Personal Growth after Trauma

October 26, 2017 by  

There has been much good information written about the harmful effects of trauma, whether the damage was done from war, sexual abuse, violence, natural disasters or the other zillion ways of being harmed in this world.  When I used to teach Adult Development to the Counseling Psychology graduate students at Northwestern University each Spring, we talked about trauma for two grueling weeks.  By then, the students begin to look traumatized by our readings, lectures and discussion but, of course, they were in training to learn to be therapists, so that was part of the deal.

However, there is another, more positive, phenomenon that we discuss less often – positive growth.  Researchers are beginning to write about Posttraumatic Growth (PTG), meaning that people experience positive change as a result of their struggles and working through of a big crisis.  I believe that much of the positive growth comes from the person’s ability to mourn – that is, to work their way through the difficult experience, emotions, and beliefs.  People don’t “get over” crises but they can get through them in and, like a long hard journey, reach a better, healthier, more creative place at the other end.

I’ve written (books and papers) about the process of mourning for more than thirty years.  I’ve written about the creative outcomes that are possible for more than fifteen years so many of those ideas will appear here regularly.  I hope that you find them helpful.  Tomorrow, I’ll say a bit more about the differences between men and women in achieving posttraumatic growth and mourning.

Three Women: A Parable of Difference

April 5, 2016 by  

Three good women are walking in the woods along the river bank, talking and enjoying each other’s company.  Suddenly, they hear a splash and a frightened yell. The three of them rush to the spot where the noise came from and see that a young girl has fallen into the water.   She is struggling.  Working together, the three women make a human chain from the safety of the trees on the bank to the girl.  The woman in the water reaches her and the others pull them both to safety on the shore.

Seeing that she was safe and unharmed, the first woman hurried away. “Where are you going?” called one of her friends. “I’m going to find her parents,” she answered.

The second woman rose to go. “I’m going to find the park service people and talk to them about safety.”

The third woman, sitting on the wet grass with the girl looked at her and said, “And I’m going to teach you how to swim………….”

I heard this story a long time ago.  I like it because all the women are good, all of them are correct, and all are admirable. It reminds me that (once the girl is safe), there aren’t a lot of rights and wrongs. We all have different ways of solving problems, of prioritizing our tasks, and we have different beliefs about help, using our skills, and the future.