A few weeks ago, I was surprised to learn that my graduate students, some of whom are near completion of their doctorate, had not heard of, much less learned about, post-traumatic growth. To be fair, it is a relatively new concept. But such an immensely important one. We discussed it in reference to several of our clinical cases, but I know the most about it because of my own kids.
I remember hearing a story about post-traumatic growth on NPR. I had an a-ha moment, because I had been trying to consider the ways that my children are growing from losing their dad. This line of thinking feels traitorous to me, and I think to most people. We are expected to be devastated and miserable. And that is true. But everyone also hopes we will at least be ok. Their hearts pour out to me but even more so to our kids; they know that young minds can’t be expected to handle the immensely convoluted event of their loving father’s suicide.
So it’s pretty amazing to watch them, as they prove what they can handle. I never take it for granted. Every day they are happy and thriving, I feel that they are on the other side. I know that, at any moment, the tragedy will grip them, and at times it does. It will take decades to know just how hard and sad and strange it will feel. How abandoned or betrayed or confused or angry or even depressed they might become.
But with all those hard and yucky feelings, some great things are happening. I can’t speak for my kids, but from the outside, they seem pretty bullet-proof. They are not just getting through this, they are positively, explosively crushing it. And not with just the outside stuff, like grades or things like that. I mean the real stuff. They are genuine, vital, connected. Although so different from each other, they both seem immensely compassionate (maybe that has more to do with our pets or some Barney episodes on making friends?). They aren’t trying to be great or perfect. They aren’t perfect, not even close. They are allowed to grieve and to be messy at it. As if growing up wasn’t already messy enough.
But something is happening, and, ironically and sadly, it’s related to their huge, awful loss. Post-traumatic growth is seen when victims of trauma experience “enhanced relationships, greater self-acceptance, and a heightened appreciation of life.”
Yet, in order for this kind of outcome to be experienced (yes, noted, my kids are not “outcomes” yet), people need support from those around them. They need to be loved and listened to in order to grow. Not rocket science. But just a reminder. Love them up, people!
Some cool links to information about post-traumatic growth: