PTSD Professional Perspective: Building Resilience
Friday, October 29th, 2010 • PTSD Guest Post: Professional Perspective •
PTSD and identity — do you know who you are today? Back in June, Andrea Mathews and I did a live interview about how to distingjuish between the mask and costume of trauma vs. your authentic self, what needs to be worked on FIRST in PTSD recovery and specific exercises to get in touch with your authentic self.
A transpersonal therapist and survivor herself, Andrea has terrific ideas about how to increase your personal power during the recovery of posttraumatic stress disorder. Today, she returns to expand those ideas.
Two people experience the same exact tragic events. One of them is demoralized by these events and cannot seem to manage life. The other experiences a wide range of emotions and thoughts related to these events but is challenged to overcome in a way that enables accelerated emotional, mental, social and spiritual growth. What is the difference in these two individuals? Resilience. But why does only one of them have it? The answer can be found in the conceptualization of identity.
Very often identity is a fluid, not a solid. And because it is, it can be poured into and contained by all manner of events, environmental influences, emotional and mental responses, and life stances. My sense of self then conforms to these containers. Now, instead of feeling the shame and horror of a molestation, I AM that shame and horror. Now because I lost my father at an early age, I AM lost. Now, because I lost my leg in a tragic auto accident, I AM less than others due to my difference. How I identify is everything because anything I see and hear after that identification is filtered through that identification.
On the other hand resilience is built because we feel feelings, think thoughts, and experience life events without identifying with them. I am not my feelings, my thoughts, or my experiences. I HAVE and OWN feelings, thoughts and experiences, if I am living authentically. But if I identify with them, then they have and own me.
When it comes to survival, however, most of us put on a mask and costume early in life in order to magically stay connected to the people we needed and on whom our survival depended. Further, for centuries we have lived under the misguided assumption that children come as lumps of clay with no more potential than what we give them. And so, it is easy for me as a child to identify as, for example, the victim, if I am constantly victimized by the people who are also attempting to psychologically mold me. Nevertheless, I am surviving. Quite ingeniously, in fact. If I agree with the dysfunctional system, by donning the mask and costume of victim, I have found a way to survive within that system.
While we can clearly see here that the mask and costume was a coping skill to keep me alive, we can’t really say that that skill amounts to resilience. Obviously we can see that if I grow to adulthood with a victim identity, I am not going to manage adult living very well. At this point, building resilience will mean building a new, more authentic self-image. Just because I think I am a victim, doesn’t mean I am. Who I really am, is someone who ingeniously survived for long enough to realize that I am wearing that mask and costume.
Once we see the mask and costume for what it is, then we can begin to look under it to see all manner of strengths and determinations, that though they have been channeled through dysfunctional thinking and behavior, are nevertheless just as strong and determined. Now we can begin to use those strengths in new ways, ways that spring from a deeper sense of the self-the authentic self. Once an awareness of the authentic self is established, then identity is no longer fluid. Now it is solid. Now I am managing my choices and experiencing my feelings and thoughts, rather than being managed by them. I am me, having a feeling, a thought or an experience and now I can decide what to do with them. Never again will my experiences dictate my life. I have developed resilience.
-Andrea Mathews, LPC, NCC © 2009
Bio: Author of Restoring My Soul: A Workbook for Finding and Living the Authentic Self, and the Home Study Course The Soul of Therapy, Andrea Mathews is a Licensed Professional Counselor, a National Certified Counselor, a Certified Counseling Supervisor and a National Board of Certified Counselors Approved Provider of Continuing Education with 30 years experience in the mental health field, the last twelve in a thriving solo private practice.
The opinions in this post are solely those of the author. To contribute to ‘Professional Perspective’ contact Michele.