A few weeks ago, my teenage daughter failed a test. She was embarrassed. Angry. Anxious. This grade might prevent her from qualifying for the next class she wants to take.
There were tears. She took some time to vent to me. A few minutes to complain. Then I saw something interesting. She calmed herself. Made a joke. Expressed gratitude that she didn’t have bigger problems. Then made a plan to talk to her teacher and improve her skills.
This was a change from the kid I was watching deal with disappointment a year ago. That one was reluctant to take responsibility. The one who smoldered in anger. Blamed others.
We expect our kids to learn and grow. Hope for it. But, many of us will also grow through adversity, and even thrive after trauma. It’s happened in this last year repeatedly, as we’ve searched for ways to get our bearings, to ground ourselves when everything around us is changing by the day. Psychologists call it post-traumatic growth.
This kind of growth doesn’t mean we get through challenges unscathed. It’s been a scary and painful time, for everyone, in one way or another. We will be living with the effects of a pandemic for years. Trauma, defined as an emotional response to a terrible event like an accident, attack, natural disaster, or other life-altering happenings, is painful and can be debilitating.
Immediately, we have may experience disbelief, shock, even denial. As time moves on, people who have experienced trauma may have headaches and other physical symptoms, emotional ups and downs, flashbacks, and even relationship problems.
Trauma does leave its mark. But the marks may not be all bad. There can also be growth.
The Good in the Bad
In one study, researchers surveyed nearly 385 people who experienced financial adversity during the pandemic lockdowns, even while working full-time. These people are also the parents or primary caregivers to young children who were being homeschooled. And those surveyed had either been sick with COVID-19 or had a loved one with the disease. Despite all of this adversity, 88% of the people surveyed say they also experienced some positive outcomes.
Many who were surveyed said they now have stronger family relationships and a greater appreciation for life. Some said they experienced spiritual growth and 11% reported that they “embraced” or discovered new opportunities.
Hardship challenges us to adapt, respond, and find other ways to cope. When we do, we become not only capable of healing the trauma associated with it but also thriving again. We build resilience, confidence, and experience that will help us the next time we face adversity—because there will be the next time.
The traumas in our lives can be devastating. And, they can teach us what we are capable of. That is always so much bigger and more powerful than what we know when we are in the middle of the pain.
It emerges later when we stand up and examine what we’ve done. How we’ve survived. What we’ve experienced and been through. And when we recognize our growth, we can be deliberate going forward to preserve what we have learned.
This leaves room for new perspectives, humor, creativity. For authenticity and even calm. Because now we know that even when things are hard, we can get through it.