In its broadest definition, trauma can be defined in three ways: any experience that (1) is less than nourishing, (2) overwhelms your ability to cope, (3) changes how you see your place in the world. Divorce can create the experience of all three. One of the biggest problems after trauma is that you can become so focused on the past that the future seems impossible to imagine. Yet constructing your post-trauma identity and reclaiming your life means imagining and then creating the future you desire. It’s critical to start shifting your gaze away from pain, danger, and healing and direct it toward something positive and constructive. Now is the time to create a blueprint for a future self that is exactly who you would choose to be. With that vision in place, you will know what you’re moving toward, plus you’ll be able to identify what actions, experiences, and alterations are necessary for your post-trauma identity construction to reach its full potential.
For a moment right now, close your eyes, and imagine who you will be when your recovery journey ends and your post-trauma identity (while ever evolving) becomes stable. Imagine how you will behave, walk, talk, dress, work, travel, love, rest, play, and anything else that comes to mind. How clearly and vividly do you see that person? How well can you hear the sound of your future voice? How will it feel to be the future you?
When I ask clients to do this exercise, I receive a variety of responses, from quick intakes of breath to scowls to looks of sheer panic. Some diligently try to complete the exercise. They close their eyes, settle their bodies, and do their best to will an image and sensations to appear. Often this activity prompts irritation, frustration, fear, and even desperation. If these (or any other) avoidance responses feel familiar when you engage in this exercise, relax – that’s completely normal. Stand up for a moment and stretch. Take a deep breath, hold it, and let it go. Scrunch your shoulders up and then back down from your ears. You’re doing just fine. The purpose of this activity is only to get a baseline of where your imagination is so that you know where you need to build it from. Imagining things as different from how they presently are can be incredibly difficult at first. Who and how you
Many survivors reach this point and recoil from their absence of knowledge about their future selves. When Jared is asked to describe his future self, for example, he replies, “That’s impossible; I can’t do it.” A combat veteran, Jared is highly trained to anticipate. However, he finds it difficult to apply that skill to his own future. He’s not alone. For a long
Was I right? Are you able to vividly imagine bad things happening? I thought so. That was actually a trick
The only way you will change is if you make it happen. While others can support and help you, only you can create the changes you wish to experience. Achieving outcomes in post-trauma recovery – and especially in constructing your ready-to-wear identity – requires making choices in alignment with your desires. When you first approach this part of the post-trauma identity construction process, it can seem as if you lack direction. That’s easily remedied with