4 Beacons of Growth after Trauma
4 Beacons of Growth after Trauma
Guest Blog by Joyce Bruggeman, Author & Executive Director of Survivors of Suicide Loss
Trauma. What comes to mind when you hear that word?
Do you instantly think of PTSD? Post-traumatic stress disorder: the debilitating effect that trauma can have on an individual. We now freely accept the fact that the impact of trauma is insidious, pervasive, life-changing and enduring.
Trauma invaded my life when my husband took his life. His suicide shattered my world. The extreme stress left me feeling out of control and helpless; it overwhelmed my capacity to cope with life. The psychological wounding challenged my core beliefs about others, the world, God and myself.
In the beginning, each day was like walking through emotional quicksand. Struggling merely to survive took all of my energy, but as more healing came, new despair set it. I began to question God:
“Is this the best I can hope for after the suicide?”
“Will life ever be good again?”
My heart desperately wanted to believe that God had much more for me than my current reality.
As I was pondering these questions, God led me to a new understanding of what He might have in store for my future. I discovered Post-traumatic Growth or PTG. This term, coined by two clinical researchers, Richard Tedeschi and Lawrence Calhoun, unveils their findings that there is the possibility of personal growth within the context of a distressing or traumatic event. PTG was a shift from the current mindset that believed trauma could only debilitate a person into the mindset that trauma can transform us in positive ways.
Their research identified five areas of PTG:
Relating to others - greater intimacy and compassion
New possibilities – being open to new roles and new people
Personal strength – discovering new abilities and strength
Spiritual change – being more connected spiritually
Deeper appreciation of life – living with an attitude of gratitude
That sounds like the abundant life Jesus offered us when he said, “The thief’s purpose is to steal and kill and destroy. My purpose is to give them a rich and satisfying life” (John 10:10 NLT). The thief did his best to steal, kill and destroy my old life, but now I was convinced that God’s purpose was to transform this tragedy. I knew that the deep desire for more healing was part of God’s plan for my life.
My new mantra became…
“I didn’t come this far only to come this far.”
I am grateful to God and love to share how He has transformed my life after the suicide. His plan of healing for my life has included experiencing PTG. I have learned a great deal about trauma and PTG, not only through my journey but also in my role as Executive Director of Survivors of Suicide Loss. Working with hundreds of people traumatized by suicide, my heart’s desire is that each of them experiences PTG. Unfortunately, that is not always the case. As I worked with many survivors after the trauma of suicide, it was evident that some get “stuck” and struggle to move forward while others continue on and experience PTG.
So, as I questioned what was different between these two groups of people, I began seeing a “fork in the road of recovery” that determined who would continue on to a renewed life.
For those who yearn to do more than survive after trauma, here are some beacons of growth that I noticed along the way.
1. Seeking help.
The first step in recovery after trauma is to seek help. Far too many try to bury the wound, where it grows, festers and destroys them from the inside out. It can be painful to bring our trauma into the light, but this is where the healing begins. The route to freedom starts with asking God to reveal the truth about what has us bound. If your trauma is severe, find a mental health professional trained in trauma to help you with this process. Jesus told us, “And you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free” (John 8:32 NLT).
2. Correcting expectations.
Posttraumatic Growth does not suggest an absence of suffering. Instead, it offers the hope that appreciable growth occurs in the context of pain, loss, and suffering. Peter tells us, “The suffering won’t last forever. It won’t be long before this generous God who has great plans for us in Christ—eternal and glorious plans they are!—will have you put together and on your feet for good. He gets the last word; yes, he does” (1 Peter 5:10 MSG).
We all know that forgiveness is not easy, but it is an essential component to moving forward. We need to understand what forgiveness is. Forgiveness does not condone the wrong, deny the effects or instantly erase the memories. Forgiveness is a decision that changes your life by bringing peace, healing, and hope. We are encouraged to “Be gentle with one another, sensitive. Forgive one another as quickly and thoroughly as God in Christ forgave you.” If you are struggling with forgiveness, the Thrive workbook includes a session titled “Simple Forgiveness” that will help you.
This is closely related to forgiveness but has a different focus. We forgive others for how they have hurt or harmed us. We accept a situation that has happened or a change in a relationship. Acceptance is coming to terms with the reality that our lives have changed, permanently, and will never be the same. Acceptance does not mean that we like what has happened. It is coming to an understanding that “it is what it is, whether I like it or not.”
One way I can see acceptance in survivors is when the question “Why did this happen?” morphs into “What am I going to do with what has happened?” Acceptance is a process that takes time. It is the byproduct of the hard work of grief and recovery. Acceptance allows us to let go of what was and open ourselves up to what is. It is not easy to look into an unknown future, but our gracious God gives us words of hope to help us keep moving.
“Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past. See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland” (Isaiah 43:18-19).
Listen to the word “trauma” again. What comes to mind? Hope? Growth? Possibilities? With God, it is possible. Our job is to trust His plan of healing, after trauma. His job is to make us new. “Behold, I am making all things new.” And he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.”
Joyce Bruggeman is the Executive Director of Survivors of Suicide Loss in San Diego, CA. The organization supports those who have lost a loved one to suicide. She has also written a book, “Reflections from the Everlasting Bridge” (written under Joyce Turner), that shares how God met her every step along her journey back to wholeness (available on Amazon). Joyce has just published her second book, "From God's Heart to Yours." These are a series of devotions God used to help her open her heart fully to the "heart of God" after her personal trauma (available on Amazon - under Joyce Turner).