How You Came to be Who You Are Matters
July 29, 2022 8:41 AM EST | 8 min read
Acknowledging the events of our past is a cornerstone to creating who we want to be in the future.
Understanding how you came to be who you are is integral to learning why you do the things you do.
Some of the events in your past might have helped cultivate your greatest strengths.
Conversely, some of the things you endured left you bruised or scarred.
How you deal with those wounds determines who you are.
You can either run from that or learn from it.
“The past can hurt.
But the way I see it, you can either run from it or learn from it.” – Rafiki, The Lion King
According to the Slyvia Brafman Mental Health Center, “Once a child’s sense of identity is fractured, it takes years of work to rebuild those broken pieces and have them regain trust.”
Those years of work include acknowledging what you went through.
As much as it hurts to re-examine the traumas of your past, you must do it!
Especially, if you want to live your life to the fullest.
Childhood trauma survivors downplay their stories
Bessel Van Der Kolk, M.D., author of The Body Keeps the Score, states that “Sooner or later most survivors come up with what many of them call their “cover story” that offers some explanation for their symptoms and behavior for public consumption.”
I like to think of this as the emotionless list that we tell people.
It usually ends with, “but it’s alright.”
Mine goes something like this:
“I don’t have very many memories of my dad as a child.
He wasn’t around after I turned five.
My mom left my little sister and me with my grandma because she was addicted to drugs and couldn’t take care of us.
I lived with my grandma practically my whole life.
Then my mom went into the witness protection program before I started high school.
I didn’t see her again until I was almost 18.”
(View our addiction and recovery quotes here.) It is usually at this point that I can see people want to ask questions, so I say, “but it’s alright, I turned out fine.”
And I think that for the most part, I did turn out fine.
I could have gone on being fine and ignoring all the parts of the story that I don’t usually tell.
However, I realized about six months ago, that fine wasn’t the life I dreamed of when I was growing up, trying to survive, and creating spectacular versions of the future I would have.
I wanted to be a lawyer or a famous author when I grew up.
My dream was to leave all the pain and trauma so far behind me that it could never touch me.
I didn’t want anyone to look at me with pity.
I outgrew the desire to be a lawyer, but not a famous author.
However, I buried that desire for a long time, hiding it under the cloak of living a traditional life. It was my attempt at keeping all the monsters at bay.
I never acknowledged the way trauma had shaped me.
In short, I got comfortable with being ordinary.
I forgot I could be extraordinary because I spent so many years longing for ordinary
I remember just wanting to be able to go to the regular bus stop that all the kids used.
Yet, every year there was a special stop right by my house because my grandma was afraid my father would try to kidnap us again.
(Years later I would hear my father’s side of this story and it was much different, but as a child, this was the reality I had.) When the police and the FBI are involved, the school district will move the bus stop.
All the other kids lived with both their parents (this was the late 80’s early 90’s), and I lived with neither.
No one else I knew went to the prison to visit their mother.
The abandonment, neglect, physical, and emotional abuse I faced as a child defined who I am, even though I vowed every day that it wouldn’t.
Acknowledging that all of that is how I came to be who I am was an important step in creating the life I wanted to live.
Life had been full of challenges for me at a young age.
I cooked for myself at age four and managed to survive while my mother lay in the room too high to function.
My mother neglected every animal we ever had until they died.
Then there was the time she shot my rabbit and left the bloody garbage bag where I could find it.
Yet, somehow I survived her care.
The emotional and physical abuse I endured after we moved in with my grandma should have broken me, but I wouldn’t let it.
Despite being born addicted to drugs, I graduated from college (with my first degree) at 17.
“Extraordinary people survive under the most terrible circumstances, and they become more extraordinary because of it.” – Robertson Davies
This acceptance of how you came to be can help you become your authentic self
All of those circumstances make up the foundation on which I am built.
Ignoring them does me a disservice, and keeps me from being the best version of myself that I can be.
Scott Jeffrey lists five steps that you can use on your path to self-actualization (becoming mission-driven, having a more profound acceptance of your intrinsic nature):
- Get to know your core strengths
- Learn how to stay in your center
- Craft a personal vision for the person you are becoming
- Put together a basic personal development plan
- Walk your path toward self-mastery
Everything in your past contributes to who you are
I had to accept all the parts of me before I could begin to believe that I could live the life I want.
The traumas of my life forged my core strengths much the way weapons are forged in flames.
I am resilient, relentless, and brave.
Writing saved my life as a teenager.
I wrote anything and everything: poems, stories, journal entries, and articles.
I read the words of others to escape my world for a while, and I developed a desire to create.
Writing is something I need to do, but I had locked that part of myself away in the box of trauma I hid from the world.
I had gone twenty years without writing a poem, or anything other than an academic paper.
It was only after being able to take the lid off the box and acknowledge the events that shaped me that I began writing again.
A musician must make music, an artist must paint, a poet must write if he is to be ultimately at peace with himself.
What a man can be, he must be.” – Abraham Maslow
Self-awareness will help you understand who you are
I am working on finding my center.
That is a complex skill that requires a high level of self-awareness.
Meditating, mindfulness, and breathing are all techniques that will help you find your center and be able to realign when you are off-center.
A great way to craft a personal vision is to create a mission and vision statement.
The mission statement will help identify your core values and clarify who you are.
The vision statement is like a roadmap for your future.
You can check out this article about how to create these statements here, and use them to build your personal development plan.
A personal development plan is a comprehensive way to increase focus and ensure that you are making decisions that align with who you want to be.
Stay focused on what is most important to you, and it will be easier to walk your path.
Don’t be afraid of success, and keep in mind that we all fear growth, as it is usually uncomfortable.
The biggest obstacle in your quest to live the life you dream of is you.
We need to learn how to get out of our way and let ourselves realize our full potential.
Follow your bliss
“If you do follow your bliss you put yourself on a kind of track that has been there all the while, waiting for you, and the life that you ought to be living is the one you are living.
Follow your bliss and don’t be afraid, and doors will open where you didn’t know they were going to be.”― Joseph Campbell
To follow your bliss, you must know what that is.
Acknowledging how you came to be who you are will prepare you for the journey of finding your true self.
During a visit with my therapist, I told her that I couldn’t physically remember my life before the trauma, because it was always there in some form.
She sighed and said, “You don’t know what you were like before it all.”
At first, this made me sad to hear.
It was just one more piece to the puzzle that was “missing.”
I have come to realize that there aren’t missing pieces.
The pieces are all there, but some went hidden for too long.
By bringing them out into the light and examining them, I can discover who I will be now.
Please share how acknowledging how you came to be who you are impacted your life in the comments below!
April 16, 2020 at 3:16 PM
I remember being 11 and getting diagnosed with general anxiety disorder. I would have massive panic attacks day in and day out. I missed the majority of my 5th grade year because I spent it in the counselors office sobbing. I very clearly remember my dad telling me that I would always have anxiety in some way, and it would be a part of me. For a long time I swore up and down that I would get rid of my anxiety, and it didnt define me. Over the years, I’ve not only learned to cope and manage my anxiety, I use it to my advantage and thrive off of it. My anxiety has helped me to be more aware of not only myself, but the world around me. I am a much smarter individual because of how I make my anxious mind work for me, not against me. By learning to love my anxiety disorder and the broken parts of me, I found the most strength, and that’s pretty empowering.