The transformational power of trauma
Moving past trauma requires a great deal of personal strength, the investment of time and love… and replenishing those reserves of hope that lie within us all.
On my personal journey, I have sought replenishment from many sources — family, friends, beautiful places… and stories from others who have dealt with their own pain. My own experience and research has led me to believe that there is a profound aspect to trauma. It gives you the opportunity to re-grow as a person.
I’ve seen it in others as well. Years ago, my former husband was in a terrible accident. As he was recovering, I witness something amazing. He seemed to relive the emotions of his life, beginning with his childhood and progressing through events of his adult life that I remembered. I was surprised, even astonished, to see him re-experience his emotions of love for me and then go through the turmoil of our breakup all over again.
I thought his experience was unique. I didn’t see the pattern until I lived my own traumatic event — a psychological injury that led to a life-altering brain injury, psychosis.
As I slowly recovered, the phenomenon of re-living my emotional development was at first difficult for me to recognize, but my memories from that time are fairly vivid. I recall what I did, what I thought and what I felt quite clearly.
In the time leading up to the psychosis I had developed a particular interest in psychology. I was researching the effects of childhood trauma in a desperate effort to put my past to rest. I was suffering from flashbacks brought on by a damaging adult relationship and wanted to understand, once and for all, how to stop the patterns of thinking and behavior that kept me stuck in a seemingly endless cycle of seeking.
Once the functional psychosis subsided, I picked up my personal research in psychology. In particular looking at developmental psychology. I found that much of what I was feeling, the intrusive emotions and vivid flashbacks could be associated with particular ‘ages’ and stages of personality development. I could identify for myself the specific traumas of abuse and neglect I suffered then with my emotional responses now.
I felt that I was growing up all over again.
I also felt that I had a unique opportunity to let this process happen and to use it to finally heal those old wounds. What I have gained from this process is beyond what I expected. I expected to find a place for my memories and lay them to rest, which has been the case so far. What I didn’t expect was to grow so well beyond them, to find a gratitude for the whole of my life and to find a special love for myself as a result.
For me, I have come a far way from victim to survivor… to something that I have no term that fits. I am more than a survivor, I am more complete that I have ever been as a person. I feel more love, appreciation and gratitude for my life than I may ever have had without the experiences, traumatic as they may have been. I have defined and reinforced values and life lessons I missed in my early development, which have changed my view of myself and others.
I have searched for more references to support my experience in psychology research, but there seems to be a gap in the association of age-specific developmental psychology and trauma recovery. The primary experiential examples I have come from talking with others who have had their own experiences and dealt with their own trauma recovery. There is one body of work that is close, however.
Post-traumatic growth is a term proposed by Tedeschi [et al], which is meant to describe a phenomenon of psychological strengthening and extension in those who have completed their trauma recovery. Studies in pos-ttraumatic growth explore the positive changes that a person can experience following trauma as more than a return to a baseline, but as an experience of improvement across many aspects of life, within the person and their relationships, extending even into one’s spirituality.
This concept is not new, psychologists and philosophers have written on this subject for centuries. What I have found to be missing is a method that a person who has lived a nearly lifelong trauma can follow for recovery. So, I built tools of my own.
In the book I have been working on, I explore post traumatic growth specifically for those who have endured persistent abuse in childhood and gone on to have additional traumas and chronic stress as adults. I believe that those who have a family history of dysfunction, like myself, the possibility of lasting recovery and achievement of lasting benefits of personal growth requires long-term, self-directed methods to re-write emotional and psychological perceptions and correct the negative learnings they have experienced.
I will outline the methods I have found worked for me – supported by professional reference materials – that may help others devise their own program of assessment, expression, recovery and growth. My deepest wish is to share the hope and joy that come from a resilient rebuilding – re-growing – of the child within you to the person who truly wish to be.
The book is a work in progress. I welcome anyone to share their questions, stories and experiences with me as I take on this challenge. No matter where you are, at what stage you are, I am happy to hear from you.