How to Grow From Pain

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A few years ago, I went through something very difficult, and usually, it is tough for me to talk about it.

I always assumed that I was over it because I was not thinking about it, however, whenever the topic was brought up, my voice quivered and I would find ways to avoid the subject.

But something happened the other day. During my class in positive psychology, our brilliant teacher asked us to share a difficult time we went through but with a redemptive narrative.

A redemptive narrative is sharing your story from the hero’s perspective, the survivor.

I did not know how to do it at first. Then, I listened to my friend speak about her triumph and how she was in charge of her life because of what she went through, and I felt inspired.

That was the first time I chose to relive that story, but with a different voice; the voice of a hero in my own story.

As I was sharing my new narrative, I noticed how many milestones I had crossed, how much I had grown, my effort in trying to forgive, the ways in which I moved forward.

I also recognized that my growth did not happen overnight.

I didn’t become the hero in my story with a magic potion, in fact, I struggled.

I remained a victim for a while. At times I was strong, and at other times I was beyond weak and depressed.

There were days of confusion and days of clarity.

It took me months and years to realize what I was trying to break away from, and it took me as long to start living how I wanted to.

Before this class, I did not realize how much I had pulled through until I was encouraged to speak about my story from a different perspective.

I had never thought that I could change my narrative and choose growth instead of pain.

That pain which is like a dry wound, that looks closed and almost healed on the surface, but starts bleeding with even a tiny scratch.

This is how I felt for a long time.

I now feel empowered to learn that I can choose growth and resilience and live a happier life with more meaning.

“I am more than my scars.” ― Andrew Davidson

In this particular class, I learned that some people could choose to thrive and grow to be even better individuals than they were before the trauma.

The person I am today is because of the trauma I had been through, and for the first time, I celebrated myself for this.

Here Is What You Need To Know About Trauma And Post-Traumatic Growth:
What is Trauma?

“Common causes of suffering in life are bereavement, illness, injury, or a relationship breaking down. But trauma can also come from work-based experiences such as redundancy, demotion, or the long-term stress of a bullying manager.” www.mindtools.com

Trauma is an emotional response to sudden distress (physical or psychological). People who witness or hear about others’ traumatic incidents can also experience trauma.

Some people are able to recover from the trauma and may experience temporary stress symptoms. However, others might take longer and their symptoms may get worse, resulting in post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

What is Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder?

It is when the person finds it very challenging to adjust and cope with life after the terrifying event.

Some of the symptoms of PTSD include high anxiety, terrifying flashbacks, avoidance of triggers that remind the person of the incident, and difficulty in sleeping and focusing on daily tasks.

What is Post-Traumatic Growth?

On the other side of the spectrum, there is post-traumatic growth (PTG): the positive transformation a person goes through as a result of the struggle they underwent because of the trauma.

PTG is not just overcoming the crisis and bouncing back to normal life, but, in fact, it is positive growth that extends beyond where the person was before the trauma.

It is when a person is able to find meaning from the trauma and from the journey of overcoming it.

Examples:

Photo Cred: @bethanyhamilton @mikecoots

Bethany Hamilton the famous surfer who was bitten by a shark that resulted in the loss of her arm returned to surfing just a month after the incident and won her first National title.

She then started her own foundation for amputees and youth.

She has also written a book and has her own documentary being released.

Her mission is to support young people to never lose faith and be unstoppable.

She found meaning and growth from her experience and is now inspiring people all over the world.

She still continues to surf professionally. One of my favorite movies is the one that is based on her life story, called Soul Surfer.

 

Photo credit:STAN HONDA/AFP/Getty Images

Malala Yousafzai who started advocating for equal rights for education after the girls in her school, including her, were forced out of school.

A gunman shot her in her face to silence her forever, however, she survived the assassination.

She had to then make a choice between a) continuing to fight for what she believed in and b) staying quiet forever and picking up the pieces as she goes.

But she chose to fight and started her foundation the Malala Fund to support girls in their educational success. She received a Nobel Prize for her efforts.

She is a Children’s and Women’s Rights Activist and is now pursuing her education in Philosophy, Politics, and Economics at the University of Oxford.

