I am often asked to explain how it is possible to live with abundance after a trauma or tragedy. The 9.0 earthquake in Japan is a devastating and terrifyingly extreme example where the belief in being abundant is challenged to the core. Yet the incredible perseverance and human grace demonstrated by the Japanese seems to reinforce rather than detract from the strength and spirit of this value in practice. As an example, the absence of looting is juxtaposed with heart warming generosity. No one should minimize the pain associated with the earthquake in any way. It is a tragedy and crushing example of personal trauma beyond belief.
At the same time it may be heartening to understand the following. There is evidence that some will understandably deeply struggle after personal trauma, while others will actually propel forward and derive personal growth from the experience. The following is an excerpt from a Harvard Business Review blog written by Shawn Achor that provides great insight into this:
“Research has illuminated differences between people who experience growth after trauma and those who do not. First, these individuals continue to believe that their behavior still matters, which is one of the components of optimism. If you have experienced a trauma, find one concrete action — something you know you can do — to decrease the negative feelings associated with the trauma. For example, if you had a heart attack, decide to give up desserts on Sundays. This gives your brain a “win,” allowing it to keep moving forward.
Second, post-traumatic growth blooms best in a soil of deep social support. If you have experienced a trauma, try to actively invest in your social support network — rather than passively waiting for that network to invest in you in the midst of hardship. Everyone has their own timetable for recovery, but post-traumatic growth can begin to occur at any point in the grieving process — whether it is one day or ten years later. Social support speeds the process of recovery.
Third, change the way you describe the trauma to yourself. For example, when I was at Harvard Divinity School, I went through two years of depression. At the time, it was terrible. And I could leave the story there. But that misses out on the reality that post-traumatic growth occurred. Because of that depression (not despite it), I began to understand what gets in the way of us creating positive change in our lives, and that jumpstarted my interest in positive psychology and helping people change their mindsets and their habits. If it were not for depression, I would not have the understanding, or the compassion, to help people like I can today. Learning to tell myself that story — rather than the pessimistic version of what happened — has been key to my growth.
Trauma is always bad — but it’s also the beginning of the story, not the end.”
None of us wants to have to be put to the test on this but when and if we are; there is a choice in the after zone of personal tragedy. Mourning and grieving is necessary. We also are best served with a mind set of moving forward and the belief that our contribution still matters, along with activating a nurturing support system.
Character Move: have enormous compassion for ourselves and others when trauma strikes. Know that at some time after the mourning and grief, we have a chance and choice to “grow on.” It can be a beginning.
Beyond Trauma in the Triangle,