Treasures of post-traumatic growth
How do we access this wealth?
- Meaningful changes in priorities
- Deeper appreciation of existing relationships
- Stronger sense of higher purpose
- Greater life fulfillment
When we lose someone or something of great value or we suffer the deep distress and despair of harmful injury (physical, emotional, or mental), we experience profound interruptions that can rock us to the core:
- Our lives are disrupted.
- Our identity is disrupted.
- Our beliefs are disrupted.
- Our relationships are disrupted.
These disruptions force new realities on us and challenge our current narratives of who we are and what we think life's about. This causes us tremendous pain and grief, and the loss and trauma can define us if we do not heal and recover to the point where we can do the defining rather than being defined.
Ready to go treasure hunting? Here are a some mining activities:
These exercises can be painful but much like physical therapy after a physical injury helps strengthen movement and speed up recovery, so these processing, restorative activities can help heal and fortify your sense of self and understanding of life.
- Immediately after the event: Talk about it or not. Depending on how you're wired, not talking about it may help you heal by not rehashing the event over and over in your mind. Or perhaps the opposite is true for you - getting it out might be your way of processing the pain to give you more clarity and peace.
- When you're ready to recover lost aspects of yourself, try this exercise:
- List qualities, characteristics, and abilities you possessed before the event(s) - aim for at least 10.
- From the list, identify which you feel are most disconnected / least expressed today.
- For each item, write a brief paragraph about why it’s no longer expressed as much as before.
- For each item, describe possible people, activities, or outlets you could pursue to express those more than you currently do.
- Rank items according to which are most doable and emotionally manageable.
- Set goals of working through the list at a comfortable pace.
- When you're ready for greater growth, deepen your sense-making: Work at fitting the events into your framework of assumptions and beliefs about the world so they’re more understandable, even growing your courage and compassion.
- Explore 'why' versus repeating 'how it happened'. Why triggers a qualitatively different and more productive thought process; why's widen our scope of thinking and associations to consider larger existential, spiritual, or philosophical implications / understandings. A bigger picture helps us find meaning and greater internal peace
- Ask ‘what might have been’ / counterfactuals; they help our minds exercise more abstract thinking which is necessary to uncover greater meaning; considering abstract ideas (ie. predestination, God, spirituality) help us make connections between different parts of our lives, to use analytic abilities with greater inclusiveness of intangibles to see a bigger picture.
- All this helps break us out of rigid perspectives to consider a larger context to arrive at fresh comprehensions and new perspectives.
- How would your life be different today if the event hadn’t happened?
- In what ways could outcome of events been worse?
- What factors prevented worse outcomes?
- How grateful are you that worse outcomes didn’t happen?
By positioning ourselves to define our losses and traumas, rather than being defined by them, not only will we access hidden treasures of loss, we will increase our energy for growth and change.
Get more and deeper explanations and examples with Emotional First Aid by Guy Winch.
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