I recently had the opportunity to hear Jan Harrison, author of, Life After the Storm, in which she shared the life lessons that she learned going through her personal storm of the tragic death of her 27 year old son. As I listened to Jan, I was amazed at the depth of faith and wisdom that she had acquired in the aftermath of such a devastating life tragedy. Somehow, she had managed to take what was a horrible and tragic life event and use it for good.
All of us face life struggles, difficulties and tragedies at one time or another. We have all known some, like Jan, who emerge from their experiences stronger. How is it that some people are able to develop depth in the midst of their pain and others are devastated?
Research has discovered that there is a way to deal with tragedy and trauma that is healthy. It is called, Adversarial or Traumatic Growth. It requires a way of thinking about our experience that finds meaning. It is an optimistic outlook believes that the tragic events are not the end of the story. It does not allow helplessness to have the last word. There was nothing good about the loss of Jan’s son, but she did not allow her grief to be the end of the story. Instead, she used that grief to find ways to encourage others, turning her trauma into growth.
In his book, The Happiness Advantage, Shawn Achor suggests the ABCD Model of Interpretation for turning trauma into growth. The A stand the Adversity that we can’t change. Tragedy and loss has happened and it must be grieved. B stands for our belief reaction to the event: the meaning we give to it. C stands for Consequence. The belief that we take to the event will determine the consequences. Do we allow the trauma to permanently paralyze us or do we move forward? Finally, the D is for Disputation. This involves challenging our beliefs that are not healthy and giving ourselves healthier perspectives.
If you have suffered a traumatic loss or life tragedy, this might seem like an oversimplification, or a minimizing of the effect of the loss. But looking back at the losses in my life, I can see those times when I used the trauma for growth and those times that I allowed the trauma to overwhelm me. The best approach is traumatic growth.