Pretty much everyone has heard of Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Not as many people are talking about Post-traumatic Growth. There IS life after trauma. I should know.
I grew up in a house with a mother who should not have had children. She had been emotionally and physically abused by her parents, and married my father when she was 20 years old, to get out of the house. My 21 year-old father did not have the maturity to help her heal the emotional scars caused by her parents' treatment of her and her sisters. My mother desperately wanted to be loved, so she started having children, thinking that they would give her the love she needed.
Of course, we all know it doesn’t work that way. Children learn about love and affection from their parents. A mother (or other caregiver) holds the child close, looking into their eyes and speaking in reassuring tones. This teaches the baby to feel safe and connect with their caregiver. As babies begin to verbalize, parents “parrot” their sounds back to them, which reinforces their attempts to communicate with language. As they grow, children watch their parents and siblings for examples, and copy every gesture, every sound, every word in their environment. They learn to do more of the behaviors that get rewarded, and to reduce behaviors that get punished.
My mother observed harsh, angry speech in her house, and unremitting cruelty, so that’s what she brought into her marriage and how she raised her children. I’m sure my mother never once thought, “I’m going to see how badly I can hurt my children, I really want them to suffer like I did.” Yet, she managed to grievously harm her children. Instead of the love and closeness she craved from her children, we hid from her in fear, and only spoke to her when we absolutely had to. My father also began avoiding her, staying away from the house as much as he could, and eventually, he left altogether, but we remained behind, frightened and lonely.
Because my mother did not take any time to heal from her painful childhood before marrying, she was unable to provide a better home for her children than the one she had, herself. But that doesn't have to be the way. There IS healing after trauma. It begins by recognizing that We Are Not How We Have Been Treated. The upbringing we had, or other devastating situations we have experienced, eg, sexual assault, death of a loved one, growing up in a violent neighborhood or war zone, auto accident, military service, etc., may have a powerful influence over us, but they do not define Who We Are.
According to the American Psychological Association, Post-traumatic growth is seen as positive change in the areas of:
Appreciation of life.
Relationships with others.
New possibilities in life.
We get to decide who we are and how we respond to tragedy in our lives. Each day, when we get up, we get a new chance to live the life we genuinely want to live; to be the person we genuinely want to be. The devastating things that have happened to us will always be a part of who we become, but they don't have to define us. We can choose to redeem those painful experiences, allowing them to turn us into resilient people with hearts full of compassion for others who suffer. It's not easy, it takes time and lots of work, but it SO worth it to have the freedom to no longer be controlled by the past.
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