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Don’t Run From It: What Adversity Can Teach You

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There is no shortage of adversity. In fact, recent data from the National Institute of Mental Health reports that 6 out of 10 women and 5 out of 10 men will face one or more major crisis in their lifetime. And when they do, there will be plenty of resources — from self help books to websites, podcasts, and “coaches” — to help them quickly move past it.

 

Yet, the question remains, is moving past adversity quickly really the best approach?

 

Maybe in the struggle — and not necessarily the victory — there is something to be learned, a strength to be gained, skills to be perfected, and confidence to be reinforced. Perhaps in concentrating too intently on the victory, we are forgetting the journey.

 

Because the journey is not the victory and, in fact, may be nothing like victory. The journey — like anything else — will be both highs and lows, and sometimes one will come right after the other. The hope is that for all of life’s challenges and moments of glory, there will also be growth.

 

And this growth is dependent on the struggle, not the victory. Surprising new research in the field of post-traumatic growth has evidenced that it is not the absence of negative outcomes in the aftermath of trauma that marks the path of growth, but rather, that both positive and negative symptoms signify the very cognitive processes that characterize growth (Tedeshi and Calhoun, 2004).

 

It’s when we can see both the good and the bad — called dialectical thinking — that we recognize that growth is paradoxical. We may be more vulnerable, and yet stronger, in ways we never knew possible. We may be more wary in relationships and yet develop deep connections with those closest to us. We may feel as if our path is blocked but we may also find new, more meaningful, ones.

 

The victory may or may not be won. But the struggle persists. It persists because it’s the search for meaning and purpose in the face of adversity. It is the deep human drive to challenge ourselves, perfect our skills, and to fight the good fight.

 

Surprisingly there are some people who appear to embrace the struggle, perfecting their skills against the twists and turns life deals them. Becoming adept, these people engage in the challenge, because they know it will lead to mastery. And not necessarily mastery in overcoming the struggle — but mastery in facing the struggle. They do not fear failure, because the game is not being played to win or lose, it is being played to get better. Those in the field of positive psychology would say these people are “flourishing” while those who study trauma might say they have experienced post-traumatic growth.

 

In either case, the data present the same story, that is, these people defy everything we know about the way adversity and trauma are supposed to affect a person. But look more closely. Studies of post-traumatic growth show that people who experience growth after a traumatic event outweigh those who experience PTSD.

 

As these studies demonstrate, more people experience trauma as a trigger that sets off a cascade of growth across several life domains, than those who experience it in just the opposite way — as a trigger for a cascade of distressing symptoms.

 

I am not suggesting that there is no such thing as PTSD, as it is a very real and distressing condition. However, studies on post-traumatic growth also show something very interesting when it comes to trauma related distress symptoms — like those in PTSD. Many trauma survivors report growth outcomes while still reporting distress symptoms. What this means is that growth begins before distress ends. Because the learning comes in the challenge, the enhancement of skill, the atonement of mastery, and the engagement itself — that is the willingness to take on the challenge even when success seems out of reach.

 

 

 

References:

Tedeshi, R., Calhoun, L. (2004). Post-Traumatic Growth: Conceptual Foundations and Empirical Evidence. Psychological Inquiry. 2004, Vol. 15 No. 1. 1-18

 

Don’t Run From It: What Adversity Can Teach You


Claire Dorotik-Nana, LMFT

Claire Dorotik-Nana LMFT is a licensed marriage and family therapist specializing in post-traumatic growth, leveraging adversity, and other epic human achievements. Claire has written multiple continuing education courses for Professional Development Resources, Zur Institute, and International Sport Science Association. Claire has also authored multiple books, including:
Leverage: The Science of Turning Setbacks into Springboards and On The Back Of A Horse: Harnessing The Healing Power Of The Human-Equine Bond. For more information about Leveraging Adversity or Claire, visit www.leverageadversity.net


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APA Reference
Dorotik-Nana, C. (2015). Don’t Run From It: What Adversity Can Teach You. Psych Central. Retrieved on September 15, 2019, from https://blogs.psychcentral.com/leveraging-adversity/2015/01/dont-run-from-it-what-adversity-can-teach-you/

 

Last updated: 17 Jan 2015
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