It was Friedrich Nietzsche who famously said “That which does not kill us, makes us stronger.” And he was right. Recent studies have found plenty of evidence to support the concept of post traumatic growth.
Post traumatic growth is positive change experienced as a result of the struggle with a major life crisis or a traumatic event. Although we coined the term posttraumatic growth, the idea that human beings can be changed by their encounters with life challenges, sometimes in radically positive ways, is not new. The theme is present in ancient spiritual and religious traditions, literature, and philosophy. What is reasonably new is the systematic study of this phenomenon by psychologists, social workers, counselors, and scholars in other traditions of clinical practice and scientific investigation. (source: https://ptgi.uncc.edu)
I have been reflecting on this concept of late when considering some of my experiences and those of people I know and love. For the most part, we all came out of our traumatic experiences stronger and often wiser as a result, but I think there is more to it than just becoming stronger. Some of us face more trauma than others, and some seem to get hit over and over and over again, until you begin to wonder how much a human being can possibly take.
My feeling is that, along with strength, the quality that keeps people bouncing back time and again is flexibility. I could write plenty on resilience and what is required to develop and maintain it, as this too is an important aspect of recovery. I will do that at another time as it’s something I’m quite passionate about, but for this purpose I’d like to explore the concept of flexibility.
Flexibility is the quality of bending easily without breaking, the ability to be easily modified and the willingness to change or compromise. These qualities in my humble opinion, experience and personal and professional observation play a key role in recovering from a traumatic experience. When we develop the ability to soften, yield, bend and go with the flow, no matter how difficult and challenging the situations we face, as in Bruce Lee’s famous quote about the bamboo below, we are less likely to snap. We all know it’s much more difficult to repair something that is broken or snapped, than it is to bend something back into shape or into place.
When I think of the idea of flexibility; whether in fitness or yoga, in the quality of a material such as metal or plastic or if a particular person comes to mind – I automatically think of strength. Strong and flexible are two qualities that go hand in hand. People who have recovered from trauma have a strength that lies in their ability to be flexible in order to face the challenges, pressures, twists and turns of life and to bounce back. I don’t say bounce back to normal, as there really is no such thing as normal, and once someone has experienced a trauma, there is often no ‘normal’ to which they can return.
How to develop flexibility and therefore strength is the next question. For some people it is clearly a natural quality and for others, it may be something that needs to be developed, much like when we practice a yoga asana. At our first yoga lesson, we may not be very flexible, and every person in the class will be different, and it’s important that we don’t compare ourselves with others, but with time, gentleness and patience eventually we find ourself moving into the posture with greater ease. And so it is with life.
Some things I have found helpful are:
- Self care – whatever it looks like for you. Self care should be your number one priority in life, it’s a non negotiable.
- Positivity – maintain a positive outlook. Not the fluffy kind that we see just in memes, but truly looking for the lessons in every experience, whether we perceive that experience to be ‘good’ or ‘bad’, surrounding yourself with positive people, reading, watching and listening to things that elevate you are just a few ways you can do this.
- Meditation – develop a regular practice. It doesn’t have to be arduous or challenging, even a few minutes a day can make a big difference.
- Gratitude – practicing gratitude is a powerful way to increase physical and mental health, and has been proven to improve sleep and self esteem.
- Writing – getting your thoughts on paper is cathartic and I can’t recommend it highly enough. You can journal, use your computer or even a blog. It’s not necessary to start a blog, but I have found it healing and incredibly helpful.
There are many other ways you can build flexibility and strength and I encourage you to try a few out for yourself and see what works for you.
If you have any, you’d like to share, I’d love to hear them!
This article also appeared on The Huffington Post.