When I studied Psychology the focus was on repairing broken minds rather than unlocking growth and potential. We had a whole textbook called Psychopathology on the diseases of the mind. One of the chapters was on PTSD: Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. These are the symptoms of anxiety and despair that follow a trauma.
But lately, scientists have been discovering an upside to trauma that they believe may be even more common. They call it PTG or Post Traumatic Growth.
Many people who have suffered disease or even assault or rape eventually claim to be better off. They talk about increased appreciation for life, improved relationships, greater resilience and deepened spirituality. Take one of the most traumatic events in recent history. 9/11. Just one year after the attacks, a CBS News/New York Times survey of over a thousand people found that 82% of people felt that the city had changed for the better. Respondents said that New Yorkers were less arrogant and more supportive. People said they were spending more time with family and friends and that the city had become more humane. Many believe that remains true years later.
Nobody enjoys trauma, nobody chooses it, but we are capable of choosing our response. In the immediate aftermath, adversity is likely to hit everybody hard. But leading a nation through the trauma of world war 2, Winston Churchill said: “When you’re going through hell, don’t stop.” Sometimes we’ve just got to go with it, grieve and accept. Getting social support helps. But whether we eventually go on to grow depends on our belief, an optimistic belief, not that we’ll necessarily be okay today, or even next month, but that eventually we will overcome and be even better off. As the great Italian American philosopher Rocky Balboa said: “It’s not how hard you can hit, it’s how hard you can be hit and keep moving forward.”