Friday, March 8, 2013

Post-Traumatic Growth

“When we are no longer able to change a situation, we are challenged to change ourselves.”
Viktor E. Frankl

Since we were children we have realized life is not always fair, that in this world there are circumstances beyond our control impacting our bodies, minds, or our relationships. I have lived long enough to see people I know suffer some pretty horrendous events that had a catastrophic impact their lives. I have seen people lose their jobs in the depths of serious recessions; I have seen good people deal with brutally unfair divorces; I have seen people suffer terrible heart attacks; I have seen people deal with what may be the single most frightening word in our culture, cancer. Today I consider some of these people my heroes. As they suffered they overcame. They became better, more mature, more loving, stronger human beings. Until yesterday I did not know there was a psychological term for this phenomenon, Post Traumatic Growth.

“Post-traumatic growth refers to positive psychological change experienced as a result of the struggle with highly challenging life circumstances. These sets of circumstances represent significant challenges to the adaptive resources of the individual, and pose significant challenges to individuals' way of understanding the world and their place in it. Posttraumatic growth is not simply a return to baseline from a period of suffering; instead it is an experience of improvement that for some persons is deeply meaningful.”

Politicians, salesmen, the media all focus on what is wrong with the world, what you can’t control. You will never hear me say, “It’s easy.” Life isn’t always easy or fair, but in such circumstances you are given a choice. Do you focus on, where I am or do you focus on who I am?

The world will tell you there is no hope. Generally, in this culture the people shouting these messages of despair have something to gain in the way of money, power, or sex from you if you choose to believe them.

Some of what follows comes from a Labor Day 2011 speech by Tony Robbins. Some of it comes from observing the overcomers in my life. Some of it comes from Viktor Frankl, a Jewish psychiatrist who not only survived the Holocaust, but used those experiences to found a new school of psychotherapy.

1)Put your mind in a compelling future. The only thing that is certain is change. No matter what your condition, it will change. You can't always control your situation but you can choose a vision of your future.

2)Focus on what you can control. Find something that you can do that at least has the potential of improving your situation or the situation of others. You can choose what you feed your mind. You can find role models you wish to emulate.

3)Take action. Once you have found things you can control, do whatever you can do to improve the situation. I know a breast cancer survivor. When she was in chemotherapy she was such a blessing to others that the technicians in the clinic jokingly told her they didn’t want her to get well because then they wouldn’t have her making their world a better place.

4)Celebrate small victories. It seems that the overcomers in my life love and appreciate life in a new way. It seems small victories and simple pleasures take on a new meaning to overcomers once they have faced down death or made it through something like a really bad divorce.

5)Do something for somebody else. There is always something you can give to another person. Even if you have nothing you can give someone your blessings.

Live to become a blessing no mater what your circumstances.

“We who lived in concentration camps can remember the men who walked through the huts comforting others, giving away their last piece of bread. They may have been few in number, but they offer sufficient proof that everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms -- to choose one's attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one's own way.”
Viktor E. Frankl

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