Things Happen Not Just TO Us, But Also FOR Us
A client came to see me because she felt adrift in her career. No direction, no spark. Then her 10 year-old daughter suddenly became very ill, and my client had to mobilize to take care of her – endless doctor’s appointments, lab tests, second-third opinions, etc.
After many months, the daughter is now fine, stable, doing well in school again. And my client has a completely different sense of herself. In galvanizing to meet the crisis of her daughter’s health, and meeting it with skill and effectiveness, she gained a new sense of competence, of empowerment. And she brings that more empowered sense of self now to her explorations about her career.
A friend recently said to her, “You see, things don’t just happen TO us, they happen FOR us.
And that can be very true, when we meet the challenge of the moment with the intention to learn and grow, and to learn that we can.
When we’re called to meet a truly potentially catastrophic situation, we can use tools to help us re-frame the meaning of the event and claim new strengths in ourselves. The exercise below is based on research in the field of post-traumatic growth, which explores the capacities of people, every ordinary going along in life person, to not only survive but grow from adversity and potential trauma.
Coherent Narrative [this version an adaptation from Dan Siegel, UCLA]
Identify one event you want to work with. I do strongly suggest this is an event that you did cope with, processed and learned from. It’s in the past. It’s important to practice with something with not too much risk of being re-triggered. Journaling your answers to the prompts will help give you some emotional distance from the event, fostering more of an observer stance for processing the event.
1. This is what happened; these were the consequences.
Practices of mindfulness and self-compassion help you come to that observer awareness and acceptance and relate to the event somewhat objectively rather than caught in any survival response.
2. These were the resources, practices, tools and coping strategies I used at the time.
Brilliant strategies that kept us alive. Honest awareness and acceptance, so no shame-blame. Claim credit for what you did. Also recovering strengths and resources you have at the time.
3. These are the resources, etc. I would use now if I could do this over.
Because there probably has been new growth and new learning. This step integrates that learning. And rehearsing trains, even pre-wires the brain for resilience next time.
4. These were the lessons I learned, the growth I experienced, the positive meanings I found.
Take your time with this step because this IS the turning point of post-traumatic growth. You can experience, the lessons are even more important than the losses. This step helps reduce any residue of pain and resignation. You can feel more empowered, recover strengths, gain more self-control, deepen your pro-active learning, re-discover your own courage. You create opportunities to become more connected, loving and empathetic, more likely to engage in active problem solving. You come to believe you can cope and improve through effort and support. You get to claim that you are stronger than you think. “I can handle this.”
I am no longer afraid of storms, for I am learning how to sail my ship.
– Louisa May Alcott
5. This is what I now appreciate because of the event.
Post-traumatic growth is more than coping and bouncing back. It is bouncing forward, learning, redeeming, thriving. Finding meaning and strengths we would not have found if this potential catastrophe hadn’t happened. Finding the growth not just in spite of the event, but because of our coping with it.
Ring the bells that still can ring.
Forget your perfect offering.
There’s a crack in everything.
That’s how the light gets in.
– Leonard Cohen, Anthem