Experiencing post-traumatic growth involves a transformative process, a personal emotional evolution, that can result in personal development and positive change following a traumatic event.
The popular narrative of post-traumatic growth goes something like this–someone weathers great tragedy and years later, ta-da, emerges a new person, stronger and wiser than before. Almost all of our superhero stories have that tragedy-to-triumph theme.
Yes, you can experience post-traumatic growth
But this isn’t something that simply happens automatically simply because you have weathered tragedy.
You have to work at it.
You have to want it and be willing and open to taking steps to make it happen.
In other words, you need to be intentional about wanting to heal and taking that experience to help others in ways large or small.
It was a shock when I learned that vulnerability was seen as a strength, not a weakness.
My journey to finding my voice, my strength, and healing emotionally was ugly, tangled, painful, and beautiful, with multiple self-discoveries, setbacks, errors, and inflated expectations.
I had to build a toolbox of healthy coping strategies, be open to feeling my feelings, and find support. Most of all, I had to be patient and accept that grief would be part of my existence for the rest of my life.
Mine was the loss of my younger child to suicide. Earlier trauma included a broken neck, a brain tumor, and being attacked at knifepoint to which I barely escaped rape and murder. These earlier experiences provided a foundation for dealing with the loss of my son.
Here are factors that contribute to post-traumatic growth:
1. Feeling your Feelings:
Pushing your feelings away because they are uncomfortable, denying or “numbing” them, will only keep you stuck in that ugly, raw, place for longer than you want. So you need to let those feelings in.
Intense feelings will last about 60-90 seconds and will lift because all emotions are temporary. Once they do, get involved with another task or distraction. There will be pain in the process and set the expectation you will get through it.
2. Acceptance and Resilience
Accepting the reality of what has happened, understanding you can’t change it, and developing healthy coping strategies in the aftermath are crucial. This involves acknowledging the trauma without being overwhelmed by it.
3. Self-Reflection and Finding Meaning
This involves reflection to find a way forward by giving back. This does not have to be grandiose but can be something as simple as volunteering for a cause. This involves reevaluating priorities, relationships, beliefs, and values.
For me to find this, I had to write a lot and have faith that I would find joy in my life again. I also needed to be open to new strategies and allow myself to move forward even though that sometimes made me feel as if I was leaving my loved one behind. Sometimes I thought I didn’t deserve to move forward since my son suffered so much and his life was so short. I had to allow myself to acknowledge these feelings and permit myself to move forward into my new life of embracing mental health and suicide prevention.
4. Seek Support
There is no badge of honor for going it alone. And denying yourself connection to others who have been through the same kind of tragedy is a sign of stubbornness, not strength.
Your close relationships, and reaching out to others for support, whether through therapy or discussion groups, can help you process emotions and gain new perspectives. Finding others who have had your experience is a rich and rewarding process that helps you feel less alone and validates your feelings and experiences.
5. Find New Perspectives
Viewing the traumatic experience as an opportunity for growth rather than solely as a setback involves reframing the experience and recognizing opportunities for personal development. This is part of the evolution and might not be the way you will see your situation right away.
Suffering is part of life and there are tragedies every day all around us. A crucial step in the process of growth after tragedy is to learn to accept that you weren’t singled out when things go wrong.
6. Take Action
Actively engaging in behaviors or activities that promote growth, such as adopting healthy coping strategies (exercising instead of drinking, for example), pursuing new interests, or helping others who have faced similar challenges.
For me, this included many new experiences which included writing. Writing helped me process what was happening to me and taught me to be vulnerable and not cringe every time I was.
7. Cultivate Humility, Hope, and Gratitude
Looking for a hopeful outlook and believing in the potential for positive change despite adversity and even naming that which you are grateful for in the face of great loss is another important step in the process. Often this involves some blind faith which does pave the way to it happening.
8. Integration and Adaptation
Integrating the experience into the unique tapestry of your life story and adapting to the changes it brings involves adjusting to the new circumstances and incorporating the lessons learned into daily life.
9. Patience and Self-Compassion
It’s important to recognize that growth is a process that takes time and for this, you need to be compassionate toward yourself in that journey.
Post-traumatic growth is a highly individualized process, and not everyone who experiences trauma will necessarily undergo this kind of transformation. However, these steps can contribute to facilitating personal growth and positive change after a traumatic event.
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