The Howells Group Blog

Choosing Transformation | Post -Traumatic Growth in Turbulent Times

Trauma Quote

Most of us have never looked so forward to turning the page to a new year as we have in this year of continual disruption. This year will end; but the important question for us all is:
“Will our choice be simply to recover- or – make the harder, but better choice to actually be transformed by the 2020 experience?” After all we’ve been through – I vote for choosing transformation!
This question clearly emerged for me during another very difficult season in my life.

After the joy (and relief!) of launching our youngest to college, and our oldest to study overseas and an amazing 50th birthday, life abruptly took a drastic turn; in multiple areas.  My husband was suddenly laid off from a job he loved, our son’s chronic illness faced unexpected complications and he began a severe decline, I was diagnosed with breast cancer, needing to face surgery, chemo & radiation.  Finally, as I sat up in bed recovering from my first cancer surgery in Sept 2008, I watched the news report on Wall Street, launching the beginning of the market implosion and wondered if my business would survive!

“How in the world am I going to get through this tsunami of difficulties?” I didn’t know about the study of post-traumatic growth at that time. But the following day, I read a quote that stopped me. Would I fully utilize the struggles, heartache to, in a phrase “mine the valleys for all the gold and gems possible”??! I remember telling my husband; “if I’m going to go through all this, I want to get an A; I want it to make me a better person, because I’ve got to find the meaning in all this in order to survive it!” Much later, I learned that the option I chose was actually post-traumatic growth.

Post-traumatic growth is “ a positive psychological change in the wake of struggling with highly challenging life circumstances” in the words of Tedeschi and Calhoun, the actual researchers who coined the term in the mid 90’s. Post traumatic growth poses that we can choose three basic responses when we experience extreme stress and coping with trauma. With all we’ve faced individually and collectively in 2020, we certainly have a lot of opportunity.  Research affirms that we can choose 1 of 3 options in dealing with significant difficulties.

  • The first is homeostatic. This is an outcome that’s restorative and returns your to where you were before the traumatic events.
  • The second is known as “negative transformation, which basically means the transformation has left us worse off, more prone to stress and reverting to depression and worry.
  • And the third choice is “positive transformation”, inviting a surge of survival instincts combined with personal agency to generate a higher level of recovery and increased inner strength to move through adversity.

Within ourselves, choosing to practice optimism, self-regulation, confidence, spiritual growth and self -acceptance are all important factors to stimulate post traumatic growth. Combining these internal practices with external factors such as leaning into healthy friendships, family and community for support can actually help us “bounce forward” into an even better, more transformed version of ourselves!

The only thing we know for sure is that we don’t know exactly how the election ripples, national and global economy, unrest over racial injustice or COVID pandemic will unfold. We’ll need to assess, recalibrate and keep reflecting on who we are and who we want to be.

And beyond ourselves, if you’re a leader, a parent or a friend – we have an enormous opportunity to look beyond ourselves to promote and encourage Post-Traumatic growth in others and at work. Here are 3 simple suggestions to engage others around us toward this empowering and life- giving choice or post traumatic growth:

1. Listen with patience and empathy – and then listen some more! One of the most significant practices a leader can offer is powerful listening. Offering your presence and your heart, being both accessible and non-judgmental is a gift you give. When others feel truly safe to share and name what’s actually going on for them, it’s a door of awareness that helps lead to reframing their reality to post-traumatic growth.

2. Help others reframe challenges as an “experiment” or a “new option to try”. Telling others to “think positive” is one frequent option that can make things worse for others. But facilitating the identification of positive consequences derived from an otherwise negative event is very different. Using exploratory and guiding questions that help the person discover another lens themselves with which to view a path forward (also known as “coaching”!) is powerful. It’s essential not to minimize the trauma in any way, but to actually validate the negative emotions and the progress to reframing when the individual is ready to do so.

3. Create formal structures and new habits to encourage new behaviors. Intentionally incorporating new thinking and actions through providing new structures that help managers and employees, parents and children and partners to interact in new ways. Establishing “check-in ”practices with your employee, family or friends and using new questions and even exercises that explore learning, feelings, successes, new insights, and dreams for the future can shift the experience of others to post traumatic hope.

Click here for more on Post- Traumatic Growth.

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