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Episode 72 - Post-traumatic Growth


Hello, friends. Welcome to episode number 72 - Post-Traumatic Growth

I’ve had several emails and messages lately from people who have recently lost loved ones. We’ve been talking a lot about grief, and healing, and growth after trauma. But here’s the thing, we all have experienced trauma. That might be the big T trauma (such as sexual or physical abuse) or little T trauma - such as being made fun of, or a teacher calling us out in from of our peers, or a myriad of other things that affected our psyche. Oh hey, yeah, let’s just add covid restrictions to that list. We all have experienced trauma. So, this is something we all could use.

I’ve talked about the grief and healing journey quite a bit throughout the lifespan of this podcast. But I took a look back at episode 43: Left Behind - After A Loved One Has Died and realized it’s one of the most downloaded episodes I’ve recorded. So, I thought I’d bring portions of that recording back because it’s obviously a topic that we need to talk about, and people want to hear.

So, personally, I’ve been on this journey of healing after my husband’s suicide for four and a half years. And let me just stop here a second and say, healing from grief is not a one-time event. It’s a life-long journey. Grief will always be with you. It’ll just look different as you move forward, melding into who you are, but resonating at a low hum. Sometimes it still feels like yesterday. But four and a half years is quite a long time. When I think of a newborn baby, so much growth happens in four and a half years. Right? They learn to grab things, learn how to roll over, sit up, pull up on furniture and eventually walk and run. They learn to eat solid food, then feed themselves. They learn how to talk and to potty train. And by four and a half, some learn to count and identify colors and objects and sounds. So much learning. So much growth. And sometimes I compare my own time of learning and growth to such incredible milestones in a child’s life, feeling like I’m behind. Like, surely since so much could happen in a child’s first four and a half years of life, surely I should hit certain milestones of healing. But I have. Sometimes I’m just too close to my own journey to recognize it. And when I step back, I marvel at the post-traumatic growth that has happened in my life. How much I’ve changed from the girl I was before his death. And I’m proud of myself. Because healing doesn’t begin until you’re willing to face the hard and sometimes very difficult aspects of the trauma. But then healing does come!

Oh, let me say this about the recording from episode 43, I have cut out the first part of the episode, but if you’re interested, I talk about what you could expect in the first and second year after losing your spouse if you want to go back and listen to the whole thing. That’s episode number 43. Okay, here’s the portion talking about post-traumatic growth.

In Episode 26: Shaped for The Journey Forward, I talked about moving forward and moving through life, and being changed in the process. I knew after my husband’s death I could no longer be defined as resilient. But I thought being changed in the process was getting my resiliency back. I’ve now discovered that it wasn’t resiliency at all, but Post-traumatic Growth.

Post-traumatic Growth was developed by psychologists Richard Tedeschi, PhD (oh gosh, I’m sure I just butchered his last name), and Lawrence Calhoun, PhD, in the mid-1990s. It’s a concept that holds that people who endure psychological struggle following adversity can often see positive personal growth afterward. Tedeschi says, "People develop new understandings of themselves, the world they live in, how to relate to other people, the kind of future they might have and a better understanding of how to live life." Based on my own lived experience, I could not agree more with this assessment.

Post-traumatic growth is positive change experienced as a result of the struggle with a major life crisis or a traumatic event. The idea that human beings can be changed by their encounters with life challenges, sometimes in radically positive ways, is not new even if the term is. Just a quick glance at Job in the Bible confirms this.

The two doctors that coined the term “post-traumatic growth” describes how growth and change occur in five general areas. The first area is in new opportunities. Sometimes people who must face major life crises develop a sense that new possibilities have emerged from the struggle that were not present before. A second area is a change in relationships with others. Some experience closer relationships with the people in their lives, and they can also experience an increased sense of connection to others who suffer. A third area of possible change is an increased sense of one’s own strength – It’s an attitude of “if I lived through that, I can face anything.” A fourth area of post-traumatic growth is a greater appreciation for life in general. It’s seeing things with a new perspective in mind. The fifth area can be seen in their spiritual life where they find themselves loving and depending on their Heavenly Father in a new and deeper way.

The doctors rightly pointed out two important observations with regard to post-traumatic growth. They say, “Just because individuals experience growth does not mean that they will not suffer. We most definitely are not implying that traumatic events are good – they are not. But for many of us, life crises are inevitable, and we are not given the choice between suffering and growth on the one hand, and no suffering and no change, on the other. Secondly, Post-traumatic growth is not universal. It is not uncommon, but neither does everybody who faces a traumatic event experience growth.”

My takeaway from this is that life is going to provide us with many opportunities to experience post-traumatic growth. But, we get to decide if we actually want to allow it to change us and grow us. Or we could choose to stay the same. For me, my choice is to embrace the opportunity for personal, emotional, and spiritual growth. I love having a new appreciation for life, a newfound sense of personal strength, and a new focus on helping others. I love getting outside of myself and my self-centeredness to see the world and my purpose in it in a whole new light. I even love being grateful for the hard things in life, because they teach me to lean hard into Jesus and to learn to trust and depend upon Him more.

How about you, friend? What will you choose? If you’ve been one left behind after your loved one passed over into Heaven, what will you make of your life now? Even if you’re just moving through that first year, will you open yourself up to the idea of post-traumatic growth? Will you let the pain and grief shape you on this journey? Will you choose to grow with a sense of new possibilities afforded you now; grow in your relationships with others; grow in recognizing and appreciating your own strength; in appreciating life to a greater degree. And lastly, grow in your spiritual faith as you lean in hard on Jesus with trust and belief that He cares for you and He’s got you?

You’ve been “left behind” for a reason. What will you make of it, friend? What will you choose?

Friends, I really do hope that was helpful for you today. If you’re interested in finding out how Life Coaching could set you on your way to post-traumatic growth, please contact me. I’d love to tell you more about it and show you how coaching works.

I’ve put a link in the show notes to my calendar to book a 30-minute discovery call. Or you can visit my website and send me an email there.

Okay, have a beautiful week, friends! See you next Wednesday for the next episode of Another Beautiful Life podcast.

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