Despite the devastation of suicide loss, Post Traumatic Growth is possible. Post Traumatic Growth can be explained as experiencing unexpected positive changes as a result of negative events. It suggests the possibility of personal growth within the context of a highly challenging, stressful, and traumatic event. This does not mean that trauma is not also destructive and distressing. No one welcomes adversity. But the research evidence shows us that over time people can find benefits in their struggle with adversity, that appreciable growth can occur within the context of pain and loss.
Positive Psychologist, Miriam Akhtar, uses the metaphor of a broken vase to help us understand this concept. She says,
“When you experience a life-shattering event there are two choices. Glue the fragments back together – life will look the same but it will be more fragile than it was before. Or you can pick up the pieces and make a beautiful mosaic from them. Life is different but in many ways stronger.”
People who experience Post Traumatic Growth find a way of accommodating the tragedy into their mental landscape. They recognise that life won’t ever be the same but they can pick up the pieces and put life back together in a fresh, different form that holds appeal for them.
Researchers have found that many who successfully deal with adversity actually grow in positive ways.
There are five domains where this psychological growth occurs:
- Relating to Others: The desire for greater honesty; the willingness to express my emotions; an increased compassion for those who have experienced trauma; an appreciation of what others can offer in times of distress; and a genuine wish to develop more meaningful relationships.
- New Possibilities: A willingness to change things that need changing; the courage to pursue new interests; the openness to discovering a different path for my life; and the self-assurance to tackle fresh challenges.
- Personal Strength: A renewed confidence that I can handle trouble or difficulties; a knowledge that I can survive; and the ability to accept how things work out.
- Spiritual Change: A better understanding of spiritual matters; a deeper connectedness with God; openness to moments of wonder and awe; and a greater hunger for truth.
- Appreciation of Life: A clearer understanding of what is important to me; a strong conviction that life is to be valued; and a desire to fully appreciate what each day has to offer, to live in the moment.
Suicide shatters our assumptions about fairness and justice. It forces us to rethink our understanding of the world. It says to us that we don’t know what the future holds, that life changing events can enter our lives at any time in many different ways.
The idea that adversity and suffering can lead to transformation is not new. Various religious traditions have explored this concept in their writings.
Viktor Frankl, in Man’s Search For Meaning (1946), promoted the idea when he wrote about his experiences in the German concentration camp where he was incarcerated during World War Two. He observed the sense of hopelessness that overwhelmed some of the prisoners but also saw evidence of the potential for growth. He says,
“…even the helpless victim of a hopeless situation, facing a fate he cannot change, may rise above himself, may grow beyond himself, and by so doing change himself…turn a personal tragedy into a triumph.”
The concept of Post Traumatic Growth challenges us to see every tragedy, every hardship, and every painful and distressing event as an opportunity to grow.
I recall the moment I was told my son, Adam, had taken his life. I can still feel the utter sense of horror and brokenness. It seemed I would drown in a flood of tears.
What is amazing is that within a week of his death I had resolved to find ‘a positive’ in this situation. I couldn’t accept that the tragedy of Adam’s death was all darkness, devoid of any light. I couldn’t see the virtue in wallowing in self-pity or self-recrimination. There had to be a way of reclaiming Adam’s dignity, of exploring the context of his hopelessness and despair. Suicide feels like an abject failure but Adam was much more than his violent death. He lived and loved, worked and played, hoped and dreamed, worshipped and witnessed. He was a son, a brother, an uncle, a cousin. He belonged.
I also felt the need to understand suicide and to appreciate the grief process. I wrote about what I was thinking and feeling and made it available to family members. This desire to explore, to navigate the treacherous waters of personal tragedy has led to this website which aims to encourage, to educate, and to empower; to provide us with a hope that will sustain us into the future, a Hope For Tomorrow.