Re-framing toward Positive Meaning for Post-Traumatic Growth

This is the fourth in a series of five posts on Resilience and Post-Traumatic Growth; you can read the previous three posts here.]

It happens all the time or we hear the stories: the landlord sells the building and suddenly we have to move our office or apartment – a scramble to find something else, maybe not easy the first time around, but eventually we do and it turns out to be the best thing ever, better than we ever dared imagine.

A potential disaster doesn’t always, always turn out better; loss is real and the pain of it is real.  But often enough, if we practice enough, we can find new opportunities, new possibilities in what at first seemed like a catastrophe.   Certainly we can train ourselves to learn the lessons we otherwise never would have, to look for “the teachable moment in the regrettable moment.”

It’s this practice, searching for the gold in the pile of manure, finding the silver lining in a crummy turn of events, that is the fourth step in moving from a potential trauma into post-traumatic growth.

There are three steps in practicing with small mistakes, mini-catastrophes, bumps on a pickle, before creating the Coherent Narrative that would allow us to integrate the meaning of a major catastrophe into our larger life timeline. We start small, and we practice with an unwanted, disruptive change that did turn out to be a blessing in disguise, just to get the knack of this practice.  We allow the brain to recognize the little successes so it can begin to look for them more automatically.  This exercise is offered as a written reflection, but certainly sharing your discoveries with other people is also very effective.

1.  Identify an event that is already past and that you have already come to terms with, you’ve already found yourself on the other side of and no longer feel overly-charged about: a car accident with minor damage and no injuries, a flooded basement, the unexpected, undeserved loss of a job you weren’t too happy with anyway.

2.  Identify everything you learned from coping with that event, all the teachable moments: how to reach out for help and trust the help that was offered, how to navigate a bureaucratic system you had never even heard of before, how to trust your own intuition in making some tough decisions.

3.  Identify new strengths you could claim about yourself: you developed more patience or perseverance or learned to assert yourself in a difficult situation.

It’s the training ourselves to look for any redeeming positive in all that messy negative that allows us to not only be resilient in bouncing back from the shit that happens in life, but to become more resilient in creating shift in life, creating new perspectives, new possibilities, and seeing ourselves as someone who can.  That’s the growth.