What If The Worst Meant Something Else?

Storms make trees take deeper roots. – Dolly Parton

This quote got me to thinking about something I read in Martin Seligman’s book Flourish about post-traumatic growth.

Yes, that’s right growth, not “stress.”

Turns out that a sub-set of soldiers returning from combat actually grow from the terrible experience of combat.

Another interesting finding is that most of those who do experience post-traumatic stress were predisposed to depression and psychological problems before experiencing combat.

According to Seligman, there is a spectrum of experience with a percentage of soldiers experiencing post-traumatic stress, many in the middle who experience no long-term negative effects of combat and another percentage who actually grow from the experience (he describes it as a bell-curve shape distribution).

What’s my point?

That if a terrible experience such as combat: 1) doesn’t lead to post-traumatic stress as much as we are led to believe and 2) can actually be a catalyst for growth, maybe there’s a lesson for us in his research.

Sometimes all we need is to be aware of a different possibility to create different results.

But we’re not going to be sent off to war any time soon, so how is this relevant to civilians?

Whatever stress or adversity we experience, we can choose to define it in any number of ways. Just as the weights in a gym are seen by the exerciser as tools of strength and fitness (and by the non-exerciser as heavy, yucky things), our challenges can be seen as growth opportunities.

One note though: none of this is to say that challenges don’t initially knock us on our butts. They do. But both the great middle of soldiers and the post-traumatic-growers – after a period of upset and adjustment – got back to the business of life. (And the “Growers” went beyond just getting back to their base-lines.)

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