In these times of crises, have you been asking yourself these questions? Well, if you have you are not alone. Today’s post on Finding Meaning and Purpose is part three of my Post-Pandemic Growth series. The first two focused on personal growth and meaningful relationships. My series on post-pandemic growth is based on the scientific phenomenon of posttraumatic growth pioneered by researchers Tedeschi and Calhoun in the early 90s. This concept of growth and transformation following highly challenging situations is an area that is widely researched with studies conducted over multiple domains including natural disasters, war, terrorism, disease, divorce, abuse, sexual assault and so on. These articles I publish weekly are designed not to get you comfortable but to encourage you to stay with the discomforts you will experience on the path to recovery and posttraumatic growth.
We’ve seen our world turn upside down in 2020. First, the Coronavirus pandemic that has taken over the world globally and now witnessing events of horrific racial inequality, another pandemic that has existed in our societies forever. As Abraham Maslow said – “growth is often a painful process” and so as we go through this difficult chapter, it’s time for us to self-reflect, challenge self-defeating behaviours and start developing a renewed sense of purpose. This is an important transition in our journey towards growth. During this time, you may perhaps already have found yourself exploring new possibilities and searching for meaning and purpose. Life purpose and meaning is not something that we wake up to one day and magically possess. These are new pathways that can be created and one that we need to seek. Trauma as many of you know is no stranger to me. As a survivor of Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) I’ve always been quite candid with the struggles I faced with my mental health. But as I sought professional help and moved towards this trajectory of growth I found meaning and purpose in my struggles. I realised that trauma is not who I am or what defines me and that I have a lot more to offer this world. I wanted to create real change especially in this field of mental health, start having braver conversations and coach individuals for posttraumatic growth. I found meaning and purpose from my own deep struggles with trauma.
So how can we take that first step to find renewed meaning and purpose? Although posttraumatic growth sounds like an oxymoron, research shows that post-trauma individuals can experience changes in radically positive ways with a path to new possibilities. I’ve spoken to several clients and key workers over the last few months. A consistent message I’ve seen across individuals is this need to step back and reflect. A client of mine said she’s completely rethinking the way she lives. She’s evaluating her job, lifestyle and relationships. In her words, “I want to take a step back from my own struggles and reinforce the important process of serving others, in this time of need. Maybe that will give me more clarity and perhaps even heal me.” Finding growth, meaning and purpose in these hard times takes careful consideration. It also requires a serious amount of patience, kindness and self-compassion. Here is an exercise you can introduce into your life to help you find meaning. This tool has been adapted with gratitude from The Posttraumatic Growth Workbook, Tedeschi & Moore, 2016.
Envision what you want your life to look like in the next six months and reflect on the following inquiries. I recommend finding a quiet space to journal your thoughts. See what comes up.
As you reflect, what things – experiences, places, possessions would you like to have in the future that provides meaning and purpose to you? And why?
A caveat: A newfound sense of purpose is not something you will land on immediately but one that is likely to develop over a period of time. The more you reflect and commit to changing your narrative of the trauma, the better the result. Working with a professional mental health professional or an expert companion can make this path easier.
When we look at struggles as opportunities for growth and learning, we can change the world. When we stay vulnerable, re-evaluate our lives and see purpose and meaning in every battle, we can find value in even the worst of situations. When we see opportunity in the midst of trauma, we grow, stretch and become better individuals. All we have to do is find purpose in trauma. My friends, this week - stay safe, stay strong and reflect.