This is the third post in a series on grieving. The first regards grieving in the first year or two. The second regards how to help a child to grieve. In this post I’ll review factors that promote post-traumatic growth (PTG) after a severe loss.
PTG is the process of experiencing growth because of the pain you have experienced. As one poet it, pain is a dragon guarding treasure. To get to the treasure, the dragon must have it’s way and the clawing can be terrible, sometimes even breaking a person. But, at some point, if you have gotten to the other side, the treasure is always present. And, while the pain often stops, or is at least is significantly reduced, the treasure keeps on gifting.
To check the truthfulness of this assertion, survey your life for the most painful events that are now behind you. Are there any ways you are better now because of that suffering? Or, look at PTG from another angle. Consider the best things in your life. Could any of them have existed were it not for suffering, either on your part or on the part of someone close to you?
The PTG concept does not suggest that the treasure is worth the loss, nor does it suggest that the circumstances of the loss had inherent meaning. While one or both of those things can be true, they are often not. So, the first thing to wonder, after your grief has subsided enough, is, what treasure has this (often terrible) loss made available to you?
I previously outlined 13 tips for promoting adaptive grieving. Building upon those, here are six strategies for promoting PTG:
1. Develop a daily gratitude practice. If you enter the word “gratitude” in the search bar above you will find several offerings on this topic.
2. Practice random acts of kindness. This can be applied to both family members and to strangers. Again, use the search bar above to find related blog posts.
3. Practice self-compassion as much as you can. I will be writing on this topic in the future, but for now can refer you to this website for a plethora of information on self-compassion: http://self-compassion.org. Note that you can find a questionnaire on this site for understanding where you stand on the self-compassion dimension.
4. Practice forgiveness. This is the hardest thing for many of us to do, and our culture often misunderstands the nature of it (e.g., forgiveness is not allowing ongoing damage, it does not require the other person to express remorse, it does not involve minimizing, or require forgetting, the assualt). Click here for a post I devoted to this topic.
5. Develop and live effective missions. Developing effective vocational and personal mission statements goes a long way to producing a more meaningful and satisfying life. I provide a introductory structure for getting there in this post.
6. Pursue the truth. This regards your thinking (e.g., depression always involves believing things that are not true). This regards how you view others (e.g., a harsh judgment always reflects a lack of information or a distortion of the truth). It involves everything. Yes, the truth can be challenging in the short run–I believe it is Gloria Steinem who noted, “the truth will set you free but first it will piss you off.” But, the pursuit of it is a guiding principle of high road living. By the way, it’s remarkable how often pursuing a path of loving kindness overlaps with this goal.
This is complicated stuff. So, if you’d like to find an ally for figuring it all out, and applying it to your life, consider meeting with a skillful mental health professional. For a referral, click here.