Human beings have the capacity to deal with and benefit from hugely challenging situations. A question that we now face is - how do we want to live our lives post this pandemic. What do we want our lives to look like let’s say 12 months from today? Most people I speak to strongly feel that they don’t want to just go back to the pre-pandemic days. I am very fortunate these days to be able to offer coaching to NHS key workers. Many of them are continuously facing adversity on a daily basis but I was just struck when one of them said to me - “why waste this distressing experience on just getting back to who I was?”
Research has shown that an estimate of about three-fourths of adults is exposed to at least one traumatic event in their lives. While trauma can lead to suffering and a host of psychological issues like anxiety, posttraumatic stress disorder, depression and other mental health disorders, there is also equal empirical evidence and studies that show that positive personal transformation can occur in the aftermath of trauma. This concept is called posttraumatic growth – positive psychological change that occurs as a result of highly challenging situations (Tedeschi & Calhoun). The stories we hear of survivors of traumas are not just of their psychological suffering but also some astounding positive changes that the survivors experienced post-trauma.
Research conducted by the pioneers of posttraumatic growth, Tedeschi and Calhoun show that posttraumatic growth takes various forms with growth being reported in the following dimensions – personal strength, meaningful relationships, new possibilities, appreciation of life and spiritual/existential changes. Over the next five weeks, I want to focus on each one of these dimensions and help you recognise that you may have already begun to experience growth in certain ways. As you recognise these positive changes you can then begin to build on them. If you haven’t started seeing change then maybe this can give you an idea on what you can look for in the future.
“I now know that I can handle almost anything thrown my way” – this is what one of the teachers at my daughter’s school told me last week. A friend of mine said – “ I can rely on myself so much more now.” My daughter, who was due to write her GCSEs this month and faces uncertainty in the way grades will now be awarded said to me –“Mum, I know I just need to be patient”. Every one of these statements reflects personal strength. The coronavirus pandemic has affected each and every one of us globally. It has threatened the way we live and almost all of us over the last eight weeks have made shifts in some way or the other. The level of trauma and threat itself may vary – some have succumbed to Covid-19 in a poor way, some lost jobs, some threatened in their own homes, while healthcare workers and key workers face difficulties in ways we may not even comprehend. But even in the midst of this trauma, many are discovering their own internal strength. In the struggle to survive, cope and to come out the other side, we are given an opportunity to develop strengths we didn’t even know existed. The struggles can make us stronger even as we experience the pain that comes along with the trauma. It’s useful to note that growth and strength can co-exist with pain and suffering but my point here is that trauma can be a testing ground for discovering our own strengths.
Exercise to recognise personal strengths
The first task really is to get mindful and to create awareness around your personal strength. Journaling is a handy tool here. At the end of each day this week, spend some time reflecting and journaling the following inquiries:
What coping strategies did you adopt over the last eight weeks and what new strength(s) stood out the most? What evidence do you have that this is a new strength?
Given what you have gone through over the last eight weeks, what are some of the things that were difficult in the past that now seem easier to you and why?
What are the three key things you’ve learnt, now that you’ve identified new strengths?
Once you’ve completed this exercise, take the top three strengths and create a personal strengths statement that you can use anytime you need it as we go through the next phase of this pandemic. My friends, as you appreciate your own strengths, you will also see how it can provide resilience in the face of trauma. Remember, internal strength is necessary to navigate trauma and it’s after-effects. But if you feel you are struggling, please remember that asking for help is also a key step towards growth. Without the support of others, you could be limited in what you can accomplish and this can leave you feeling lonely, isolated and not understood. If you feel you could benefit from coaching in posttraumatic growth, please reach out to me. Take care my friends, stay strong and stay safe.