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Senior Capstone ℅ 2019

5-24-2019

How Trauma Causes A Shift In Identity: An Autoethnography

Kevin Felipe Diaz


Los Angeles Leadership Academy HS, kdiaz100589@laleadership.org
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Senior Capstone ℅ 2019

This text will dive deep into the concept of trauma, specifically neurological trauma,

while also discussing the many possible roots of the trauma, which have been shown to cause a

shift in a person’s identity. Within the text, there will be several key words which will all be

defined for a better understanding along with some key facts relating to the concept. The text

will also be providing facts from different reliable sources. Finally, the text will break down the

concept of neurological trauma into three smaller subtopics for a better understanding of its

effects.

Keywords: ​Trauma, Mental, Emotional, Neurological

Acknowledgements
Dedicated to my two loving parents who have supported me my entire life, even when times
were tough. Without them, I don’t know what I would be doing right now. It is because of them
that I find the motivation to work hard and to pursue my dreams.
How Trauma Causes A Shift In Identity ​Diaz 2

How Trauma Causes A Shift In Identity: An


Autoethnography

Kevin Felipe Diaz


Los Angeles Leadership Academy HS, Los Angeles, California, USA

This text will dive deep into the topic of trauma, specifically neurological trauma, while

also discussing the many possible roots of the trauma, which have been shown to cause a shift

in a person’s identity. Within the text, there will be several key words which will all be defined

for a better understanding along with some key facts relating to the concept. The text will also

be providing facts from different reliable sources. Finally, the text will break down the concept

of neurological trauma into three smaller subtopics for a better understanding of its effects.

The Incident

Ever since I was a little kid in fourth grade, I have always felt a disturbance whenever I

hear the train stations sirens go off and see the gates closing right in front of me. Although it

seems logical to be aware of any oncoming trains, there is one incident that occurred many

years ago that left behind an unpleasant memory and has made me act very cautious when

passing through train tracks.

I remember my mom taking my cousins, Ahtziri and Osniel, and I to school in her car,

along with my aunt in the passenger seat. Ahtziri and I, who are months apart in age, were in

fourth grade at the time attending Hillside Elementary School, and my older cousin was in sixth
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grade attending Nightingale Middle School. Since my mom would drive to two different

schools, we would first drop off my eldest cousin near the entrance of a tunnel-like shortcut,

which passed over a bridge, that would leave him one block away from his school. I do not

remember exactly what day or month it was during the incident, only that it was a weekday

morning in 2010 during late 7 AM. After getting ready for school and getting in the car, we

started driving towards my older cousin’s drop off point. We stopped in front of railroad tracks

to see if any trains were coming. My mom waited a few seconds before moving forward, only to

be stopped a split second after when the sirens went off and the gates started descending to

obstruct the road. The car was in the middle of the tracks and we were blocked off by the gate

behind us along with the gate in front of us, which had landed on the hood of the car. I

remember the situation going by very fast, with everyone panicking, trying to figure something

out, my cousins trying to open the door and get out of the car, while I was just there panicking

while at the same time slowly embracing the entire situation as I was in shock. I also remember

seeing the train coming from the left not too far away. Luckily, since the gate had only landed

on the hood of the car rather than in front of us, my mom was able to drive through without

anyone getting hurt.

I have never talked about this incident with anyone until now because it is not the best

type of memory to share. For instance, everytime I think about the incident, I always start

getting these pictures in my head of the many different outcomes that could have also occurred.

Before writing this paper, the only people that knew about this incident were the ones involved

and we have never even brought it up ourselves because we just try to forget about it, but the

more I think about it, I feel more grateful that none of us got hurt or that we were not as
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traumatized as a lot of other people would have been in worse situations. In fact, the whole

situation somehow reminds of a cartoon in which a character is tied onto train tracks waiting for

someone to save them. I have seen news stories on TV or social media where kids who go

through other horrifying situations become very traumatized to the point where they have to

speak to psychologists in order to let their fears or issues out rather than keeping their emotions

locked in a bottle, such as how many surviving students of a school shooting are terrified

enough to try and avoid going to school. I have noticed that I have not been thinking about the

situation, or that it has not bothered me or given me any bad symptoms, probably because of

how many years have passed by since then. I try not to think about it often though because I do

not enjoy thinking of what could have happened if the gates were completely blocking both

ways. However, I would say that writing about my situation in this paper is a small step in

getting over it for good and leaving it in my past.

Analysis

Introduction

When diving into the topic of trauma, it is like hitting a basic checkpoint, it is a start but

you still have a long way to go. What I mean is that trauma is more of a general concept that has

different complex levels within it. For example, some of the more common types of trauma

include physical, emotional, or neurological trauma. The major keywords mentioned in this

paper are: trauma (a deeply distressing or disturbing experience), mental (relating to the mind),

neurological (relating to the anatomy of the nervous system), and emotional (relating to a

person’s emotions). I would categorize my incident from the past as neurological trauma

because of how many other adolescents experience similar events and continue to suffer from
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neurological trauma. I definitely would not consider myself as someone who fully understands

trauma to the point where I can teach it myself. I am going to be basing my claims off of

research done by those who have experienced trauma or have studied trauma.