Research shows the PTG is not the opposite of PTSD. In fact, a person can experience these responses simultaneously and eventually the struggle enables the growth (Sarah Krill Williston, 2017).

“Turn your wounds into wisdom.” -Oprah Winfrey

Post-traumatic growth is not about being in denial of the trauma or the consequences of the event. It is experiencing the negative with the positive emotions and continuing to move on and grow from the experience. Make meaning and shift positively to a better state. It is a process that can be painful and can take a lot of effort and time.

Areas of Growth with PTG – People experience a shift in:

  1. Appreciation: A renewed and a greater appreciation for life.
  2. Relationships: A strengthened connection to others—developing closer and more intimate relationships.
  3. Perspective: A sense that there will be new possibilities and opportunities emerging from the struggle.
  4. Strength: Gaining more personal strength. The person has more confidence to face different challenges.
  5. Spirituality: A deepened sense of spirituality and a shift in the person’s beliefs.

Doorways to PTG:

GET PROPER SUPPORT 

Get the right support from counselors or Mental Health Professionals, they can help you start your recovery journey with their numerous resources, experiences, and dedication.  

Speak to family and friends, lean into their support and if needed ask for their assistance. 

Meaning 

We are storytellers, it is in our nature to make meaning of our lives by weaving our life events into stories.

We create our stories to understand what happened to us in order to create new experiences (Stephen Joseph, 2013).

“Stories help us to bind together our thoughts, feelings, and behaviors in a way that is continuous with our view of ourselves and our past history.” Stephen Joseph

You have the power to tell the stories that can support you in overcoming difficulties and grow. This links to the exercise I did in my class, the redemptive narrative by Dan McAdams.

“Be like stars; instead of cursing the darkness, shine.” ― Matshona Dhliwayo

In the exercise, you retell your story as a hero in your own circumstances. The hero who persisted and prevailed! 

Prompts for this activity can be questions like what is different about me now? how did I grow from that experience? What do I value more? How did my relationships become stronger? How can I inspire someone going through what I went through? What am I aware of now? (Emiliya zhivotovskaya, 2018). 

The confidence that one acquires from changing the narrative into a more empowering story is worth giving this exercise a shot.

SELF-CARE PRACTICES 

Other peoples’ support is very important, but the most essential support you need is from yourself. There are new many ways you can contribute to your recovery, such as:

Meditation, relaxation exercises, yoga, taking care of your health, keeping a journal, exercising. 

Final Thoughts 

There are many more activities that can support you in your growth. You will find the ones that resonate with you most.

My advice is: do your research, talk to a mental health professional who can guide you, and seek support from your loved ones. Do whatever it takes to move forward positively with all the mess that comes with it. You deserve to live a thriving life!

If you are experiencing PTSD or feel your symptoms are getting worse, contact your doctor or a mental health professional, seek help, and make sure you get the right support to get through this.

Disclaimer: This blog provides general information about psychology and self-improvement. The content is not a substitute for professional treatment or medical advice.

References:

Emiliya Zhivotovskaya (2018). CAPP Program. http://theflourishingcenter.com/

Clinic, M. (2018, July 06). Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Retrieved August 14, 2018, from https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/post-traumatic-stress-disorder/symptoms-causes/syc-20355967

Collier, L. (2016, November). Growth after trauma. Retrieved August 12, 2018, from http://www.apa.org/monitor/2016/11/growth-trauma.aspx

Joseph, S. (2013, March 11). The Key to Posttraumatic Growth. Retrieved August 14, 2018, from https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/what-doesnt-kill-us/201303/the-key-posttraumatic-growth

Tools, M. (n.d.). Managing Post-Traumatic GrowthSupporting Positive Change After a Crisis. Retrieved August 14, 2018, from https://www.mindtools.com/pages/article/post-traumatic-growth.htm

Williston, S. K. (2017, May 11). What Is Post-traumatic Growth (PTG)? Retrieved August 11, 2018, from https://www.anxiety.org/what-is-post-traumatic-growth-ptg

 

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