Trauma Series 6: Loss of Self

Most likely you know what you like and maybe you have always known.  Like, who your favorite band is, what kind of clothes you like to wear, what sort of movies and shows you are interested in, etc.  Most of us have spent our whole lives developing our likes and dislikes, learning from experience and occasionally changing, but still knowing.  But, not everyone has a sense of self; in fact, some people feel as if they don’t know theirselves at all.  Maybe you feel that way, or maybe you have felt that way and you know exactly what I am talking about.  In this blog, we will cover the sixth effect of childhood trauma; loss of a sense of self.

When I was a teenager, I remember looking around at all of my peers wondering why I was so different from them.  At the time, I didn’t understand that my home life was abnormal because it was the only experience that I had ever had.  While my friends were out making new friends and attending football games and making memories, I was spending nearly every day locked in my bedroom, stuck in a sort of time loop that I had created in an attempt to protect myself.  I did do things.  I had friends and I went to their houses and we made memories, but during those scant breaks from home, I felt like an empty shell; like it wasn’t really me experiencing what was happening.  I always felt like I was watching myself from the outside; seeing but not involved.  

Life, in general, is a journey of self discovery and for many of us, we begin that journey from the time we are born until the time that we die.  Our teenage years are often some of the most exploratory years of our lives as we realize our separateness from our parents and begin to make choices that reflect the kind of individual that we will someday become.  But for me, self discovery was put on extended hold as I learned to survive and function in an unstable home.  Rather than continuing to learn about myself, I began to live through others, trying to escape my own life in whatever means possible.  I watched whoever I deemed beautiful, learning all about what they liked and where they lived and what they supported, etc because maybe if I could be more like “that” person, I could love myself.  I buried myself in shows (anyone watch Charmed??), sinking deep into the lives of people who didn’t even exist.  I read constantly, transferring myself into worlds I so badly wanted to be a part of (Harry Potter…eh, eh? 🙂 ).  My life was filled by the lives of others, squishing as much of me out as possible, and there was no time left to figure out who I was or what I wanted or…

When I made it to college, I suddenly realized that the last six years of my life had been wasted on trying to be someone other than myself.  While I was around hundreds of people who maybe didn’t know exactly who they were or what they liked (because who does?), they still had a sense of self (at least, I believed they did…which unfortunately is more impactful at times); an idea of what they stood for.  I didn’t know who to make friends with, because I had nothing in common with anyone (because I didn’t know what I liked, didn’t like, etc).  I didn’t have opinions on the things everyone else was talking about, because I had spent my life learning to not have an opinion as I tried to squeeze the life out of myself, hoping that I could disappear for good.  Having no sense of self is difficult to explain, because it seems so…unrealistic?  In Annie Wright’s article (7 Psychological Impacts of Surviving Childhood Trauma) she defines it as this:

Loss of a sense of self is, “not knowing who, at your core, you are and what your most basic needs and wants might be. A hollow or false sense of self.”      

Yikes!  I think it was pretty traumatizing in and of itself when I realized I didn’t know who Sarah was.  I felt like a fraud, a fake, an imposter in my own body.  So, I started trying everything.  I tried being emo, I tried being preppy, I tried out fitness and legalism and being conservative.  I tried out being a girlfriend and being friends to people everyone loved and friends with people no one liked.  I tried different foods and movies and began to travel.  Basically, I just started trying whatever I could get my hands wrapped around, searching for a sense of self; a sense of knowing who I was at my core.  Gabe always jokes with me about how, when we first got together, he had no idea he was going to be dating upwards of ten different people.  My transformational years as a young adult were pretty intense. Haha.  

After years of exploring and searching, I found her.  I found her wrapped in the arms of Jesus.  I found her in health and fitness.  I found her in places I had never expected; places I can still hardly believe held the key to who I am.  I have been growing tremendously, but the loss of self is still a battle I fight on the daily.  I know who I am, but often if feels like I don’t.  I strive for honesty and authenticity, but even then I wonder, is this me?  I see myself as I am, but I get glimpses of the emptiness that storms behind me, threatening to unravel the girl I have learned to become.  I have spent my whole life wondering why anyone would want to “know” me or listen to anything I might have to say.  I have spent years feeling judged for my honesty, like I was somehow doing something terribly wrong.  And I learned to suppress it…until I couldn’t anymore.

My name is Sarah Elizabeth Brazle.  I am adopted.  I have a wonderful family.  I have intense childhood trauma.  I am not defined by my actions, my personality, or my body…I am defined by Jesus and the rest…well, the rest is just the superficiality of my being.  I love iced coffee and my husband.  I love my kids.  I love saving the planet as I can and lifting heavy weights and reading and writing and exploring and deep conversations and swimming in the ocean and climbing mountains.  I love so SO much…but it doesn’t define me.  Because what I like or don’t like isn’t the core of who I am.  I hope that when people talk to me they can see past the walls that I learned to put up; past the survival instinct that tells me to be stoic until I feel safe.  Because, deep inside of me is the tiniest little fresh water spring, bubbling and gurgling and filled with so much life and laughter and joy, because I know who my heart belongs to, and that my friends, has healed me.  

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