When you’ve experienced a scarring event or relationship, healing means learning to follow your own path, and to meet your own needs before others’. However, the experiences that necessitate healing tend to also tear down your sense of self. How can you follow your own path, if your trauma keeps you from seeing it?
In order to heal and make meaningful changes to your life, you have to recover your sense of self. Without rebuilding a strong sense of self, healing attempts may lead you further from your actual needs. Rediscovering who you are and what you need takes time, but can help guide you in rebuilding a better life.
Who are you?
Here’s an important question we might not think to ask ourselves:
Who are you?
Once you know yourself, you can move forward and strive to get what you want. So it’s worth reexamining your inner world.
We all have things we like and don’t like about ourselves. You might be a great leader or an articulate speaker. Perhaps you’re a talented artist or someone who is good with numbers. Everyone has talents, and it’s crucial to understand those strengths and embrace them. Knowing what you’re good at will help you feel more confident.
In addition to your strengths, each person has flaws. It’s easy to fall into the trap of self-deprecation; you’re not good at something, so you humorously rag on yourself.
Just because you don’t excel in a certain area doesn’t mean it needs to impact your self-worth. Each person is good at different things.
So it’s time to take inventory. What are your strengths? What can you offer the world? Make a list of these attributes to remind yourself who you are and where you want to go.
Where does your sense of self come from?
Strengths vs flaws are not the be-all end-all of your sense of self. At the beginning of your healing process, also consider the life circumstances that magnified your flaws and nurtured your strengths.
You’ll want to seek a future that embodies the potential of your strengths, allowing you to grow without encouraging unhelpful patterns.
For example, a dysfunctional family may have made you territorial about your possessions and fearful of conflict. You can’t heal if you’re still around dysfunctional people; you can’t learn to trust them, because they’re not trustworthy. Staying in such a situation, your body learns to expect dysfunction, and healing becomes much harder.
Understanding your personal truth helps you give yourself the benefit of the doubt, and avoid repeating past pitfalls.
With this knowledge, you also have a guide for building your future. You’ll want to surround yourself with people who naturally understand others’ boundaries, and who solve routine problems without unnecessary conflict.
What can break down your sense of self?
Mistakes are inevitable. We all make blunders, hurt people, screw up, or anger the ones we love. That’s a part of life.
It’s crucial to accept that you will make mistakes, and mistakes make you human. Otherwise, you’ll find yourself ruminating, overthinking, or regretting your choices.
It’s natural to look back at your mistakes and wonder what you could have done differently. Unfortunately, at this moment, time travel isn’t possible. We can only work with what’s happening right now. You can’t change the past, but you can control your actions in the present.
How NOT to internalize mistakes:
When you realize you made an error, you don’t have to beat yourself up; but it’s important to apologize and make amends. Also, remember that there are times when people won’t accept your apology. That’s okay, as long as you tried the best that you could. Ask yourself, “did I do everything in my power to remedy this situation?” If the answer is yes, then you can move forward and start to forgive yourself. You know if you’ve put in the effort to own your mistakes and apologize.
Breakups can be brutal. You know who you are, and your partner loved that person. Now, the relationship is gone, and you find yourself feeling lost or unlovable.
Sometimes, it’s difficult to figure out who you are without being in a relationship after a breakup. You shared your life with someone special. Now, they’re gone, and you have to figure out where to go from here.
Remember that you existed before you were in the relationship. Your identity is separate from this other person. One thing to remember is that other people’s views or opinions don’t define your identity. Don’t let anyone tell you who you are. That goes for exes, friends, co-workers, family, or strangers. Each person is entitled to their opinions, but only you can define your identity. For example, if someone tells you that they think you’re a coward, that doesn’t make it the truth. You have a right to define yourself. Of course, as human beings, we care about what others think of us. But, there’s a difference between wanting someone to like you and defining your identity by their opinion. It’s crucial to work on your sense of self, particularly after a relationship ends. You can get back to understanding what’s important to you and pursue your passions and dreams.
