In preparation for a recent conference about the transmission of trauma and resilience I was once again reminded of the prevalence of trauma in people’s lives (particularly early trauma) and its potentially devastating effects. Most of us move on through our lives, often without understanding or appreciating those effects on ourselves and our relationships. As Dr. Megan McClheran and other researchers and clinicians in the field assert, there is life before the trauma and life after the trauma. Most people experience themselves as changed but they are not always sure how and why.
When we have experienced trauma and intense stress the world seems unpredictable and unsafe. A common response is to disconnect from our self and from others. Why? Because we do not trust ourselves and others and the pain of connecting either with ourselves or another person is just too much. But this is a problem because we are social beings. Healing from trauma and catastrophe often starts with and depends on reengagement with our internal world of thoughts and feelings as well as the reconnection with others. Learning to trust, to feel safe, to feel empathy from another person, to feel heard and understood, to believe that we have a witness to our story, are at the foundation of healing.
In time, it is possible to learn how to redirect our lives in healthy and adaptive ways. Resilience helps us to do this. It enables us to withstand stress and catastrophe and work through the emotions and the effects of whatever it is we’re going through. We can discover resilience at different stages of our life and we can develop awareness of the areas where we are more or less resilient.
Resilience is both fluid and multidimensional, with physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual components. Resilience enables us to recognize and tap into our confidence, the kind of support we have, how adaptable we are, and whether we can find and express a sense of purpose in our life. After trauma there can be deep personal growth and this is both a process and an outcome. Suffering and growth can occur together. Researchers such as Drs. Richard Tedeschi and Lawrence Calhoun focus on the fact that growth comes from the struggle to cope with the trauma and not from the event itself. It can take time to feel that we are capable of and deserve a life where we have positive experiences, feel valued, and can experience joy.
We each can learn to nurture a positive view of ourselves as we connect with people who are good for us, as they support and accept us. We can explore ways to feed our unique spirit and create a life with purpose that reflects our values, hope and goals.