How Stress Becomes Identity

How Stress Becomes Identity

Star Wars Identities by Olivier Duquessne
Star Wars Identities by Olivier Duquessne

During the Trauma Informed Coaching course, they talked about the sequence of Emotions, States, and Traits.

We all have emotions that come and go throughout the day, like passing flavours of energy. However, when we have emotions that are more than we can process or that we’re resisting, they don’t get digested. Energetic residues remain.

We store these in the physical and emotional bodies.

When enough residue builds up, that creates a state in the physiology. The body can’t come back into balance and remains dysregulated. This is trauma. For example, when enough unresolved fear builds up, we end up with ongoing anxiety. Or enough sadness, we get general sadness or even depression.

When this state is sustained, we come to see it as part of who we are. Our “normal.” We become identified with it. For example, “I’m an anxious person.” We see it as a trait or characteristic of ourselves. Trauma becomes traits.

In this way, major aspects of our personality or self-sense can be the side effect of unresolved experiences. They don’t reflect who we are, just our past troubles.

These traits can also be passed down in families as we adapt to the family we’re born into. And there are cultural traits too. For example, Western culture uses shame to manage children’s behaviour and anger is often considered unacceptable.

On top of all this, the mind likes to explain everything. So it builds stories about our experience. “I’m an anxious person because of my mother.” Or because of whatever else. Often, this is just the mind wanting to feel in control. It’s not based on fact, just a need for surety.

Because our survival depends on our parents when we’re young, it may not feel safe to blame our parents. Often we instead blame ourselves. “I’m an anxious person because I’m not good enough.” This becomes a shame-based identity.

A lot of this happens early in life, especially in the first few years when we have few filters. So these traits and narratives may not be conscious to us now or make sense if they are. And yet they can become prominent parts of our identity, our false sense of self.

Although we founded these to protect ourselves, they often outgrow that use. And yet, we sustain them as a part of ourselves. This clouds our experience of who we are and of experiencing things as they are.

This is why healing has such an important role on the spiritual path. Who am I?

It’s common for a lot of unpacking to happen after awakening as a lot of these narratives are seen and discarded when they’re triggered by life experiences.

But this doesn’t mean everything automatically becomes conscious. The body doesn’t remember things the same way as the mind and emotions. We can still carry major traumas well into higher stages of development. Higher stages require we be clear enough, but we remain human.

If we understand that these are survival adaptations and not who we are, we can allow them to surface in our awareness. Then they can be seen through. That detaches them from our identity, allowing the original emotional content to surface and be processed and released.

This is the process I touched on in Core Resistance. The mistake of the intellect or residue of identity, as well as the core contraction. This is the usual sequence of their release.

Update: worth noting that once a trauma becomes part of our identity, it’s protected by the ego. This means it hides the contraction and defends it from being seen to protect us from experiencing it again. Yet this interferes with its resolution when we’re ready.

Update 2: PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) is a common framing for trauma these days. However, there are many styles of trauma that don’t create overt symptoms like that. But they make deep impressions within.

Last Updated on March 25, 2024 by Davidya

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  1. Sharon

    Three years ago when I first learned of CPTSD, it was such a gift for me. It explained so much in my life and on my spiritual path. It helped me have more compassion for myself and others. Like finding out I have an allergy, it guided me to look for beneficial healing modalities. And since healing most likely does not happen all at once, it guided me to find healthy workarounds. Funnily enough, I’ve found Sanskrit to be a wonderful workaround in those moments of being triggered. Aham brahmasmi is perfect for those moments of uncenteredness. Tat tvam asi helps me be less critical of others. Sahanav avatu…helps me with social anxiety which I think is often a problem for those with early childhood trauma. What’s perfect about Sanskrit in this context is that it spontaneously goes deep and thorough while being gentle. And no mood making or bypassing necessary. The sounds are deeply and naturally healing, in my experience.

    1. Hi Sharon
      Yes, trauma generally isn’t healed at once. It’s more of a process because the release itself is from a protected place, so may come out in batches. It also involves the regulation of the NS. And there are narratives and habits that are laid in to be seen and released or reprogrammed.

      But the process can make a huge difference.

      Often, we’ve adopted less useful workarounds as we didn’t know better. It’s nice to be able to upgrade them. And eventually discard them.

      In the programs I’m studying, there are a variety of tools that can be applied. Different ones work better for some than others. It’s wonderful you’ve found an approach that soothes.

      1. Jenifer

        This happened for me today. I could feel myself avoiding something as soon as I had the intention to look at it, thinking to myself ‘I’m willing, I’m willing’, it very slowly released (with some silent tears). There was so much relaxation and space where before there was such contraction. I was astonished at how simply being willing catalyzed and shifted the entire process.

        1. Wonderful, Jenifer.
          It’s very easy, once we learn.

          The trick in there is not if the mind believes it but if the body believes. We can’t heal the body conceptually. We have to inhabit it and allow on that level. The body has to feel it’s safe to let go.

          And when it does, the magic happens. 🙂

          1. Ah, yes, right. Wow, I’ve been thinking about this comment for the past hour and it’s changed everything. So maybe I could say — I’m both astonished at how safe my body felt and it’s willingness to let go, and, to find out how simple and gentle it was? But really, that reframe, thank you. I took a shower and came out a different person haha.

            1. Wonderful! As it happens, I’ve just started a retreat and was using words to reassure the body as it let go. As described, somatic isn’t emotions, just sensation releasing.

              Such a joy to be unloading this familial burden.

              1. Jenifer

                ‘Using words to reassure the body as it let go’, yes, yes! That’s it! That was my experience I initially described but now I have a fuller understanding! What a joy to be on this journey alongside you. Thank you, David

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