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Post-Traumatic Growth: When Trauma Transforms Your Life

Trauma. It's a 6 letter word that carries so much power and complexity. The Oxford dictionary defines it as "a deeply distressing or disturbing experience." Trauma represents such a varying degree of experiences: rape, emotional abuse, assault, torture, a plane crash, war crimes, bullying, witnessing violence...really the list can go on. One of the hardest forms of trauma is that which is committed against you by others humans. Some people have had repeated traumatic experiences. Some people have had varying forms of trauma. Some have been exposed to trauma for a long period of time. Regardless, no one escapes from trauma without it impacting their lives and the way they socialize with the world.

When you go through a traumatic experience your entire world is flipped upside down. Emotions such as fear, shame, guilt, sadness, anger, sorrow, numbness, confusion and grief all occur -- sometimes being felt within the same time-period. You feel like you can't make sense of your life and what's around you anymore. You begin to question everything while you struggle to understand what happened. You might feel like you've lost yourself and you don't recognize who you are. It may not seem like it when you're in the midst of all of this but, when you work through your trauma and make the effort to heal properly, you can actually experience an amazing positive transformation.

I am in no way saying that trauma is a good thing. As someone who has experienced different types of trauma in pretty much every stage of my life, I still wish I never had to go through any of it. But, I also recognize that I wouldn't be the woman I am today without those experiences and I know I'm not the only survivor with that sentiment,

When we talk about trauma, we tend to refer to the hardship and dysfunction it causes but we rarely speak about the immense growth it can bring into a person's life. There's actually a term for it called 'post-traumatic growth.' Some of the most profound people are those who have been subjected to tremendous suffering. Don't believe me? Then let me name a few: Nelson Mandela, Malala Yousafazai, Maya Angelou, Oprah Winfrey, Tyler Perry, Rigoberta MenchúRoméo Dallaire and Charlize Theron. Each one of these people are trauma survivors who have made their mark on the world.

There is a profound depth, resilience, tenderness and strength that arises in those who are survivors of adversity. When you go through trauma you are forced to reexamine your life and find a way to rise above adversity, you have no other option but to change. There is no turning back. You can't revert to the person you once were, instead, you are transformed into a new version of yourself. When you experience something traumatic, your mind is plagued with questions and is constantly looking for meaning -- none of that would have occurred if you hadn't been in that situation. Once you work through the pain and begin to steady yourself, those questions begin to provide you with insight into so many facets of your life. Your priorities change, the way you interact with people changes, your perspectives change and your appreciation for life will change. But, in order to make those changes positive ones, it is necessary to seek the right help to heal properly.

It's not to say that people who have experienced post-traumatic growth don't have difficult moments because of their trauma. I actually chose to write this article to help others after having a flashback of my own while driving home. It's a bit of a paradox, knowing that my trauma is the very reason I'm able to look at my existence in a meaningful way and deal with hard-hitting topics much earlier in my life than others. This whole journey, from my toddler years till today, has given me a deeper understanding of who I am and has allowed me to look critically, yet lovingly, at myself. It has given me greater insight into human emotions and our life stages. It has fueled my desire to continue to challenge myself and face my fears. It has made me value myself more and it is one of the reasons I am able to stand-up again after I've been knocked-down.

To those that find the concept of trauma striking a cord with you and feel scattered, please know that this is a journey that cannot be measured with time, nor is it easy. It has taken me years to get to the point I'm at today and I'm still healing. We all have ways of coping with adversity (traumatic or not) that we aren't even aware of and many of those methods can have a detrimental effect over time. I, myself, had no idea that much of what I had gone through in my younger years had shaped my behaviour, my relationships and my thought processes. I was only able to see that after my emotional well-being started to fall apart in adulthood and I had to find my way out. Even through my healing process I had another traumatic experience but this time I had the right support and insight to work through it.

When you experience post-traumatic growth, you learn how to handle difficulties and  gracefully deal with problems head-on. You ensure that you treat others with dignity while still being assertive. You recognize and savour the good aspects of life, Yet, you still give yourself the permission to feel all your emotions because you know that it is necessary for healing. Post-traumatic growth doesn't mean you won't experience pain or that nothing will effect you. Post-traumatic growth means learning how to shape your behaviours and thoughts in a healthy manner so that you can embrace and appreciate both the highs and the lows of life.

You are not your trauma. It doesn't dictate who you are. Seek out the right help through counseling, your doctor and within those you trust. Be open to feeling all those emotions - bad and good. It's a tough healing process but if you hold on, you'll see yourself transform for the better. 

Comments

  1. It's honorable that you are so open about your experiences. I know that there has to be someone out there who you touch everyday with what you write.

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