The Top 3 Identities We Create From Our Trauma and How They Keep Us Trapped in the Past
Updated: Aug 12, 2021
Without realizing it, we often attach ourselves to our negative experiences. We become so attached to them that we shape our identity from those experiences. In doing so, it becomes impossible for us to move on from the past because we have chosen to interweave our experiences so tightly into our identities. Now, I am sure you’re thinking the same thing I said when I first heard this concept, “Excuse me, but I definitely don’t do that.” But you do. I did too. That’s why the same shit kept happening to me over and over and over again. No matter how terrible the experiences were that I created my identity from, it was my identity. If I let go of those experiences, who would I be? The thought of releasing a part of who I was without knowing what I would become was terrifying. That’s why I didn’t do it. Instead, I spent a large part of my life preserving the identities I created by holding on to my negative experiences and using them to recreate my past.
Here are the top three identities we create from our trauma and how they keep us trapped in our pasts:
I Am a Lone Wolf
I’ve never had anyone, and I don’t need anyone now. Everything I’ve survived in my life, I’ve survived on my own. People just weigh me down, I’m better off on my own. I am a lone wolf.
The term “lone wolf” refers to a wolf who leaves the pack - often because of aggressive actions from the pack’s dominant wolves including being picked on or physically challenged to the point that the wolf leaves the pack. Yes, wolf, way to leave a toxic situation!
I have heard this term many times to refer to a fiercely independent person and I always roll my eyes. Because lone wolves are not a symbol of healthy independence. They do not go on to lead successful lives on their own in the wilderness. In fact, lone wolves usually do one of three things: They attempt to join another pack, they look for a mate, or they die because they cannot survive on their own. Notice that two of the three options involve finding support with another wolf - the only other alternative is death. There is no such thing as a truly (alive) lone wolf - hence why I roll my eyes when I hear this term.
The lone wolf mentality develops in people who have lived in unhealthy, unloving, toxic packs. The people they were supposed to be able to depend on hurt and betrayed them. So they chose to leave the pack. Again, yay for leaving unhealthy situations! But instead of moving on to find a better pack or mate, the lone wolf-human develops a fear of the pack altogether. People with the lone wolf mentality aren’t fiercely independent. In fact, it’s the opposite, they are terrified. They have only ever witnessed a pack (family, relationships, friendships) as painful and unhealthy. Or they’ve witnessed overdependent pack-members so they believe that relationships come with the burden of taking care of people who give nothing in return. For this reason, these “lone wolves” push away connection, love, and support entirely. If they do end up meeting someone who knows how to offer healthy love, they either run away because experiencing this type of love is foreign to them and they don’t trust it, or they enter into a relationship but never truly open up to their partner. “Lone wolves” constantly manifest overall life struggle and dissatisfaction in relationships by either attracting unhealthy love or rejecting healthy love and support.
I Am a Victim
As a child, the only time the abuse ceased was when I was helpless. When every part of who I was seemed empty, my parents would finally stop the abuse. Although not abusing someone is certainly not love, it was the closest thing I could get. So I adopted the belief that, if I was a helpless victim, then I could protect myself from the abuse, or someone would want to save me, or I would be loved.
When I first started dating, without even realizing it, I absolutely tied myself to a victim identity. I wanted to tell the man I was dating about the abuse I experienced so that he could feel sorry for me, hold me, take care of me, get angry for me, and fiercely protect me. In creating this identity, I constantly attracted men who were looking for someone to save; men who were overbearing, controlling, possessive or clingy.
But relationships were not the only area that this victim identity permeated. Through this identity, I was constantly manifesting circumstances in which I was the victim. I was constantly changing jobs because every boss I had was vindictive, manipulative, and mean. I would go home and tell my boyfriend about how terrible work was, he would get angry for me and want to defend his helpless victim girlfriend and the cycle would continue. No matter how hard I tried, I could never make enough money to cover my bills. I was always exhausting myself by commuting from one dead-end job to the other multiple times a day. Things constantly went wrong. My car would break down, some unpaid bills from three years ago would resurface and I would owe five times more, etc. And why did all of these things happen? Because I wanted them to. Of course, consciously, I wanted peace, abundance, and happiness. But subconsciously, my entire identity was based around the notion that I was a victim. If things went well and I was no longer a victim, what would happen? Where would I find a job? I had attracted men who wanted to save me. If I was no longer a victim, who would love me? Most importantly, who would I be? All of these questions seemed far scarier than the circumstances I was living in so I continued to recreate my past.
I Am Special
I survived trauma. While all my friends were being held by loving parents, I was being abused. While all my friends have a safety net with their families if they lose their jobs or decide they want to switch careers, I have only myself. I survived things that most people could never even imagine. And because of it, I am stronger, more independent, smarter, tougher, funnier, and more resilient. I am special.
That is the special identity. While all of that may seem better than the victim identity, it still traps me in my past. It still forces me to live within a perpetual state of having to overcome circumstances and struggle for things that “other” people receive easily. It’s also a very sad attempt at attaching myself to some notion of superiority - a superiority that exists only through remaining attached to the trauma. When I went a little deeper into the special identity, I found that it was also a mask for the fearful hope that there was a reason for the abuse. It’s easier to accept that the abuse occurred if I can say that I am stronger, more independent, and more special than those who haven’t experienced it. In a way, it temporarily took away some of the pain. Regardless, this special identity keeps me trapped. If I release my abusive past, my specialness is gone.
So how do we release these identities?
Get Very Real About the Identity You've Created
Take some time to identify patterns that continuously pop up in your life. Maybe all of your relationships have ended because you've pushed partners away. Maybe you're constantly moving from one toxic workplace to another. Perhaps you have a tendency to judge people or compare yourself to others. Recognize your patterns and then get very real about how these patterns may be connected to an identity that you've created for yourself. Also, keep in mind that you may have created several identities. Although you will tend to have one dominating identity, you may have adopted several. My dominant identity was definitely the Victim. However, I acted out each identity at different times in my life.
Obviously, facing the identities you’ve created and all the circumstances you've manifested in your life based on these identities is not comfortable. In fact, I can promise you that you will probably kind of hate the experience. But I can also promise you that recognizing the identity you’ve created will be one of the most powerful steps you take in releasing your past. If you are looking for support on your healing journey, I’d love to work with you. Schedule a free Discovery Call to learn a little more about how Empowerment Coaching can work for you.
Photo by Noah Buscher on Unsplash