Strength and Renewal in the Face of Trauma

Art Sculpture by Recovering PTSD USMC Survivor

Credit: USMC

Growth From Trauma

Author Jim Rendon offers the theory that survivors of all kinds of trauma may well be able to learn to experience lives of great meaning and reward as a result of persevering and healing over time and with important effort.

Rendon is the author of Upside: The New Science of Post-Traumatic Growth. He doesn’t say it’s easy or even always possible, far from it. What Rendon does say in a July 22, 2015 TIME magazine article, “How Trauma Can Change You – For the Better,” is that on the other side of great suffering may be positive change.

Rendon points to a study done by researchers Richard Tedeschi and Lawrence Calhoun at the University of North Carolina in Charlotte in the 1980s. The researchers were surprised by the findings after studying 600 people who had experienced a major trauma. The study found that trauma changed people in significant ways.

Trauma Victims Develop Greater Inner Strength

People who had suffered trauma said they had much greater inner strength than they ever thought, that they were closer to friends and family members, and that life had more meaning. They also said they were changing the direction of their lives to work toward more fulfilling goals.

Tedeschi and Calhoun found that the study was showing similar results to what they heard from their own patients who had gone through nearly unbearable pain due to the death of children, being diagnosed and treated for cancer, or had accidents that changed their lives.

Those researchers coined the term “post traumatic growth” to describe what they had discovered.

So although no one wants to suffer, PTSD research found that 75 percent of people will experience a traumatic event in their lifetime. So if it shows up, it’s important to remember that after the dark time, the nearly unbearable suffering often causes people to go deeper, to make every moment count and to spend their time doing things that they feel are worthwhile.

Perhaps the researchers could have just asked advice columnist Ann Landers for insight. Landers said: “Expect trouble as an inevitable part of life, and when it comes, hold your head high, look it squarely in the eye and say, ‘I will be bigger than you. You cannot defeat me’.”

It is the nature of humans to seek happiness anywhere it may be found, and if possible, to avoid trouble or leave it behind.

But if trouble does show up, Rendon says, “Given the right environment and mindset, people can change, using the trauma, the suffering, and struggle that ensues, as an opportunity to reflect, to search for meaning in their lives, and to ultimately become better versions of themselves. Often the work of effective therapy related to trauma is to help the client to bear looking at the experience not only for what it is, but also for what it is not. When we learn and internalize a painful or horrifying experience not as a definition of who we are but rather as a great pain that we have survived, can space be made for desire, hope and faith that a brighter day is still out there.

References:

Rendon, Jim, “How Trauma Can Change You – For the Better,” TIME, July 22, 2015

Trauma

Trauma is an emotional response to a terrible event like an accident, rape or natural disaster. Immediately after the event, shock and denial are typical.

Signs of Emotional Trauma

Longer term reactions include unpredictable emotions, flashbacks, strained relationships and even physical symptoms, such as headaches or nausea. While these feelings are normal, some people have difficulty moving on with their lives.

Possible Treatments for Trauma

Psychologists can often help people find constructive ways of managing the troubling emotions that can result from trauma. Understanding the emotions and normal responses that follow a disaster or other traumatic event can help a person cope with feelings, thoughts and behaviors. That understanding can help the individual and the therapist determine the best path to recovery.

Source: American Psychological Association

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