Scrolling through Instagram and seeing page after page of inspirational quotes with cheesy photos talking about enduring adversity and letting you know what doesn’t kill you will make you stronger got me thinking about the trauma in our lives and how we react to it.
It could be said that these quotes mislead us into thinking that enduring pain or hardship is enough to protect us against future pain and hardship. After reflecting about this I feel this is not necessarily true.
Its not the trauma that makes you stronger. Its not the survival of pain that enables us to learn for the future. It’s the work that you put into understand the pain and trauma that makes you stronger.
Many of us have experience trauma and emotional pain. We can remember the gut wrenching feeling that it left us with. It makes us question our beliefs and our place in the world. These feelings can be hard to think about and stressful in themselves. There you are in a state of shock and vulnerability.
Within therapy I talk about crossroads a lot. What choices will you make? You have two choices.
- You choose to allow the pain to wash over you, drowning you in negative thinking resulting in more pain and trauma
- Use this as an opportunity to make a new set of beliefs that are more resilient and positive in comparison with your old views and cognitive structures.
Imagine a city near where you live being devasted by a natural disaster like torrential flooding. It is rocked to its core as the violent waters rip its structure apart. After the flooding has stopped buildings and roads can be rebuilt with new structural integrity. Architects have opportunities to redesign and create. The rebuilding is an opportunity that the devastation has given them. We don’t forget how the city once looked, its familiar streets and features that we know so well. This will stay with us no matter what.
When our lives face devasting experiences, we also have the opportunity to build ourselves.
“When we are no longer able to change a situation,
we are challenged to change ourselves”
We to will carry the memory of the pain. Just as those people in the city carry their memories of loss and pain. The question now is how will we rebuild ourselves? The pain and trauma can be seen as before – trauma and after pain – moments. Our growth will depend a lot on the narrative we construct around this before and after moments.
To ruminate is natural. To question the meaning of it all is natural.
“An abnormal reaction to an abnormal situation
is normal behaviour”
Feelings of guilt, shame, fear, and loneliness will fly around your mind causing distress. Replaying the scenes over and over again, adding to the pain. This process is a necessity to creating the narrative around your pain. The narrative or understanding you construct will ultimately determine your choices to remain in pain or change ourselves.
To create a better place for our mind, our greatest freedom is the freedom to choose our attitude.
It is our nature as humans to make sense of our world around us. Pain and trauma does not make sense at the time it is happening to us. Why me, why has this happened to me? This is a natural question to ask yourself if something or someone causes you pain, what did I do to deserve this?
The most important thing to remember and aid our understanding of this situation is that it’s not about deserving. Forces beyond your control can take away everything you possess except one thing your freedom to choose how you will respond to the situation.
We are free to move away from hurting ourselves. We are free to choose our attitude in these difficult circumstances. To choose a way of understanding and rebuilding. I get to choose how I will respond to what you did to me.
It is the pain that has the ability to focus and give clarity on what is important in our lives. Research has shown that a supportive social network that enables a person to communicate, enables growth and following a trauma.
Talking with a friend, a therapist and sharing your feelings, your fears, can lighten the load. We get to understand that we are not independent, but we are inter-dependant. On sharing our own personal pain, we get to move beyond it.
This sharing allows us to start the process of moving the pain to something that is now outside of us.
This gives us hope and empowerment. Taking back control. Making us stronger as we work on managing our lives differently.
- Frankl, Viktor (1962) Man’s Search for Meaning; an Introduction to Logotherapy. Boston :Beacon Press.
- Wartenberg, T. E. (2008). Existentialism: a beginner’s guide. Richmond, Oneworld