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Post Traumatic Growth

One night my wife turned our white noise machine from gentle rain to crashing waves. The new noise captivated my attention and so I started thinking about the ocean and all the life that’s in it. Since I was thinking about the ocean, my mind drifted into thinking about ships. It occurred to me that ships are weird. Let me explain.

Both ancient and modern ships share something in common. They use the technology of the keel. The keel is an extremely heavy object, usually made of lead, that is placed at the belly of the ship. This heavy weight fights against the buoyancy of the ocean to keep the ship upright. Who would have thought that placing something so heavy into something that is supposed to float, would be the solution to create stability.

As people, we need a keel in order to sail through life. A purpose or a mission. Finding our purpose is not easy, it is heavy, like a keel. Once we have it, we are gifted with a certain balance. An understanding that no matter what happens in life, we are capable of embracing it. Life is filled with uncertainty. It is when we are in conflict with this uncertainty that anxiety rears its ugly head. What happens next? Can be a really scary question if we let it be. We fear having a repeat of prior life complexities. So it becomes natural to fret about the scary future. In doing so we fail to enjoy the present moment. Can we say to ourselves, I am here, I am now, and I am doing good?

I wish to talk with you about "Post Traumatic Growth". Instead of parroting what others have written on the subject and overloading you with scientific peer reviewed articles, I wanted to tell you what this term means to me personally. While being treated for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), a therapist once asked me, do you know about Post Traumatic Growth? I had never considered the term and asked what it meant.

He said, "Well, to summarize, people who have suffered intense trauma have the capacity to rebound into a deeper more meaningful life experience than if they had never suffered."

Initially, I didn't comprehend what he had told me. It took me five years to finally understand his statement. Now that I have passed through certain trials, I know that I have the capacity to achieve the goals to which I set my mind. I am more in touch with my Self Identity than I have ever been in my life. I can greet others with kindness and respect knowing that I am right with myself. I can clearly see my personal strengths and weaknesses. I enjoy closer, more meaningful relationships. I have a greater appreciation for life. I am open to new possibilities, and I have a redefined spiritual development.

So how did I come to be where I am now? As I contemplated writing this article I pondered about what main concepts helped me embrace Post Traumatic Growth. Here are four things that I wish for you to consider.

Deep Personal Introspection.

Self-examination is critical to overcoming mental and emotional obstacles. To me this life, in it's finest essence, is a test. How are we to know how we are doing in life if we do not continually self evaluate? In academics, tests help us gauge where we currently stand in a particular subject, and they help us know the path to improve our knowledge. So I would ask, do you completely comprehend your problems and how they affect you? Do you truly understand what your strengths are? Do you allow yourself to have limitations?

When I get home from work I eat a small snack and immediately prepare to go to the gym. I don't even sit down. While at the gym, I intermix high levels of "exercise specific focus" with replays of the conversations that I had experienced during the workday. I replay these conversations over and over and I ask myself, how could I have responded better? How could I have done more good in the world? What mistakes did I make and how can I avoid future similar experiences? To some people, this much analytical thinking can be emotionally intimidating or mentally exhausting. For me however, this level of personal evaluation is fundamental to my growth and development. How much time do you invest in yourself by engaging in deep personal introspection?

Practice Rigorous Authenticity.

In order to begin evaluating ourselves effectively we have to engage in rigorous authenticity. Self-examination will be fruitless unless we are brutally honest with ourselves. This honesty implies accountability. This takes maturity. “Drawing from the power and resources within yourself, maturity is the art of being responsible for your actions, being sensitive and considerate towards others and having the ability to change and adapt to circumstances. An emotionally mature person is always adding value to himself and those around.”1

What is the opposite of rigorous authenticity? Putting on a mask. Operating day to day pretending that everything is ok when it’s not. Do you say “Yes” when you really want to say “No”? Do you go out of your way to hide weaknesses? Do you avoid difficult conversations? Do you withhold your unique opinion? Do you stifle your reactions to hide undesirable emotions?

“Being mask-less – letting your authentic self show – is a vulnerable thing to do and requires a great deal of courage. Seeing you mask-less is an earned privilege for those who offer you unconditional positive regard: love and acceptance, whether or not they agree with your actions. When you choose to take off your mask – to be your authentic self – you’re putting your heart on the table and saying “please, this is fragile… take good care of it.” With the right person, this breeds the kind of connection that we all yearn for.”2

Surrender to the Outcome.

We have limited control over much of what goes on in our lives. We have to be open to the idea of accepting consequences in all their shapes and forms. “What if I show my mask-less, authentic self and it goes poorly?” So be it. We cannot control all outcomes. We can, however, embrace the results with acceptance and understanding.

To surrender is a profound act that can be difficult to embrace. In this context, it does not imply failure or defeat. Surrendering to life’s events requires trust. We have to trust in ourselves, others, and the promise of another day. “When we surrender we give up, but not in the way we think giving up means. We don’t give up to or on the situation, but rather, we give up the notion that we should be able to or can manage the situation, that we can control any of it. We give up the belief that we can make reality different than what it is. As much as we are conditioned to never give up, in the case of surrender, giving up the mistaken belief that we are in charge offers a profound relief.”3

Do Uncomfortable Work.

Change can be difficult to achieve. Making and breaking habits takes dedicated work, sustained focus, and the determination to see things through to the end. We have engaged in self-evaluation with brutal honesty and have surrendered to the outcomes. Now is the time to put your shoulder to the wheel and create lasting personal change. So often however, we may be unsure of what changes we need to make. This is where the counsel of friends, family, and professionals becomes most valuable.

“Can’t see the forest for the trees”. This saying indicates that oftentimes we are so wrapped up in the details of life that we can’t find the solutions that are all about us. Relying on the counsel of others to help you grasp new concepts and make new decisions is a strength. It can be quite uncomfortable to sit with another person and open up about your vulnerabilities, but the promise of genuine support and guided direction is worth the time and risk involved.

Do not procrastinate. Be decisive and jump into self improvement right away. Doing the uncomfortable work implies taking action. Opportunity is omnipresent; there is always something available for us to learn.

In closing, I have to admit that Post Traumatic Growth has become my mantra. I search for ways to improve. My ambition is alive and well and I have never been happier. We can all seek for Post Traumatic Growth. Strive to find your keel, your purpose. Remember that you are valuable. You are worthy of the time and energy it takes to dedicate to self improvement. Be patient, progress comes with consistency. Above all, never give up on your Self.

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