You’ve had a terrible, stressful experience. Maybe you’d even call it a trauma. Are you going to be debilitated by it for the rest of your life? Maybe; maybe not.
PTSD, post-traumatic stress disorder, is a term that’s bandied about a lot in our current culture. But have you heard about its corollary, PTG, post-traumatic growth? Probably not. Since it’s not a reimbursable diagnosis, it doesn’t capture the headlines that often. But, it’s important to recognize that people can emerge from life’s traumas stronger, more resilient and even happier than they once were.
How does this positive outcome occur? Let me show you the ways:
Initially, you let the emotions flow. You cry; you sob; you isolate; you wail; you scream; you rage. You express whatever emotions need expressing. You can’t believe what has happened. You want revenge. You want to reverse time. You feel so helpless, so vulnerable, so lost. It’s not fair; it’s not right; it shouldn’t have happened. But it did. And it has changed your life.
At some point (when it feels right), you accept what happened. The trauma is what happened - no denying that! But your life is not over. You stop constantly reliving the experience, seeking a way to “undo” it. “Why didn’t I?” “What if I had done this?” “How come it happened to me?” “I should have ….” You recognize how replaying “what ifs” is not helpful; it simply muddies the waters.
You take action despite your overwhelming emotions. You no longer want your life to be controlled by the trauma, yet it is. Though every cell in your body is crying out, “Leave me alone, I don’t want to do anything,” you turn your attention toward doing “One Gutsy Thing.” What’s that? Just as trauma comes in all sizes, the same is true for “OGT.” It’s getting back into the pool of life, taking one step at a time. Sometimes it’s a baby step; sometimes a giant step. It doesn’t matter which—all that matters is that you do get back. So, despite feeling overwhelmed, you take one step forward, into a future worth living. And then another step. And then another.
You recognize that people heal through experience. You search for a purpose in life now that your life has been dramatically altered. You reflect on your relationships. Which relationships do you want to keep? What new relationships would you like to pursue? You notice how you spend your time. What pursuits feel like a waste of time? What new pursuits might be healing for you? Would it be helpful for you to help others who are suffering? Would it be meaningful for you to seek out a spiritual path? Would it be constructive for you to seek out political solutions?
You begin to hope again. You sense that a brighter future may await you, despite your trauma. You feel stronger. You feel more appreciative of life. You know you can endure, even find enjoyment and purpose in life.
Uh, oh! You’ve lost your confidence again; your desire to move forward wavers. What happened? Know that it’s the norm, not the exception, to lapse into a rut. Yes, despite your progress in moving forward, some days will be dark. You will feel discouraged; you will feel disheartened. But don’t give up! View your setback as temporary, gently encouraging yourself to get back on track.
Success! You’ve persevered. You’re back on track. Though the journey of life inevitably entails bumps and bruises and occasionally tragedies and traumas, it’s post-traumatic GROWTH that’s your springboard to a new, more meaningful life. But, that journey takes time. Be patient with yourself. Yet, be determined to make it happen. Though you can’t reverse time to erase the trauma, you can start now to make a new ending to your story.
Linda Sapadin is a psychologist and personal coach in private practice who specializes in helping people enrich their lives, enhance their relationships and overcome self-defeating patterns of behavior. For more information about her work, contact her by email or visit her website at PsychWisdom.