*REPOST: Post Traumatic Growth Opportunity
Dear Friends, Post Traumatic Growth Opportunity. I've been thinking about this term a lot since an enlightened friend first mentioned it to me in a conversation. Psychologists Richard Tedeschi, PhD and Lawrence Calhoun PhD developed a theory in the mid 1990s exploring the concept in which new perspectives, new beliefs, and new strengths are developed through a difficult experience. They called it Post Traumatic Growth (PTG). At the Boulder Crest Institute where Dr. Tedeschi is a Distinguished Chair, the approach taken to treating those, especially army veterans, with PTSD and mental health issues that stem from traumatic events, is one "predicated on hope (and) growth...to ensure that all those who struggle have the opportunity to transform their struggle into profound strength and lifelong Posttraumatic Growth."
In his paper on PTG, Tedeschi writes "Posttraumatic Growth is both a process and an outcome: The experience of positive changes in oneself as a result of the struggle with traumatic events." It is an ability to build anew one's entire belief system, a re-imagining of a new way of living and relating--all of which emerge after one is shaken, broken even, to the core after trauma. Today, we can use PTG as our opportunity to understand what we are capable of, what is possible, after going through difficult times. It isn't about resilience as Dr. Kanako Taku, an associate professor of psychology at Oakland University tells the American Psychological Association. Resilience, he says, "is the personal attribute or ability to bounce back." Whereas PTG lies within the struggle and the re-emergence out the other end with a new appreciation for the strength and the opportunity to see things differently.
I came across an older article in Smithsonian Magazine about a story I thought was worth re-visiting simply because of what it represented--opportunity to become stronger, better, after disaster and yes, trauma. In 1931, a 7.8 magnitude earthquake struck Napier, a town on the eastern coast of New Zealand's North Island, killing at least 250 people and destroying homes, buildings, and livelihoods. In 2.5 minutes all but a few structures were levelled. And then came the fires that raged through. Yet this town would become "the Art Deco Capital of the world," a literal phoenix rising from the ashes. The article describes it this way: "Napier came back from the earthquake with a clean slate and fresh land to build on. One hundred and eleven new buildings were constructed in the downtown area between 1931 and 1933. The vast majority took their cues from Art Deco, the era’s cutting-edge architectural trend. The architectural style is known for its linear structure and touches of intricate ornamentation in the form of geometric motifs like chevrons and zigzags. It was also relatively inexpensive thanks to its basic, boxy designs—a bonus considering that the earthquake struck during the middle of the Great Depression, the worst economic downturn in history." The process of growth, the process of emergence from life-changing events that have brought us to our knees requires, as Valarie Kaur would say, "revolutionary love." The civil rights activist launched the Revolutionary Love Project as a tool to help people and communities see love as the powerful force it is. She explains in her powerful TED talk the three avenues through which which we exercise this Revolutionary Love: 1) see no stranger--when we see the people around as fellow beings on this planet searching for acceptance and love we understand that no matter what skin colour or background, we are all on a similar journey. 2) Tend to the wound--when a person commits an act of hate towards us it is recognising that they are hurting inside. 3) Love ourselves by taking the time to take care of ourselves and that begins with breathing and recognising the many moments of joy that surround us. She says, "Our joy is an act of moral resistance. How are you protecting your joy each day? Because in joy we see even darkness with new eyes."
Another act of moral resistance is our indefatigable hope. The hope that there has to be a better way, that there has to be change. And scientists and some philosophers would agree. As was written in Aeon's Psyche online magazine, "Hope does make us vulnerable to disappointment and failure. Yet attending to our fears and anxieties about the future, even embracing them as significant sources of knowledge and motivation, can prepare us emotionally for what is to come – including the worst-case outcomes we might need to expect." It's what the Post Traumatic Growth is about too. Recognising that even in the midst of trauma, even in our darkest moments and days, there is a glimmer. It's how Post Traumatic Growth works----recognising the opportunity that can only come from having endured what was seemingly unbearable. It is recognising that even in the midst of trauma, even amidst the challenges to our existence, even in our darkest moments and days, there is a glimmer. Because it is within that darkness do we find the most valuable insights we can have about ourselves and about life. We just have to make sure we see it, hold on to it, and make the most of it. And that is growth.
*A version of this blog post first appeared in June 2020.