We've all heard of Post Traumatic Syndrome (PTS) in relation to surviving a horrifying event. Rape victims, wounded soldiers, accident survivors. The symptoms can be as devastating as the events that caused them: loss of memory, depression, uncontrollable fear. Survivors often live in a diminished state of existence - physically and psychologically withdrawing from the world. Isolating them even further in their personal hell.
Recently I heard a twist on this disorder: Post Traumatic GROWTH Syndrome. A condition also triggered by life-altering events, but one in which survivors don't shrink from life. Instead they use the distressing event as a springboard for living more fully.
They don't deny the reality of their situation, yet they aren't broken by it. They possess three qualities that help them balance the good and bad and find a new relationship to life. Optimism, Imagination, and Resilience
Rose-colored glasses and Pollyanna's have long been maligned as unrealistic and delusional. How in the world could someone experience, say, the death of a loved one and still find a reason to be joyful. Surely, such an individual is just kidding themselves and avoiding reality. So says life's realists. And perhaps, in such situations, there is a bit of fake it till you make it going on. But, deeper than that, individuals who seem to survive tragedy with less trauma call upon and trust their innate sense of purpose and continuity. For them, life's set-backs are no less painful, but they choose not to be overcome by that pain. They know the crisis and the pain are part of an unfolding path that cannot be judged on face value. They believe that all experiences serve spirit's development. They choose optimism as their perch for viewing the world.
Optimism leads to imaging a different reality. As a WWII survivor of the Nazi concentration camps, Viktor Frankl (Austrian psychiatrist) discovered that prisoners with the ability to imagine a life beyond their current circumstances were happier, more generous in nature, and less likely to succumb to illness or depression. Through the use of their imaginations they could believe that the hell of today would end and a better life would follow. Imagination allowed them to shift their attention and find a kind of peace through acceptance. This too would pass.
Imagination is an under-rated gift. Children flourish in their fantasy-worlds, but they soon find out that grown-ups don't appreciate such childish notions. Is it any wonder that so many adults find it nearly impossible to see beyond the most obvious and mundane? Perhaps all the recent attention on the Law of Attraction may soften our death grip on life-as-it-is and remind us that WE are the creators of what is...and what can be.
Resilience is the ability to work with adversity in such a way that one comes through it unharmed or even better for the experience. Resilience means facing life's difficulties with courage and patience - refusing to give up. It is the quality of character that allows a person to rebound from misfortune, hardships and traumas.
Resilience is rooted in a tenacity of spirit--a determination to embrace all that makes life worth living even in the face of overwhelming odds. When we have a clear sense of identity and purpose, we are more resilient, because we can hold fast to our vision of a better future.
So, back to Post Traumatic Growth Syndrome. Optimism, imagination, and resilience give us a recipe for seeing the opportunity in the crisis. Today's world provides endless opportunities to choose our responses. A realist may tell you that the only rational response is fear or anger or retribution. They're informed by the facts of life and can't see beyond what is. No imagination. Little optimism. And, likely, little resilience. They hold fast to a world defined by yesterday's measures. They look back with longing and forward with trepidation - forgetting that the past and future they envision is merely an emanation of their own or collective thoughts.
Yes, there are many challenges we all face. Yes, many are in pain. Yet we possess this remarkable capacity to alter our experience by consciously choosing the view that supports our well-being most. Is that being a Pollyanna? Is that being unrealistic? You decide... as for me, I'm off imagining the miracles of tomorrow.
Wisdom of Every Day People...
I'm giving myself 2010 as a year of story gathering for a book I really want to write. Many of us out there have had some really tough times in the past few years. And inspiration can be a bit low. But, there's nothing more uplifting than remembering our own personal strength as we relate to the story of another who's lived through hard times and became even stronger. Been There, Done That, Learned This - Wisdom of Every Day People will compile short essays from people just like you who've faced and triumphed over tragedy. A job loss that sent them reeling; the loss of a dear one; a health crisis; a giant step backward in life. The wisdom we gain from such trials is universal. Your story might be the key to providing a nudge to someone deep in their own despair right now. Your wisdom might remind them that they are stronger in spirit than any of life's obstacles. Interested? I'd love to hear what truths you've learned in your life. Email me if you have something to share and I'll give you more detail about how to participate.