Growing UP from here (Post-Traumatic Growth)

**Since I began working on this month’s blog about Post Traumatic Growth, ironically just days ago, my 16 year old found herself in traumatic situation that included her trying to provide medical attention to someone while calling 911 and waiting for the EMT to arrive. She carried herself well through that crisis but was definitely impacted emotionally, especially in the immediate days that followed. I’m hoping that she will be able to use that experience as part of her own personal growth. Now on to the original blog…

A couple of years ago my son nearly died as a result of a freak accident that took place while he was at a friend’s house. In the following week, while I sat next to him in the hospital, I came across an article on Post Traumatic Growth. Being a clinical therapist, I’m well versed in the impact and symptoms of Post- Traumatic Stress Disorder but this was the first I’d heard of Post Traumatic Growth. As I read the article, and subsequently shared it with my son, I/we were renewed with a sense that we could take this extremely challenging situation and grow from it. With time we were able to reframe our experience and perspective about those dark days and see ways we were stronger because of it.

In a recent conversation with a friend, we were reminiscing about how we met and how our lives have changed over the years of our friendship. We reflected on our various career paths, some were great experiences and others not so much, but even in those less than ideal circumstances we learned so much. It reminded me of the Post Traumatic Growth article. That even when things in life or work are difficult, troublesome and stressful, so much can be gained, if we SLOW down and take the time to notice and learn.

An important and probably obvious lesson we can glean from those situations is learning what we don’t want. I think this is a central part of establishing boundaries. Figure out what works for you and what doesn’t. What are you ok with and what isn’t ok for you? Knowing those perimeters can inform where you draw lines. How far you will go or allow another person to go in their expectations of you? How much of yourself will you be able to give without feeling taken for granted? I’m learning to sense and anticipate where those lines are for me. One way to think about this is envision a water pump. There is a floater that bobbles along with the water line, but when the water is rising to a point that could cause trouble, the floater triggers the pump and the pressure is released. Same can be true for us. I think it is essential for us to determine where is our floater trigger point. Pay attention, begin to notice when you start to feel uneasy, or angry, or irritable, or tired (or all of the above). Those are usually signs alerting you to where that line has been crossed. Watch for it, establish it, so you can then protect yourself (& others?).

Besides learning what we don’t want we can learn what we do want and what we are made of. As I’ve grown through hard times, I’ve gained new personal definitions of strength, self-confidence, and friendship. I have become more self-assured, seeing what I’ve been able to navigate before helps me to have greater faith in myself as I forge new paths. Knowing who I need beside me as I travel on my journey becomes clearer. Resilience and a renewed sense of self can come from rebounding after challenging circumstances. I’m assuming we have all heard that diamonds are created from coal being pressurized. Without that pressure we wouldn’t have those beautiful gems (a girl’s best friend). Or perhaps you’ve heard the “rising of the phoenix from the ashes”. Although those may potentially be over used symbolisms, they are still true. It’s reassuring that we can become our best authentic selves, see our greatest personal growth, as we make our way through life’s difficulties.

As the school year winds down, I think it is a good time to reflect on all that has transpired over the last several months. Some of you may feel like you have experienced your own trauma as you navigate all the school year brings. I know from being married to a teacher and working with educators day in and day out that the finish line is so appealing.  I also feel that as a parent, I look forward to nights with no homework or mornings with no lunches to pack. But I hope that as we bring our harried selves to the checkered flag waving at the end of a long road we are able to look back and not only sigh in relief but also celebrate the successes. How have you grown in the last year? Were you able to pace yourself a bit more and build in more self-care approaches? Can you see ways you’ve developed more resilience and established healthy boundaries? Has your support system been strengthened? How can you use your summer to revitalize and refresh? Do you have a plan? (we can talk more about that next month).

It is my hope that through whatever ups and downs life brings us that we can intentionally focus on taking those downs and turning them into ways to GROW up to becoming our best selves.