One thing I've noticed over and over when working with people who have experienced some sort of trauma is how depressed they often feel. When we start talking about the factors that contribute to the depression people often describe feeling lost and unsure of what to do to move forward. It became increasingly clear to me that whatever trauma they've experienced has fundamentally changed who they are as as people.
Most people realize they aren't the same as they were before the trauma occurred; actually, that's often why they come in to see me in the first place. Maybe they've recognized it themselves or maybe their loved ones have said to them, "You're a completely different person now."
What most of my patients want is to be how they were before whatever happened took place. Unfortunately, that's simply not possible. "You can't un-do what's been done," I explain. Events that bring a person face to face with death make them acutely aware of their mortality. This in itself is a very frightening and yet very profound experience. A close encounter with death or a severe illness or injury forces a person to reconsider his perception of himself as a competent individual who is able to handle threats and is capable of keeping himself safe. He suddenly realizes that there are many threats from which he is unable to protect himself; this makes him feel very vulnerable and defenseless.
My patients are fundamentally changed as a result of their experiences; they cannot go back to being who they were before. This is a difficult thing to accept; acceptance take place over time, not all at once. A person must make a conscious decision to let go of who they were without first knowing who they are going to become instead. They have to grieve the loss of their former selves. "I really liked who I was before," one patient lamented early in his grief process.
After that there is a period of limbo. Creating a new sense of identity takes a lot of hard work. A person may have to re-examine deep seated beliefs about himself, other people, and the world. He may need to find new activities that bring him joy and pleasure. He may have to end some relationships with people with whom he is no longer able to relate. He may have to seek out new relationships with different kinds of people. All of this takes time. Meanwhile, the person feels like he is no one, going nowhere. He is lost.
For anyone reading this who has been through a trauma, did the experience change you as a person? Did you go through a period of grieving the loss of who you were before? How did you come out on the other side of it?