“There is a moment in our healing journey when our denial crumbles; we realize our experience and it’s continued effects on us won’t “just go away”. That’s our breakthrough moment. It’s the sun coming out to warm the seeds of hope so they can grow our personal garden of empowerment.” ― Jeanne McElvaney
Written By Jason N. Linder
Key Points: Your life philosophy, relationships, and personality can improve after surviving a traumatic event After enduring a trauma, you may well discover you’re stronger than you thought. You may discover new feelings of appreciation, connection, creativity, and gratitude after trauma.
“What doesn’t kill me makes me stronger”—Nietzche
Despite the many privileges I’ve been blessed with, I’ve had my share of difficult experiences. For example, I grew up with a pronounced speech impediment, an auditory-processing disability, and was bullied constantly in school as a child. I used to be afraid of answering the phone because I didn’t know if I could say “hello” in time before the person calling would hang up from the silence on my end. In high school, I was also chronically teased because of acne, called pizza-face routinely in class and recess. I ate alone often at school. It wrecked my self-esteem, my sleep, appetite, well-being, and relationships.
Fortunately, channeling my own post-traumatic growth (PTG: experiencing positive shifts in outlook, purpose, strength, wisdom, relationship improvements, and meaning above one’s previous baseline before the hardship occurred) and receiving EMDR trauma therapy transformed my life.
Those past experiences don’t bother me at all anymore; in fact, they’ve become conduits to my success. It turns out I’m not alone. Many people don’t suffer from PTSD after facing significant hardship; as many as 70 percent of survivors of various forms of trauma report experiencing some positive change in at least one domain of life.
Human nature is to be resilient. It turns out resilience (bouncing back from hardship and returning to baseline) and PTG can be summarized down to certain skills, practices, and traits that we can cultivate, develop, and strengthen with time, in and out of therapy. Here’s how (with personal examples).
Here Are 7 Keys To Unlocking Post-Traumatic Growth
1. Focus On How Life Can Have More Meaning And Purpose After Surviving Trauma.
Personally, I’ve noticed how the hardship I’ve faced above has helped me connect to the pain of others, especially my clients. I think I’m a better therapist, largely because I survived and grew from the bullying trauma I faced. It has connected me to my life’s purpose of helping others heal trauma and training EMDR therapists to do the same.
2. Reevaluate Your Life Philosophy After Surviving Trauma.
This can unintentionally lead to positive personality changes, such as more confidence, self-control, warmth, and emotional stability. Surviving the bullying helped me realize that, despite living in an image-focused materialist world fueled by social media, I wanted and have lived more internally-driven than externally (originally the bullying forced me to), not as easily moved or affected by others’ harmful words or actions.
As the well-known adage “sticks and stones can break my bones but words can’t hurt me.” I thank you, bullies, for pushing me to do this sooner rather than later.
3. Discover You’re Stronger Than You Thought Because You Endured Trauma.
We genuinely don’t know what we’re capable of until we’re tested. The bullying, stuttering, and learning challenges I faced didn’t stop me from completing my doctorate, landing multiple scholarships, learning Spanish, among many of my accomplishments. In fact, I think it strengthened my drive to succeed, passion for learning, and break the barriers these challenges tried to impose on me.
4. Discover New Feelings Of Appreciation, Gratitude, And Less Unnecessary Seriousness From Enduring Trauma.
This can be increased appreciation for life, self-acceptance, and/or autonomy. Ironically, I’m also not sure if I would have become this successful in my career if it weren’t for the hardship I faced. It forced me to learn many healing methods and focus on all my blessings. Again, I thank my bullies for not only helping me realize this sooner rather than later but also connecting me to my mindfulness practice.