How to Reap the Benefits of Post Traumatic Growth
Not all endings and beginnings are created equal.
As I have navigated my own personal and professional transitions while supporting others with my 4-Step Honorable Closure Process, I have discovered that there are not only clear distinctions about the different types of endings but also some powerful benefits to be discovered if we choose to experience what researchers are calling Post Traumatic G-r-o-w-t-h.
When I came across this phrase, Post Traumatic GROWTH, or PTG, I did a happy double-take.
Discovering the Two Different Kinds of Endings
Not only did this underscore that every major life change, organizational transition or ending has a “silver lining” that we can refer to as a growth opportunity, but it also helped me realize there are two kinds of endings that my 4-step process supports.
The first kind of endings are expected and feel rational, such as when a team completes a major product launch, a child leaves for college, or we say good-bye to a revered boss or close friend who leaves for greener pastures. These endings make sense to us even if we find ourselves resisting them. Good-byes are difficult. We feel a poignant mix of pride and sadness, knowing some things will never be the same. In these cases, working with my Honorable Closure process can be pretty straightforward. I support my clients by helping them to engage in mindful reflection, say thanks yous and give acknowledgements. They integrate what they learn and typically move ahead with relative ease.
The second type of endings are ones that cannot be readily reconciled by the intellect. They come out of the shocking “blue” and seem, on the surface, to be irrational. Examples include: getting laid off or fired, hurricanes, betrayal of any sort that brings a personal or professional relationship to a screeching halt, a sudden or premature death that feels out of order such as losing a child or healthy spouse, being shunned by family or friends, hearing your doctor say “Stage 4.” In these instances, Honorable Closure can become the Hero’s Journey and take months or years, as well it should.
Finding Our Own Invincible Summer
If you are contending with this kind of ending or change, take heart. “In the middle of winter,” wrote Albert Camus, “I at last discovered that there was in me an invincible summer.” Endings, exits and good-byes (especially the seemingly senseless ones) can be the path to discovering your own invincible summer, that bright light inside that cannot be squelched by outside conditions.
The term—Post Traumatic Growth—was coined by researchers at UNC Charlotte’s Department of Psychology; and I think it’s informative to see a phrase about the beneficial (albeit unexpected) outcomes of life altering experiences.
The word trauma comes from the Greek word for wound. PTG asks us to consider this question: “How will I respond when life smacks me with sudden change?”
Unexpected, Radically Positive Benefits
A systematic study of people in transition validates what traditional cultures, theologians, philosophers and mystics have said for centuries: life crises and traumatic events can shape us in radically positive ways.
Here is a rundown of the unexpected benefits researchers see when people choose Post Traumatic Growth:
- New opportunities emerge from the struggle that were never present before. When my husband passed away five years ago after a very brief but intense period of illness—he died 62 days after being diagnosed with Stage 4 cancer—I was gob-smacked by grief and felt traumatized (but also oddly blessed) by all that transpired. In retrospect, I can see how reconciling that paradox has informed my work with Honorable Closure, and led me into a new specialty of transitions consulting that is the perfect blend of my personal and professional experience.
- Close relationships get refined. As the dust settles, some long-standing relationships no longer feel right and dissolve, while other relationships deepen. Commitments are renewed. People also report a feeling of deeper connection to humanity, and a sense of empathy with the suffering of others.
- We become aware of our own inner strength. When you travel to the edge of what you think you can endure, you find out what you are made of and what you can count on yourself for, what you’re committed to, and what you simply won’t put up with anymore, ever. Awareness of your ‘own invincible summer’ has you say to yourself “If I can get through that, I can get through anything.” And you’re right.
- A greater appreciation for life in general. You realize all the ways that you’ve been rushing around, failing to notice all that is working around you. Gratitude is a powerful thing, which is why it is the very first step in my 4-Step Process for Honorable Closure. (I get specific about this practice in this post featuring the wisdom of Louis CK.)
- The fifth result of PTG is in the religious or spiritual domain. This is what I refer to as living a life of heart and meaning. This is where life’s irrational turns are reconciled. Endings afford us the gift to take stock of our beliefs and drop those that no longer serve us. That space leaves room for inquiry and meeting ourselves where we are now, in whatever new conditions we find ourselves in, free to commit or question with fresh eyes and open, mature hearts.
Yes, You Do Have a Choice
One important final note: Scientists are quick to point out that just because people experience growth does not mean they will not suffer. Distress is natural when we face traumatic, irrational, unexpected events. Not everyone that goes through such events grows–you have a choice in the matter. But if you’re going through the pain and discomfort anyway, why not use it for your greater, long-term good?
I hope you never have to deal with “irrational” traumatic events; but if you do, may you always find the support and guidance you need to triumph over them.
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