Change, suffering, and loss are inevitable parts of life. But if we are open, these tough times can provide opportunities for us to reflect on our experiences and learn unexpected lessons.
As Leonard Cohen wrote, ‘There is a crack in everything. That’s how the light gets in.’
The term “post-traumatic growth,” developed in the 1990s by psychologists Richard Tedeschi and Lawrence Calhoun, is defined as “positive psychological change as a result of the struggle with highly challenging life circumstances.” They refer to 5 main areas of growth: appreciation of life, relationships with others, new possibilities in life, personal strength, and spiritual change.
Let’s look at some of the growth that can occur:
After experiencing hardship and loss, many of us find that we develop a deeper sense of gratitude and appreciation for what we do have. We may be able to find joy in things that we previously took for granted.
Dr. Robert Emmons, one of the world’s leading scientific experts on gratitude, explains that “processing a life experience through a grateful lens does not mean denying negativity”. Rather, it helps us to see that we have the power to transform a loss into a potential gain.
Researchers Daniel Lim and David DeSteno of Northeastern University published a 2016 study which indicated that one of the unexpected benefits of living through adversity is an increase in empathy and compassion. In our day-to-day lives, when navigating relationships with others, we may be more inclined to look beneath the surface. We may be less likely to judge others or jump to conclusions about their behaviour, recognizing that we don’t always know what people are really going through. Moreover, we may be more motivated to take action to relieve the suffering of others.
We might find ourselves feeling surprised by how well we have managed a traumatic event in our lives. We realize that when faced with challenges, we are capable of much more than we could have imagined. Looking forward, we may have an increased sense of confidence in our ability to cope with and handle future challenges.
Bob Marley expressed this sentiment when he said, “You never know how strong you are until being strong is the only choice you have.”
When experiencing trauma, we may ponder questions about areas of our lives that we had always blindly trusted, such as our faith or our worldview. We may search for more purpose and meaning. For some of us, this process can facilitate increased spiritual development, leading to a deeper sense of self-awareness, understanding, and well-being.
Some final thoughts
While personal growth from suffering can be very beneficial, this does not mean that we should ignore or deny our painful circumstances. Before we can heal and learn from a traumatic experience, we need to allow ourselves time to acknowledge it, go through it, and process it. There is no fast-forward button!