"total stranger to itself"

For some time I have been pondering something I read in The Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder Sourcebook by Glenn R. Schiraldi, PhD (a wonderful book). In the beginning of the book while explaining what PTSD is and how it affects people he states:

“Each of us holds basic assumptions that give order to our chaotic world and make stress bearable.  A number of researchers have indicated that PTSD is due to the shattering of views of self, the world and other people.”

Then he shares some examples:

 Pre-trauma assumptions

  • The world is meaningful, fair, good, predictable, orderly, comprehensible, pleasurable, rewarding, kind and safe.  It makes sense and follows accepted social laws. 
  • People get what they deserve–if I’m cautious, I can prevent the disaster. Bad things won’t happen to me.
  • People are good, trustworthy, comprehensible, worth-relating to.

Post-trauma assumption

  • It just doesn’t make sense.  The world is confusing.  (“Why did this happen to me?  What’s the meaning of life?), I can’t believe in a God who permits this. God hates me.
  • What I do just doesn’t matter.  I have no control.
  • I can’t trust people anymore–they’re bad, exploitive, hurtful, ect.  I can’t relate to others; I feel alienated and isolated.  Nobody understands.

 [end quote]

Although my trauma happened a long time ago, because of repressed memories the trauma feels very recent.  Previously, I believed the pre-trauma assumptions.  Now I definately relate to the post-trauma assumptions.  What troubled me was this:  is the author saying that I can some day return to the pre-trauma assumptions?  That seems like a fairy-tale idea to me.  Utterly un-realistic, and yet I don’t want to totally discard that hopeful idea either.

I found a possible answer one night while watching Numb3rs (thanks Netflix.)  One of the characters, Larry, was looking out the window at a chrysallis and observed, “The butterfly that emerges will in no way resemble the catepillar that it once was, it will be a total stranger to itself.  All that it really knows is that someday it must fly and rejoin the dance of life.”   Numb3rs Season 4

“. . .total stranger to itself.” Yes! That makes sense.  I think that PTSD is a form of chrysallis.  Having been wounded, we, victims, wrap ourselves in a protective shell and take some time to make sense of the world again. It resonates with me that we would come out of the chrysallis changed. I wonder though do all catepillars become butterflies?  Or some such thing?  In the darkness of the chrysallis, it is hard to imagine that the me that eventually emerges will be something beautiful.  Still, I am hopeful that with a lot of work and therapy, I will someday “rejoin the dance of life.” 

And just maybe…I will be a butterfly.



  1. Precisely why I chose my name. After having survived the trauma of cancer and all that goes with it, it seemed fitting.We (all who've had trauma of any kind) see the world through new lenses. Perhaps…we are more balanced in seeing that it's neither all good, nor all evil down here. We are cautious to gauge who we care to share our lives with.As a child of God, you are already beautiful. Great post.

  2. I love the thought of ptsd being a chrysalis, and that we will all come out on the other side changed. that is a beautiful thought. I think you are a beautiful butterfly right now…and you will rejoin the dance of life, and take flight – at just the right time for you.

  3. I look frequently for your post updates… There are many times I miss you and look forward to your words, your insight. Tracie is so very correct. You ALREADY are that butterfly. I cannot wait for the moment when you realize that. 🙂

  4. Thank you for sharing. A lot of good points were mentioned and what Chrysalis said about seeing the world through new lenses and being more balanced, makes sense and to be very catious who we share with. Oh yeah!! Safe hugs.

  5. I just found this post and am almost without words. So much here I can relate to. It's nice to be able to see that there are others who share similar thoughts and feelings. I look forward to reading more.

  6. I agree with everyone here, especially that you are already a butterfly and just don't realize it. That glorious butterfly with gorgeous colors in her wings, is getting the word out about these issues. Keep it up, Leslie. You're making a name for yourself.

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