It’s Okay to be Different After Trauma
By Emilie Trepanier
“The only constant in life is change.”-Heraclitus
Life is all about change, and this is the first step to accepting that trauma is something that will change you. Science, psychology and emotion all band together after trauma to change people. What survivors need to remember is that we can change for the better. Trauma is never good, but the positive impact we make on others is.
According to Psychology Today, symptoms of PTSD develop due to dysfunction in two regions of the brain; the amygdala and the prefrontal cortex.
Our amygdala detects threats and controls our “fight or flight” response. It helps us deal with the threat and us store threat-related memories. Our prefrontal cortex regulates attention and awareness, helps us make proper decisions, determines the meaning of events, regulates emotion and corrects dysfunctional reactions. As you can see, these parts of our brain are quite important.
People with PTSD have a hyperactive amygdala and a less activated prefrontal cortex. According to Psychology Today, “In other words, the amygdala reacts too strongly to a potential threat while the medial PFC is impaired in its ability to regulate threat response.”
The best approach to symptoms of PTSD is to seek trauma therapy and follow the guidance of your therapist. I will never be glad I was in a place where I found myself in trauma therapy, but I grew more as a person in therapy than I ever would have had I not experienced trauma and went to therapy for it.
If you’re struggling with accepting the new you, try some of the following methods:
- Therapy, of course.
- Exposure: this article talks about reintroducing stressors into your life gradually, showing your brain that you can handle hard things and therefore establishing a sense of security again.
- Reflect on traits you’ve developed, but put a positive twist on them. I used to be unafraid of what anyone thought of me and now I worry more about it. Positive twist? Thinking before you speak is actually a good thing. One day I will find the balance between being outspoken and being anxious about what to say. I’m learning.
- Life is a journey. Look behind you; how far have you come? Look in front of you; where do you want to go?
- Develop a new skill and attach this new skill to the new you. This can help you recreate and establish a sense of self.
- Make new friends! Keep your old ones too, but making new friends who know who you are right now and who you’re going to be tomorrow can help you feel safe that they aren’t comparing current you to past you.
After trauma it is beyond normal to not feel normal, to not feel like yourself. However, you likely are experiencing symptoms of PTSD and nobody should have to live that way. If feelings of PTSD are healing, but you still don’t feel like yourself, that’s because you have changed and grown. You’re human. This may mean you have outgrown people, relationships and activities. This is okay!
Before my trauma, I was much more outspoken. I was a lot of fun to be around and I never skipped a beat. Coming to terms with the fact that I’m more introspective now and a bit of a homebody has been an uncomfortable experience. I’m still not quite happy with it, but I am accepting that I’d rather read a book with my mom most days than go out and make new friends. I’m not any better or worse than I was before. I’m just a bit different. Also, I’m usually the only one who notices the differences in my personality.
Because trauma and then therapy forces us to focus on ourselves, it can be difficult to move beyond this line of thinking. However, most people aren’t going to notice changes in us. I’m pretty sure my mom and I are the only people who have noticed a difference in my personality. If part of the reason you’re worried about the parts of you that have changed is that you’re afraid of what others might think, keep in mind they likely haven’t noticed. If they have, they love all of you, not some of the traits you’ve left behind. They love your heart.
The fact is trauma is going to change you. But, life changes people. Change, no matter what, is inevitable. If there’s a piece of you that you lost during trauma that you feel is vital and you need to get back, that is possible. However, focusing on accepting change and choosing to heal first is usually the better bet.
If you or someone you know is in an abusive relationship, there is help. You can visit the Break the Silence Against Domestic Violence website at www.breakthesilencedv.org or chat with one of our helpline advocates at 855-287-1777.