As soon as Anna stepped inside Jonathan’s room, she felt something was wrong. Chills ran down her spine as she walked over to the crib. She tried to stir him, and her cries turned into wailing as she realized her son would not awaken. She held Jonathan’s tiny body in her arms as sobs spilled forth from the depths of her soul.
She carried him to the living room, and holding him to her heart, she looked desperately at her husband through her tears, pleading for him to fix what she knew could not be restored.
Wordlessly, her husband gently took Jonathan from her arms. He looked at his son’s face, a face that resembled his own. He kissed the top of his head, and then he slowly, slowly raised his arms to lift the baby up to the heavens. Tears streamed down his cheeks as he lifted his eyes upward in an act of submissions to a fate that broke his heart.The Scent of Water: Grace For Every Kind of Broken, Naomi Zacharias
There are events and circumstances in life that can be extremely challenging. Times when you go through trials that seem to break you. You wonder how you will make it through. For some people, these are the times when the most personal growth happens.
Post-traumatic growth is a “learning.” It is also a process that uproots your inner and outer world. It challenges the way you understand your place in the world, your tightly held beliefs, and your personal identity. Although there is a lot of distress that comes with each tragedy you experience and you would give everything you have not to have to go through the suffering, the exponential personal growth that you may experience has redemptive qualities. If worked through in a certain way, any tragic event can bring forth great growth, resilience, and precious lessons that can be learned that are both beautiful and positive even though the suffering is great.
Post-traumatic growth emerges seemingly out of nowhere, as you, the sufferer, are not necessarily looking to grow from it for, in your pain, you are only thinking of coping and surviving. It’s important to understand that it is the struggle to cope and survive, itself, that brings on post-traumatic growth.
“Post-traumatic growth refers to positive psychological change experienced as a result of the struggle with highly challenging life circumstances.”Posttraumatic Growth: Conceptual Foundations and Empirical Evidence, Richard G. Tedeschi and Lawrence G. Calhoun
The Trauma Narrative: A Story of Suffering
People who have experienced post-traumatic growth often separate their life into three parts: before the tragedy, the tragedy itself, and after the tragedy.
Life before the tragedy
She met her husband in college and began dating. Being both music students, they had a lot in common. They shared similar values, beliefs, and goals in life.
After graduating from college, they decided that they wanted to spend their lives together, so they got married. After they married, they moved into a sweet little apartment that they called home. She finally had a place where she belonged and was with a man who love her deeply. She felt safe and she was happy.
They decided that they would like to start a family, so she got pregnant just before their first wedding anniversary. Despite the morning sickness and the tight financial situation, they were both excited to expand their little family.
The Turning Point
Her pregnancy was unremarkable except for her size. As usual, she gain weight, but her belly seemed abnormally large. At the delivery, after birthing a baby boy, the doctor told them that there was yet another baby to be born. Twins! They both got excited. But, hold on, the doctor told them not to get excited and to concentrate. There was something wrong. The doctor reach his hand in her body and pulled out a little baby girl. He placed the baby on her stomach but the baby didn’t move. She held her breath. What’s wrong? Is she alive? She saw the baby move slightly. She let the air out of her lungs. She’s alive. That’s all that matters.
But the baby was very sick with something the doctors couldn’t heal, so the baby girl was life-flighted to a hospital with a neonatal intensive care unit (NICU), but it was useless. After three agonizing and exhausting days, her little baby girl’s heart stopped and she was gone.
Life After the Tragedy
Days later, she and her husband sat in the funeral home making arrangements for their little girl’s funeral. “What are we doing here? This feels so surreal.” Her little baby boy was miles away, in an incubator at the hospital where she delivered her babies. After the funeral, they took him home and tried to create a life full of rhythm and normalcy, but she just couldn’t do it. She mourned over her little girl and could not be comforted. To add sorrow upon sorrow, her husband nearly died of cancer six months after the birth of their twins. For a year and a half, she supported him while he underwent chemotherapy treatments.
Not surprisingly, she struggled. And struggled. After many, many months, people would say to her, “Aren’t you over it yet? At least you have one baby.”
Her husband was much kinder. He sincerely worried about her.
She was willing to go through all of it if she could only see that some good would come of it. Seeing the good would redeem the pain and suffering that was weighing her down and keeping her profoundly sad, for her grief was great.
During her extended time of grief, she learned a great deal about herself, other people, and the world. In the end, upon reflection, she was grateful for the lessons learned. She wanted to learn the lessons. She wanted the suffering to count for something. She had recognized that she would not have learned the hard, painful lessons had she not been under such pressure and difficulties. She wanted to be open and vulnerable so that she could glean every little ounce of meaning and lessons out of the circumstances.
She also knew that, once life became normal, she would not be so open to such profound change and growth. This saddened her, but she knew it would happen nonetheless. She would, however, always have this difficult time to reflect upon and to remember. She felt blessed that she had suffered in order to learn those invaluable lessons. Would she rather have her daughter alive? Yes, but that was not to be.
The five factors that define the major domains of post-traumatic growth
According to Tedeschi and Calhoun, there are five factors that define the major domains of post-traumatic growth.
1. Greater appreciation of life and a changed sense of priorities
She lost her daughter and almost lost her husband. As she sat in her chair, rocking and nursing her little boy, she treasured every single moment she had with both of them. She didn’t want to take anything for granted.
2. Warmer, more intimate relationships with others
Over the years, she spent many, many hours in the hospital supporting her family when they were patients. After her husband finished his chemotherapy, she made it her ministry to visit those families who were visiting loved ones who were in the hospital. She knew from experience how lonely the long hours could be as she kept company with her husband while he had his treatments and how helpless she felt watching him suffer in a hospital bed.
3. A greater sense of personal strength
What she went through gave her a sense of strength and resilience. She’d been through a lot and had come through stronger than she had been in the beginning. She felt that, if she can go through this, she can go through many other challenges.
4. Recognition of new possibilities or paths for one’s life
Because of the chemotherapy, she and her husband would never conceive again, but they both wanted a large family, so they started to pursue adoption, something they had never considered before.
5. Spiritual development
In the two years of this particular challenge, she learned everything she could about God and the Bible. She and her husband took every Bible study their large church offered in order to learn, grow, and find meaning in her suffering.
Each of the five domains of post traumatic growth tends to have a paradoxical element to it that represents a special case of the general paradox of this field: that out of loss there is gain.Richard G. Tedeschi and Lawrence G. Calhoun
Post-traumatic growth is what happens when you transform your great suffering and use it as a catalyst for personal growth and understanding. Adversity can bring out strength and beauty you never thought existed within you. Marianne Williamson puts it like this: “Something very beautiful happens to people when their world has fallen apart: a humility, a nobility, a higher intelligence emerges at just the point when our knees hit the floor.”
May it be so for you.
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When exhausted women ask, “Why am I so tired all the time?” I help them to explore their story to see what has happened in the past that is draining their energy today.
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