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6 Ways We Can Grow From Trauma

2. What's meaningful to you feels clearer.

Key points

  • Many types of traumas are ongoing rather than one-time events.
  • A trauma can help a person discover their own resourcefulness in practical, mental, and emotional terms.
  • If growth occurs while a trauma is still happening, it is worth noting. The knowledge of one's resilience can be drawn upon in the future.
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Source: name_ gravity/Unsplash

When people are going through trauma, they don't always want to hear about silver linings. If you're in that space currently, move right along. This post isn't for you today.

Here I'll outline ways that growth from trauma can happen. Psychology writers often use the term "post-traumatic growth." I'm not using that term here because it implies that growth can only happen after the trauma has passed. Many types of traumas are ongoing rather than one-time events. For example, you're dealing with a scary (physical or mental) health problem in yourself or a loved one. People can experience psychological growth while those experiences are happening, not merely after they've been resolved.

Let's unpack how that can happen.

1. Better empathy and sensitivity.

When I worked as a therapist, every day I got to see that people who appeared happy and productive to the outside world often had traumas happening behind the scenes. Especially if your life has been relatively smooth sailing, experiencing troubles yourself can give you better empathy and sensitivity for what others may be experiencing that you're not aware of.

2. What's meaningful to you feels clearer and becomes a priority.

I recently spent over two years undergoing many cycles of IVF. What I noticed during this time is that my tolerance for work that felt pointless went way down, but my drive to do work that would positively touch people's lives in unique ways went up. Trauma can make what's most meaningful to us feel more apparent and more urgent. Our threshold for irritation can go down, but this can lead to opting out of whatever seems petty and insignificant.

3. New support options.

When you're going through trauma, you'll likely reach out to new supports. This could be a therapist, friends of friends who have experienced the problem you're having, or support groups. When we're vulnerable, we often connect with people on deeper levels. You might also use forms of practical support you hadn't previously explored. When you use a particular type of support once, it makes it more likely you'll think to use that form of support when you encounter other difficulties in the future.

Another benefit: Becoming involved in support groups can help you improve at supporting others. For example, through the support groups you're in, you're exposed to people who can be supportive without toxic positivity, invalidation, or engaging in the pain Olympics (as in, "my pain is worse than yours"). You can sharpen those skills within yourself via the role models you encounter.

4. Specific close relationships.

Trauma can be bonding. Through a shared trauma experience, people sometimes develop lifelong friends. What can also happen is that a weak tie (someone you only know a little) turns out to be an important support to you and that relationship greatly strengthens.

5. You develop your resourcefulness and creative problem-solving.

New challenges require new skills and new approaches. A trauma can help you discover your resourcefulness in practical terms, and also in mental/emotional terms. The techniques you use for getting through your current challenge will likely be useful in the future. For example, you learn helpful ways to take time out from or distract yourself from the challenging situation you're facing. These could include mindfulness, weekends away, simple treats, helping others, or games/fun. Many people aren't interested in learning psychological skills until the proverbial sh*t hits the fan in their lives, and they really need those skills. Once learned, they're always available to you.

6. You gain the understanding that you can cope when a feared outcome occurs.

Old-fashioned psychology approaches to anxiety used to focus on reducing people's perception of risk. For example, if someone feared flying, then they'd learn how much safer flying is than driving. That approach can still be relevant sometimes, but many times it's not.

More modern approaches usually focus on helping people understand that even though bad things happen in life, we can cope with them when they do. When you go through a significant trauma, you gain a real-life experience of coping with extreme distress you can draw on later. When you worry about a catastrophe, you'll have the memory that when something traumatic happened, you coped with it. This can be liberating.

Growing from trauma isn't a requirement. It shouldn't feel like extra pressure. But if you are growing from the trauma you're experiencing, then it's worth noticing how that is happening. Making those learnings explicit can help you retain them for future use and remind you of your resilience.

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