It’s a fascinating topic, trauma, how it touches each of us in such a deep-seated way. It can shape our being like hands molding wet earth. Really, it creates the framework that surrounds our lives. If you do your research, you’ll find that a whopping 70% of us have experienced at least one traumatic episode in our lifetime. But our trauma doesn’t always knock us down. In fact, many not only grow despite it but because of it.
Why do you think that is? Why do some people struggle while others flourish? Think about it. We’re not talking about resilience here, were talking about mind-altering transformation, growing into something greater than ourselves because of adversity.
Personally, the last eight months have been nothing short of a train wreck. There’s been so much loss, fear, grief, and anxiety. Really, when this whole pandemic hit, and a multitude of subsequent events began to transpire, it felt like someone hit me over the back of the head with a tire iron.
The first month, I carried on as if nothing happened. I was in stark denial of what was unfolding around me. But by April? Well, that’s when grief set in. I remember that it physically hurt. I cried every night for at least a month. Physically, digestive issues plagued me, my bones felt heavy, and I didn’t have an appetite.
More so, I was restless. I had no clue what to do with myself. I couldn’t go anywhere. There were no distractions. I just worked every day, every hour, from the moment I woke up until the second I went to bed. I ate at my computer and truthfully, a few nights, I fell asleep there too.
Now, fast forward another month, and something had to give. Physically, mentally, I just couldn’t continue as I was. But, change had to happen from within me because circumstances weren’t budging. So, just like that, I decided to change my mindset. I reframed my thinking.
I found meaning in the events unfolding around me. Instead of resentment, I chose gratitude. Instead of feeling burdened by my responsibilities, I found the purpose behind my work. Really, instead of wallowing in self-pity, I began to ask the question, “How can I help?” “How can I be of service to others?”
And all of a sudden, what was once a distraction now had definition. Almost instantly, I felt rejuvenated, had a renewed sense of being, and a powerful feeling of peace. Today, I appreciate people a little more, recognize every interaction’s value, and realize how meaningful my relationships with others genuinely are.
What’s Post-Traumatic Growth?
A vast amount of research has been done with Holocaust victims and war veterans on a concept coined post-traumatic growth. And it’s shown that for some, trauma has created a path for increased happiness, strength, and compassion for others.
In fact, 90% of trauma survivors experience at least one of the following post-traumatic growth factors, showing that many of us reek benefits from the challenges we face.
Post-Traumatic Growth Factors
Embracing new opportunities – both at the personal and professional fronts.
Improved personal relationships and increased pleasure derived from being around people we love.
A heightened sense of gratitude toward life altogether.
Greater spiritual connection.
Increased emotional strength and resilience.
But why do some people flourish after adversity while others struggle? Post-traumatic growth is associated with several personal (individual) and environmental (external) factors. When high external support levels complement a person’s unique strengths, it creates the perfect recipe for positive transformation from trauma.
Personal factors that contribute to post-traumatic growth include:
The environmental factors that create desirable conditions for post-traumatic growth include:
Teachers or guides
The truth is, strong support networks are an integral piece of fostering post-traumatic growth. Connection is a critical component to bouncing forward after life’s setbacks.
Promoting Post-Traumatic Growth
So, how do you fall forward when faced with challenges? It’s a timely question given the collective trauma that now flavors today’s world. Based on research, we’ve got a few ideas you can add to your wellness toolbelt to help you grow when faced with difficult circumstances.
Don’t Bottle Up Those Emotions!
Attempting to diminish painful feelings won’t make them go away. In fact, it only makes them worse! You must experience your emotions for positive transformation. Post-traumatic growth comes from your response to adversity at its most basic level. That process doesn’t start until you fully immerse yourself in the feelings that come alongside your experience.
Connect & Share
It’s easy to isolate when we’re not feeling our best, particularly right now, when it takes effort to stay connected. And when it comes to sharing our experience, that puts us out of our comfort zone. No one likes to be vulnerable. It goes against our instincts. But, it’s pretty safe to say that at the moment, no one is alone in their suffering.
In fact, in managing our social media platforms, traveling the state to speak with staff, and interviewing families, I can say with confidence that we all share a similar experience. Everyone is struggling, tired, stressed, scared, and grieving something at the moment.
That said, being connected to others and sharing our experience is a significant contributor to post-traumatic growth. So, now is the time to explore self-expression, invest in your relationships, and be purposeful in your interactions with others.
Use Self-Reflection to Tap into Your Strengths
Take the time to think about your strengths. Then, make a list and reflect on how they helped you move through the last challenging period you faced. More so, what did past trauma teach you? Are there lessons you can carry forward into the present?
The people who weather storms and use them as tools for growth are those who are self-aware. They fully utilize their strengths and often engage in self-reflection. So, don’t forget to carve out time to make space for you. Your ability to take a look at yourself objectively is critical to transformative growth.