When I first began trying to ‘find myself,’ it was a stretch to find reasons for my being lost. I had no obvious trauma to blame it on. However, I was extremely shy and uncomfortable around people for most of my life. And, in some vague way, I always felt bad or wrong, but couldn’t understand how or why I got that way. During my work at STAR, I had a small inkling of this feeling starting when I was very little. I began to realize that I lacked deep, loving, and safe connections during childhood. But it didn’t seem like that big of a deal. I had no visible trauma and therefore, should be okay, I thought.
I eventually came to realize was that I had no reference point for life being any way but scary. I’d been completely locked into my anxiety and hyper-vigilance all my life. I believed this was just what life was like. However, I discovered that I had very early trauma, occurring before I was capable of conscious memory. This led me to never feel safe enough to connect deeply to anyone, including to myself and my feelings. So, naturally, I became lost. I’d lost my core self.
To explain further, in therapy I began to “remember” some very early pre-and perinatal trauma. It was through both experience and through my body— rather than my conscious memory, that these traumas entered my awareness. In re-experiencing my early trauma, I began to understand, in a felt sense, why it was so difficult to connect to people. Why it was so difficult to feel much joy or even feel much of anything at all. And I began to understand it in a connected and integrated way. This wasn’t an intellectual exercise, but an unfolding of unconscious memories becoming conscious as I experienced them. My answer was in experiencing the feelings, not intellectualizing them. Like a far-off dim light flashes on a bit and slowly gets brighter and more illuminating over time. In my case, this took many years.
What I know now is that I did have some very early trauma. Briefly put, it altered the course of my development such that my foundation became one of fear. In conjunction with that fear was hypersensitivity. Unfortunately, this hypersensitivity only acted to increase my discomfort, fear, and defensiveness. I knew I could access my early trauma and thus, my core self, through my feelings. They weren’t accessible intellectually. I was fortunate to find a process and some people where I could begin to feel some emotional safety.
I hope the illustration above helps to explain some of the elements of pre-and perinatal trauma; the effects of which often go unseen, and despite this, can result in a limited existence, sometimes extremely limited. Early trauma can diminish their capacity for life, love, and even feeling good. Indeed, they may appear successful and accomplished, but somewhere inside, is a vague sense of emptiness or dissatisfaction. There are those who begin life having already lost touch with parts of themselves. As a result, they may never know something is missing. However, this “missing part” can be found again. And there can be healing.
I know, personally and professionally, that it is possible to reconnect to one’s core self. It’s not an easy process. We will still have scars from our past, but we often can get much of ourselves back. We can find, feel, and remember who we were— before the pain and partial loss of self from before early trauma occurred.
Ken Ball, STAR Clinical Director