor gets to this point. It's another phase of the healing process.
Here's the good news though: unlike where you've just been, this step will not take from you. Instead, as you begin to learn and discover new things about yourself, it will restore and invigorate you at exponential levels. If this is where you are in your healing process, I want to not only encourage you, but give just a few ideas on ways to rediscover yourself after a traumatic experience:
Try out New Things
Much like that stage where teenagers don purple hair, try out grunge music and seem to have a new persona each week, this is the time for you to match new outward experiences to what is going on inside of you. Listen to different types of music, and try a new hobby.
Give yourself permission to break free from others' opinions of you, and become someone new. Because... you are someone new.
Take a Test
There are a wealth of inventories available to help you get a sense of your values, strengths, and weaknesses. The Enneagram (one of my favorites) has a free short test. The MBTI and StrengthsFinder are two other common ones. Take a test or two and see if it resonates with your sense of self. Ask around to see if others agree. Take what results help you understand yourself, and leave what does not.
Ask Someone You Trust
Give permission for a few people you trust to give you their sense of your strengths and weaknesses. Consider something like this:
"I am working on a self-awareness project. I'm asking a few people I trust to help me. Would you - without worrying how I'd respond or my ability to do it - tell me one quality you appreciate about me, and one way you'd like to see me grow? You can think about it, and send me an email if you'd like."
The people around you often have thoughts about these things but aren't always sure the right time to say it. Be sure that you will let them off the hook for any constructive criticism, knowing they are not intending to hurt you. The key is that it has to be someone you know has your best interest in mind.
If you do not have someone you trust, this will not be an emotionally safe activity for you, and I'd wait until you have built a safe support network before trying it. If you do try this, let me know how it goes! (I've done this myself, by the way, and grew quite a bit from it).
Grab a pen and paper, and spend some time thinking through two questions:
1)Who were you before the trauma? What were your interests, hobbies, values, strengths, and weaknesses?
If are a survivor of childhood trauma, you may not have an answer to this. That's okay. This second question is for you:
2) What did - outside of a specific person - the trauma take from you? Think of broad and specific answers like "freedom", "my childhood", and "financial stability".
These are painful questions to ask yourself, so do not be surprised if it brings (lots of) tears. Being honest with yourself about what you've lost is an important step in grieving.
Download my Listing Losses Journaling Exercise, for more details.
After you have looked back, take your answers and look ahead. Is there any part of you that you can bring back? What would be the easiest to start with? You can also set goals independent of the past. What small difference would you like to see in yourself in three months? What is one small step you can take in that direction?
A Final Word of Encouragement
You are now in a place to create a new you. It's an overwhelming but beautiful process. Take these steps with a counselor, if you have access to one and that would be helpful. If you decide to do any of these, would you stop by and let me know how it goes? I'd love to encourage you as you do.