Can Our World Experience Post-Traumatic Growth?

Planet Earth

Image Description: The earth and the moon. Public domain image.

These days, it’s so important to give and receive gentleness from one another.

Gentleness is a consistent human need, but right now, we may need it in a particularly deep and present way. Our world seems to be reeling from waves of trauma. When we hold awareness of traumatic pain, whether we’ve experienced it directly or felt it via the news cycle, our bodies, minds, and spirits can be deeply affected.

Waves of trauma in our world are not new, of course, but right now, we are especially aware of injustices and forms of insecurity – white supremacy, economic inequality, numerous natural disasters, deportations and family separations, and violence on a massive scale. To be aware of these things is not merely to know about them but to be affected by them.

We need action – decisive, creative, and disruptive action to adequately address and rectify all of these.

And alongside that action, we also need gentleness.

Our bodies need it, our minds need it, our emotions need it, our sense of spiritual longing needs it.

And perhaps, our sense of time needs it too. Here is a paradoxical thing I have learned over the years about trauma:

Trauma often distorts time. This is especially true in a post-traumatic experience. A small detail in the present moment can suddenly pull us back into the past, making it feel as though a past upheaval is happening right now. Likewise, a small detail in the present moment can suddenly ignite anxiety, causing a tailspin of fear in which we imagine a future where the upheaval might repeat itself. In these ways, trauma can bookend the present moment with a past and future that feel quite painful and insecure.

But with gentleness,

Trauma also opens up time. This is a pretty miraculous thing. There is also concept called post-traumatic growth. (Watch this video). Some people who experience the upheaval of trauma are able to remake their lives and live them more deeply, often with a greater sense of love and spiritual meaning than they might have had before. This is in no way to suggest that the trauma is somehow a good thing or a blessing in disguise. Certainly not. But post-traumatic growth can happen alongside the traumatic distortion. When it comes to a sense of time, there can actually be a bit of reversal of what I’ve articulated above. Good memories and meaningful relationships can be internalized in such a way that they are felt as deeply present. Beloved people and life-giving moments from the past and hopes for the future can feel more accessible in the present moment among people who have experienced post-traumatic growth.

So what helps people experience this kind of growth? Two things are very important:

1) being surrounded by a community of care with relationships that add gentleness and sustaining presence

and

2) becoming enabled to make meaning of the traumatic experience, while learning to create a new narrative with that meaning.

So these days, in this time we’re living, I wonder,

Can our world collectively experience post-traumatic growth? Can this be a collective awakening toward deeper love and greater meaning?

Those questions are not easily answered, so they linger.

But I know this: Gentleness will be important.

Renee Roederer

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