Grief and trauma can bring learning and growth
Despite the common strong association between grief and death, grief is a reaction to a significant loss, and not just to a death. This means that we can have a grief reaction to any major change in our life, even positive ones. For example, someone excited about moving to a new job or promotion may still grieve for aspects of their old job. Gains will always also be accompanied by losses of some sort.
Grief reactions are perfectly normal responses to loss and change. They are part of our way of adapting to new circumstances. The impact can range from minor and insignificant to devastatingly major. When our reaction is at this latter end of the spectrum, we will often talk of a trauma – a psychological or spiritual wound, parallel with the physical wounds or traumas the medical profession deals with. A traumatic loss is therefore one that harms us in some way, unlike the type of grief that, although painful, exhausting and frightening, is actually a positive process of healing.
Non-traumatic losses will generally produce levels of grief that can be handled with everyday support and with time, although some levels of grief may need some form of professional help at times. However, with a traumatic loss, the impact can be so great that the disruption it brings to our lives can be of major proportions and require intensive help and support.
But, despite these problems and challenges, there is also a positive side to this. That is because grief in general and traumatic loss in particular can be sources of personal learning and growth. These highly distressing experiences can be valuable lessons from which we can learn a lot. They can also make us more resilient and better prepared for any future such experiences.
Over the years I have come across many people who have suffered greatly as a result of a loss or trauma, but who have none the less been able to grow personally in one or more ways as a result of it. Common themes include people becoming more appreciative of the positives in their life; feeling more confident about dealing with adversity in future; and having a greater sense of self-awareness and self-understanding – all things that can be of significant benefit in a number of ways
It may seem strange to think that such difficult and debilitating circumstances can also have a positive side, but that is the reality. Of course, not every loss or trauma will produce such growth, but it is always a possibility – the potential is always there. There is no simple or straightforward formula way for realising that potential, but, if we are aware of – and tuned into – that potential, there is a much greater chance of making the best of the positives.
This is not to say that the positives will outweigh the negatives or even make the negatives easier to bear, but it would be sad, in a time already characterized by great sadness, for certain positives to be missed out on. As with all matters relating to loss and grief, such situations need to be handled carefully and sensitively, but the positive potential is certainly there to be realised when the time is right. And timing is important, as these things cannot be rushed.
So, the important lesson to be learned from this is that grief and trauma will continue to be extremely painful and challenging, but they will also offer opportunities for personal growth if we are sufficiently aware of this and sufficiently sensitive to capitalise on those opportunities – and, again, I emphasise: when the time is right.