Friedrich Nietzsche was one of the great philosophers and poets of the 19th century. In his masterpiece, Thus Spoke Zarathustra, he spoke of eternal return. This is the idea that time repeats itself in an infinite loop. So, if we’re living well, we’d like everything to repeat itself in the same way.
However, if our lives have been wracked by pain, how can we be reborn? How can we build trails that we’d want to follow again?
Psychology has often focused on defining bodies of clinical entities or disorders that require treatment. In fact, the focus of psychology on the negative means that minimum attention tends to be paid to the positive characteristics of the human being.
Positive psychology adopts a more optimistic vision of human nature. As a result, concepts such as post-traumatic growth have arisen. We’re going to explore this concept.
“Although experiencing a traumatic event is one of the hardest moments that some people experience, it is an opportunity to become aware and restructure the way of understanding the world.”
The experience of trauma
As humans, we possess extraordinary abilities for facing adverse situations. Moreover, some people are capable of taking so much advantage of painful experiences it could be said that, in a certain way, they’re profitable for them. We’re not saying that pain is potentially profitable (and, therefore, desirable), but that, as humans, we have the magical ability to give it a productive meaning.
Being reborn means adopting new value systems. This implies changes in perspectives and renewed understanding of our surroundings. There’s a multitude of research that supports that, as human beings, we can resist the ravages of life with unusual strength. In fact, even in the face of extreme events we can emerge strengthened, resilient, and psychologically unscathed. But, how do we manage it?
“Many of the survivors of traumatic experiences find ways through which they obtain benefits from their fight against the abrupt changes that the traumatic event causes in their lives.”
How to be reborn
Emerging stronger from a really adverse situation means growing up. Post-traumatic growth is defined by Tedeschi as the positive change that human beings experience as a result of struggling with the vicissitudes of life, with the aim of reaching a higher level of functioning.
However, the learning or benefit produced as a result doesn’t cancel out the experience of suffering. In fact, Tedeschi believes that post-traumatic growth coexists with pain. This might seem paradoxical and contradictory but, in order to experience post-traumatic growth we must experience both positive and negative emotions.
“Post-traumatic growth is not just about maintaining previous functionality, but in some ways, the event leads you to a better situation for the sake of deep existential meaning.”
The components of post-traumatic growth
Even though some of us find it difficult to identify positive elements in adverse situations, we know that there are three fundamental components to post-traumatic growth:
- The challenges we overcome often make us feel stronger, with improved identities. In a good account of the traumatic experience, the reality that we’re vulnerable isn’t necessarily absent. However, we feel confident and hopeful of knowing how to face any difficulties that may appear on the horizon.
- Changes occur in our interpersonal relationships. Our circles of support become more helpful, consistent, and warm. For example, families might strengthen their ties by cooperating to overcome any difficulties they see as shared. From then on, the need to share and requests for help become more frequent.
- There can be changes in our ideas of spirituality and philosophy of life. When we’re reborn, we appreciate what we have more. We can also clearly differentiate between the important and the secondary.
Research claims that there’s no consensus on whether post-traumatic growth remains stable over time. The percentages vary from three percent in subjects who’ve suffered a loss and are grieving, to 98 percent in women who’ve suffered from breast cancer.
“It is important to remember that when speaking of post-traumatic growth, reference is made to the positive change that a person experiences as a result of the process of struggle that they undertake after a traumatic event, which is not universal and that not all people who go through a traumatic experience find benefit and personal growth in it.”
Life After Trauma