An external force that can impact a person’s sense of self is trauma. When you’ve experienced trauma, such as an abusive relationship, abandonment, sexual or emotional abuse…it impacts you.
Recovering your sense of self after trauma involves refusing to let others’ opinions define you.
If you’re in an abusive relationship, your partner likely insults you or demeans your sense of self-worth. Remind yourself that this has nothing to do with you — it’s a reflection of their emotional deficits. What they’re saying about you isn’t the truth, and it’s never too late to reject their gaslighting.
It’s easy to question yourself after traumatic experiences. You may wonder if you brought this mistreatment on yourself. So let’s get one thing straight: didn’t deserve the trauma in your life. You are a survivor of these experiences, and you can find a way back to yourself and what matters to you. The trauma that happened to you is real, but so is your value as a human being.
You are not your traumatic experiences; you’re a human being who has had a rich life full of joyous moments and painful experiences that have helped you grow. Appreciating that can help hold on to a positive sense of self after trauma.
How can I rediscover my sense of self?
Spending time by yourself can allow you to rediscover who you are. During alone time, the impulse to censor yourself decreases. Meditation and journaling are two ways to spend time with yourself and get to know how your mind works.
One way to make the most of alone time is by meditating. When you sit quietly with yourself or do a walking meditation where you listen to your inner voice, it can be grounding. You’re not surrounded by other people who cause distraction.
It’s tempting to drown out the thoughts in your mind by being around others constantly. But this habit may keep us from a close relationship with ourselves.
Maybe your internal monologue is just really uncomfortable and filled with self-hatred. If you’re feeling that way, it can help to take out a journal and write down your thoughts. You may feel overwhelmed and scared of what you’ll write, but getting your thoughts out on paper can be a freeing experience. It forces you to honor who you are and what you feel — not just the parts that others can accept.
There are times when you might feel totally hopeless as a person. You might doubt your intelligence, choices, or general goodness. Everyone goes through difficult periods where they feel these ways — it’s difficult to dig yourself out of an emotional hole. But if you honor your own struggles, you can understand and blame yourself less. Impatience with oneself and an intense inner critic are not your fault, but self compassion helps you confront them head-on.
You may just be stuck in a negative thought pattern. You think things like, “I can’t get through this,” or “I’m so stupid.” When you feel anxious or depressed, things can feel impossible, and you might feel hopeless.
Allow yourself to acknowledge these feelings and how hard they are. You deserve to have compassion for yourself during these times.
Be gentle with yourself as you would be with a friend, and if it helps, you can even say these affirmations aloud:
- I’m sorry you’re going through this
- Things are hard right now
- You’re hurting, and you don’t deserve that
Feel free to make up a self-compassion affirmation that works for you, and makes you feel emotionally validated. You don’t need other people to see you hurting to validate that it’s real. These emotions are present, and you can acknowledge their existence. That emotional awareness can be powerful and life-changing. Self-compassion allows you the chance to grow and attain a more fair sense of self. With this practice, you may even find that you’re able to be more empathetic toward others.
Surrounding yourself with people who get you
Have you ever found yourself in a crowded room of people but felt completely alone? That’s more common than you’d think – and that, itself, is something to connect over!
In order to feel connected and seen, it’s important to be around people who understand you. When you are surrounded by individuals who see you for who you are, that’s an exhilarating feeling; you can be yourself and have enriching conversations. You’re not burdened with hiding parts of yourself.
If there are friends who make you feel good about you, prioritize time with those people. You could find that connecting with others makes you feel valued. If you find that you want to connect with others, follow that instinct — your intuition is telling you that you need to seek out a tribe of like-minded people.
Communicating with individuals who have the same passions and experiences as you can make you feel valued, appreciated, and understood. Support can help you regain a sense of self that you’ve lost.
When you recognize who you are and what you’ve been through, you naturally get a better sense of where you want your life to go. That sense of self is a prerequisite for real, lasting healing.