Mental Health

Post-Traumatic Growth

“The right way to wholeness is made up of fateful detours and wrong turnings”- C. G. Jung

In a fraction of a second, our lives can be utterly devastated by a tragic or traumatic event. Trauma is an embodied experience, a physical and emotional response to an event that causes shocking, unbearable pain.  The physical and emotional pain overwhelms our mind and body, and affects our usual coping mechanisms.  The aftermath of trauma can leave us feeling helpless, anxious and full of shame. It can make us avoid LIFE.

We can experience different types of traumas throughout our lifetime. Most people are familiar with shock trauma, which is experienced in response to a crisis or an event such as a car crash, a natural disaster, or when one receives tragic news, witnesses violence, or has a serious illness. Less well known is relational trauma, which is experienced in the context of human relationships. For example, if we are rejected or abandoned by a lover, this can cause devastating heartbreak. Chronic physical and/or emotional abuse from a lover or family member can also leave us feeling traumatized.

Trauma is a pervasive fact of life; however, it does not have to be a life sentence. In fact, it can be a positive life changer, a transformative experience. The threat of trauma can change a person’s perspective from the victim “me” to the empowered “I”.

Here are some specifics ways in which Post-Traumatic Growth can be experienced following trauma:

  1. Through trauma, we can experience our resilience, the empowered feeling of: “I bounced back and learned from that terrible experience.” Our resilience illuminates inner resources that were either developed in reaction to adversity, or were always present, waiting to be discovered.
  2. The brain and the body are forced to grow from threat; therefore, tragedies and traumas can force us to be open to change. And often these changes are positive.
  3. Experiences of trauma can inspire us to re-evaluate or reconnect to our values. Knowing one’s values can support living them, which leads to greater life satisfaction and happiness.
  4. Connections with people who have experienced similar traumas can be very healing.  We are social beings who thrive on connection, and this experience of connection with others can in turn foster deeper relationships with friends and family.
  5. Often the closer one comes to death and suffering, the closer one comes to life. This radical new perspective can create an enhanced appreciation for life and a deeper sense of spirituality. A closer connection to God or spirituality can support a belief that the universe has your back.
  6. Relational traumas and disturbances can inspire introspection, which can bring unconscious patterns, behaviors and thoughts to awareness. Insights into our personal psychology can lead us to change our dysfunctional relational patterns, and this can support healthier relationships in the future.

The purpose of this list is not to deny or minimize the painful feelings of overwhelm and despair experienced through shock and relational traumas. Rather, a restorative narrative of Post-Traumatic Growth can give our lives meaning, and meaning makes almost everything endurable. Yes, we are all subject to fate; however, I believe that we can also create our destiny through the choices we make in response to life’s inevitable pain.