Have you ever heard the phrase that you can only truly experience great joy when you have also experienced great sadness? When preparing for today's blog post, that phrase came to mind. We hear more in recent years about trauma, and the negative impact on trauma, but we don't hear much about how trauma can impact a person in a positive way, if correctly addressed and worked on.
Today, we will finish up with this week's blog series on Post Traumatic Growth (PTG), and one of the final factors that going through trauma can positively effect a person's life: Developing a deeper appreciation for life. If you haven't read the earlier blog posts from the series this week, we highly recommend you go back and read them!
As we have learned, the idea of PTG holds onto the idea that we can experience two things at the same time, meaning, we can go through great growth, while at the same time experiencing suffering. The idea of PTG is that an individual can not only find meaning in a traumatic experience, but actually see the traumatic event as something that transformed them in a positive way.
Most of us have read news articles or heard stories of someone experiencing a tragic life event, such as a horrific crime, personal attack on their safety, or a medical emergency, where the individual's life was either torn apart. Perhaps that person found themselves facing death, or facing the death of a loved one. Most of us have also read or heard stories about how an individual took that experience and made meaning out of it by doing something different with their life afterwards.
I remember going to an organ donor family banquet after my Dad passed away. He was a full body organ donor at the time he died. The banquet was to honor the loved one's memory by inviting them to celebrate the gift the loved one had passed on through their death-- a part of their body. A man in a wheelchair got up to speak to those in attendance, and shared his story. He was on his way to work one day, having struggled for quite some time with his personal happiness in his career, when his vehicle was struck by another driver who ran a stop sign on a country road, and burst into flames. He spoke of how his family was approached by the doctors when they arrived at the hospital, where the physician told his parents that the only way they would be able to save his life was to amputate his legs. Not only would he never walk again, but he would have no use of his body from the neck down. Can you imagine having to make this decision for your adult child? I think most of us would, hands-down, choose saving their child's life for the loss of their mobility, but such a traumatic situation for all involved. He had received skin grafts from organ donors, and they were able to save his life. He spoke of how this experience changed him. When he had physically recovered and was ready to work again, he knew he would never go back to his former career. He said that he could no longer hear the complaints from day to day from customers that, to him, seemed so trivial in the grand scheme of life. Instead, he knew this experience had happened to him to lead him to make a difference in other's lives, to help others who had gone through similar losses-- and most of all, he wanted to speak to people about the life saving opportunity of organ donation. His life's work is now dedicated to educating people on organ donation, through sharing his story. One of the most powerful things I remember him saying is that regardless of what happens to us in life, it's up to us to do something with whatever emotional pain is left from the event. He said he could be angry, choose to stay angry, and invest emotional energy into focusing on what he lost and direct his emotional energy towards the person who hit him-- or he could grief the loss, work through the trauma, realize that he was blessed to be alive, and then go do something with his newfound appreciation for what his life currently was, and what he wanted it to be. This is truly a great illustration of developing an appreciation for life!
The ideas or factors discussed in this week's blog about PTG are not to trivialize or minimize an individuals trauma, and it is definitely not to indicate that PTG is an easy process to go through or to attain-- it takes a lot of pain, struggle, emotional and mental energy and most of all, work. And keep in mind that every circumstance is different with trauma. And every individual experiencing trauma is different. Regardless, the idea that PTG is a possibility is an exciting one in the field of therapy, as it can give an individual hope, and introduce the possibility that something good can arise from something so painful.
Joleen Watson, MS, LMFTA, NCC, is a therapist at Imagine Hope Counseling Group. She enjoys doing marriage counseling,relationship counseling,couples counseling, and individual counseling. Imagine Hope also specializes in family, child and adolescent counseling and serves Indianapolis area including the surrounding areas of Carmel, Noblesville, Zionsville, Westfield, and Fishers.