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Turning Trauma into Strength and Growth

Anyone who knows me is well aware of my interest and fascination in the Batman story. As I’ve grown from a teenager who was fanatical into a grown man who is also still fanatical, I’ve come to realize that the reason I like the stories about Batman is because they are deeply psychological and show that growth and change are possible. Batman only became the “superhero” because of the tragedy and trauma he faced as a child that he eventually learned to overcome. Before becoming the hero, Bruce Wayne (Batman was his alter ego) was first a child who witnessed the tragic death of his mother and father.

Because of the trauma, Bruce experienced symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Mainly, he developed the classic symptoms of fear, survivor guilt, self-blame, anger, and flashbacks. But, as I’ll be writing about in this article, he also experienced Posttraumatic Growth (PTG). Research on PTG began to gain favor in the mid-1990’s after scholars Richard Tedeschi and Lawrence Calhoun found that about 30 to 70% of people reported a mixture of positive and negative effects to trauma.

Most people that I counsel who are coming in for treatment of PTSD are typically unable to see any possible benefits of their experience to the traumatic event. It is my main job as a counselor to help provide balance and direction to the people I work with and offer them hope during their dark time. Working through the pain, hurt, guilt, and other negative symptoms allows them to establish trust and help the person to identify what they are thinking and feeling. This process can take time, often months to years to see true healing. But, true healing comes from understanding the purpose of the event and getting to a point of peace about it.

In my counseling practice, I am fortunate to have the opportunity to work with many people who have very strong convictions in Christ. Those who trust in God’s grace and compassion can always turn to Him for answers and direction.  2 Corinthians 1:3-5 says, ““Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God. For just as we share abundantly in the sufferings of Christ, so also our comfort abounds through Christ.”

I have seen incredible recovery and even strength and growth as a result of traumatic experiences. In Stephen Joseph’s book, What Doesn’t Kill Us, he describes that people can actually demonstrate psychological growth in three distinct areas:

  1. Relationships are enhanced in some way. For example, people describe that they come to value their friends and family more, feel an increased sense of compassion for other
    s and a longing for more intimate relationships.
  2. People change their views of themselves in some way. An example of this would be developing in wisdom, personal strength and gratitude, and perhaps coupled with a greater acceptance of their vulnerabilities and limitations.
  3. People describe changes in their life philosophy. One way of doing this is finding a fresh appreciation for each new day and re-evaluating their understanding of what really matters in life, becoming less materialistic, and more able to live in the present.

The Bible is an amazing source for examples of people who trusted in God’s plan as a way to grow from their traumatic experiences. Joseph’s brothers sold him into slavery, Job faced the death of his family and near death health problems, and Daniel was thrown to the lions for almost certain death. These are just a few of the classic stories. Many other men from the Bible like David, Noah, and Paul faced traumatic situations only to come out stronger in their faith and appreciate God’s redeeming plan. Psalm 61: 2-3, David writes that “From the ends of the earth I call to you, I call as my heart grows faint; lead me to the rock that is higher than I. For you have been my refuge, a strong tower against the foe.”

Michael Linn is a Licensed Professional Counselor in the state of Pennsylvania and a Nationally Certified Counselor. He is the owner of Resolute Counseling, located in Chambersburg, Pennsylvania.  He can be reached by calling 717-264-0450 or visiting www.resolutecounseling.com

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