Long-term trauma can stunt social and emotional growth, leading to set patterns of behavior, or roles, that are often unhealthy. You may have heard of some of these roles before or you may even define some of your own family members by these terms. Some examples are “abuser,” “addict,” “saint,” “scapegoat,” “peacemaker,” “co-dependent,” or “caretaker.” Labels define how the person is viewed by his/her family as part of the family system. The roles are interconnected and encompass how others in the family view each individual. This leads to many different effects on each family member that I will explain at another time, but for the purposes of this blog think of each role as being an identity that the individual takes on. When someone leaves the family system they are able to form a new identity. The label that they have been given, whether consciously or not, is often how the individual perceives themselves. Separating from family is a time where new identity can be formed.
Growing, Evolving, and Changing
Identity comes with time, space, and healing. Putting boundaries in place while in contact with toxic people and limiting time spent with anyone who is abusive, non-supportive, or views you in a role you do not want to be defined as, are ways to give yourself the space and time needed to heal and grow. It’s likely you know what you do NOT want, what you do NOT like, or what or who you NEVER want to be like, but you may struggle more with figuring out what you DO want, what you DO like, and who you WANT to be. Giving yourself time and space to heal allows the ability to create a life for yourself free from the roles you’ve been given. Every new situation you allow yourself to be in will mold you. Everytime you handle relationships in a new way you will grow. In fact, you will see that when you start making changes in how you cope, communicate, and interact with others people may be confused by your behavior and/or react negatively to your positive changes. This is because your behavior and identity are no longer fitting your given role in your family system, which means that other people’s behavior will need to change when interacting with you. For example: If you tend to put others needs above your own (aka “people pleaser” or “caretaker”) to the detriment of yourself, people become expectant that you will do what they ask. When people are not able to get what they want from you anymore they may become angry, pressure you, or give you the silent treatment in order to manipulate you into doing what they want. They may accuse you of being mean or belittle you. Usually a person who fits the “caretaker” or “people pleaser” role would feel guilty, but the longer they have time, space and healing, the more they will see that they are not being unreasonable and that boundaries are healthy.
Life Beyond My Roles
Roles have been a large part of my life. Time, space, and healing were what I needed to develop my own identity. Attending college for social work really changed my life. I learned so much from my professors about life and my own personal patterns and behaviors. I learned a lot from my roommates and classmates, many who were from other countries or other parts of the United States. I worked in a domestic violence shelter in college, which changed me in ways that I did not know were possible. I grew through advocating for others. I became a Christian and got sober when I was 26 and each of these life changes completely changed my identity. So much of my life had revolved around trauma and self medicating through alcohol and drugs, but once I stopped using substances and became a Christian all of my behaviors changed and I built a new identity in Christ. This is a difficult process to describe. The love of God changed my heart causing my desires, attitude and thoughts to reflect God and his desires and thoughts about me. This can only be learned through reading the Bible and spending time in prayer and in church. I started to see many changes in myself. However, I got so into church and my Bible that I didn’t develop beyond that. This was not healthy either. I had no hobbies and no goals, and knew very little about myself. I started to experience new activities and do things outside of my comfort zone, and I did things alone ( like go to the movies) and became more comfortable with myself. These steps seem very simple, but there is a level of vulnerability needed that can be difficult emotionally. There is a lot of shame, insecurity and fear to overcome in the process, as well as the determining of healthy boundaries. I recommend seeing a counselor to help with this process.
Identity is always evolving and changing with age and as you develop new wisdom or roles and encounter new situations. Some examples would be becoming a husband or wife, father or mother, a new career, or moving. These roles do not completely define you, but they add to your identity, change you, and teach you more about yourself. My previous blog, Building An Identity, talks specifically about steps to get to know yourself better and build an identity. I’d love to hear more about your story and hear any questions or comments you might have. Please contact me at email@example.com
#PTSD #trauma #secondarytrauma #panic #relivingmypast #letgoofmypast #emotional healing