Study of Focus

Although there are hundreds of people that speak about the topic of trauma, many are

considered as unreliable sources based off of who they are or what makes them a credible

source. One must be aware of their source of information in order to be sure that they are

getting accurate, unbiased research. For example, Susan Klebold, mother of a Columbine

shooter, makes an appearance on TED Talks and explains how her son had been bullied in

school, filling his emotions with rage waiting to be released, causing him mental and emotional

trauma resulting in changes in his personality. Ever since the shooting, Susan Klebold has done

research in order to better understand what could have been done to prevent the tragedy. From

examining the mental and emotional changes in adolescents who experience neurological

trauma, it is clear that these traumatizing events directly contribute to a shift in identity.

Mental and Emotional Changes

Neurological trauma brings mental and emotional changes to those who experience it.

When digging into the detail of the mental and emotional changes of a person’s identity,

whether it describes internal or external differences, it is always important to understand the

cause of these shifts as well as the results that occur from them. According to “This is a

Student’s Brain on Trauma” by Jennifer Gunn, “​Students who have experienced trauma can

have difficulty managing their emotions or self-soothing when stressed” (2018, para. 5).​ Also,

the students are reported to have trouble with socialization of others as if they are isolating
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themselves from their classmates and teachers. It is evident that mental and emotional changes

in an adolescent’s behavior is directly caused by forms of trauma.

For example, the Columbine

perpetrators, Dylan and Eric, were

bullied during their years of high

school and it completely changed

who they were, from having fear

induced into their lives, to them

spreading fear.

Neurological Trauma

Neurological Trauma refers to the damage done in a person’s brain resulting from a

distressing or disturbing incident. Jennifer Gunn’s research also indicates that rather than the

trauma coming from one single moment in a person’s life, it can also come from years of

childhood tragedies, such as abuse (2018). In “How Trauma Affects Kids in School”, Caroline

Miller suggests

“Children who have been neglected or abused have problems forming relationships with

teachers, a necessary first step in a successful classroom experience. They’ve learned to be wary

of adults, even those who appear to be reliable, since they’ve been ignored or betrayed by those

they have depended on​.” (2019, para. 4)


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Mary Ellen Flannery claims that “it starts early and it affects students and teachers”

(2016, para. 6), also that the neurological trauma is likely to carry on through adulthood and

students have more difficulty when trying to focus in class because of trauma. As stated in

“How Trauma is Changing Children’s Brains”, “it’s become clear that the damaging effects of

trauma are not saved until adulthood” (Flannery 2016, para. 6). One of the best possible ways to

deal with neurological trauma is

for someone to receive as much

help as they can get to overcome

their fears.

A Shift In Identity

A shift in identity refers to when a person changes everything about who they are, or

were, because they want to experience new adventures and feel as if they were reborn. Any

form of trauma can be a contributing factor when someone decides to create a new identity for

themselves. For example, Christopher McCandless decided to change his name to “Alexander

Supertramp” and began an insane journey as a new person. It is known that Chris McCandless

was most likely affected by issues regarding his parents or his father’s marriage status. He

changed his identity after graduating from college to explore the land as a whole new person,

which unfortunately did not have a pleasant outcome. After my incident, I started being more
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graceful towards life as if I had been given a second chance, I felt this way and did not want to

waste the opportunity. If a person is not directly impacted by trauma, as if it were something to

happen to people they know, it can still take its effects and change the person’s mentality, make

them feel as if they were reborn.

Opinion

Ever since I was involved in an incident on train tracks, I have thought about how there

are thousands of people in the world that go through much worse situations and I try to

understand how they deal with any emotional or mental issues that come along their way. Also,

ever since I learned about the Columbine High School massacre, I have looked at the shared

details to see how serious these issues can become, especially bullying which is really

underestimated as a problem. I definitely agree with the idea that trauma should be looked into

more and taken more serious because there are many students across the world who do not have

the same support as everyone, leaving to feel as if they are alone. One way I could relate to

these different situations is from my incident and how I did not end up letting any trauma take

control over me, which I am grateful for. I feel bad for others who suffer any form of trauma but

can not find a way to get through it, they have to keep going through the same emotions, as if

they are on a cycle.

Conclusion

It is evident that it is not facile for a student to relieve themselves from trauma. In fact,

many are not fortunate enough to release themselves from the cycle of trauma. If one were to

ever notice someone’s attitude begin to change, their appearance, or socialization, they should at

least check on them to see if they are suffering from any issues. The only way to break the cycle
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is to share the experience to at least have a first step in getting closure with the issue, to begin a

coping process.
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References

Gunn, J. (2019, January 24). How Trauma Affects a Student's Brain. Retrieved May 21, 2019,

from

https://education.cu-portland.edu/blog/classroom-resources/this-is-a-students-brain-on-tr

auma/

Klebold, S. (2016, November 16). Retrieved May 22, 2019, from

https://www.ted.com/talks/sue_klebold_my_son_was_a_columbine_shooter_this_is_my

_story

Miller, C., & Child Mind Institute. (2019). How Trauma Affects Kids in School. Retrieved May

21, 2019, from

https://childmind.org/article/how-trauma-affects-kids-school/

Flannery, M. E. (2016, June 01). How Trauma is Changing Children's Brains. Retrieved May

21, 2019, from ​http://neatoday.org/2016/05/17/trauma-and-children/

Kamen, A. (2015, September 18). Stress Surrounding Student Debt Impacts Loyola Students

and Staff. Retrieved May 22, 2019, from

https://abigailednakamen.com/2015/03/08/stress-surrounding-student-debt-impacts-loyo

la-students-and-staff/

Rue & Ziffra (2018). Traumatic Brain Injuries. Retrieved May 22, 2019, from

https://www.rueziffra.com/traumatic-brain-injuries/