Common wisdom is that trauma or grief damages us permanently. But research shows that the contrary is true. Many people experience post-traumatic growth after an initial period of grief. Just as a broken bone, once healed, is stronger than before, people who experience grief or trauma can become stronger than before. This phenomenon is called post-traumatic growth.
Babette Zschiegner is an inspiring example of post-traumatic growth. The only thing she loved more than travelling was her family. When she first found out that her son Zach, then two, had autism, she felt “overwhelmed, in despair, guilt ridden, confused, blaming, and grief striken.” She felt that she had to fix Zach’s autism, and fix it fast. Her perspective profoundly shifted through coaching. She realized that the only thing that needed fixing was her perception of Zach as broken. This shift transformed her family. “Our life together is now full of acceptance, appreciation, joy, and wonder,” Babette said. She credits the coaching tools she learned at the Grief Coach Academy for inspiring her to become the best person she can be, and giving her the confidence to make her own dreams a reality. She found resourceful ways to travel joyfully with her family, and has written a book to help other parents, “Travelling with Your Autistic Child.” Babette now coaches other parents with children with autism, and helps them discover joy both at home and abroad.
Zander Sprague is another shining example of post-traumatic growth. His sister was brutally murdered yet, after an initial period of deep grief, he has bounced back better than ever. He is one of the most enthusiastic, playful, and positive people you could ever meet. At a recent Grief Coach Academy event, Zander acknowledged that coaching helped him transform his loss into service to others. His book “Making Lemonade” helps other sibling survivors. To honor his sister’s memory, he’s now chosen a career as a coach and speaker, so that he can help others choose a positive pathway.Jane McGonigal, a game designer, found herself bedridden and suicidal after a concussion left her hopeless and in excruciating pain. She transformed her experience by turning it into a game. While the pain lingered for over a year, her suffering lifted immediately. Her TED video about post-traumatic growth is inspiring. She has now turned her video game into a resource for people suffering from all kinds of trauma, and it is transforming their lives by creating activities to spur post-traumatic growth.
I also experienced post-traumatic growth after my husband died suddenly at the age of 33. While I’m not grateful that he died, I’m grateful now for all the ways this experience deepened me, and carved into my soul. It gave me my calling to help others through grief, which later became the Grief Coach Academy.
Babette, Zander, Jane and I are not alone in experiencing post-traumatic growth. Dr. Martin Seligman, past president of the American Psychological Association, studied 1,700 people who experienced the worst things that can happen in a person’s lifetime: torture, death of a child, rape, grave illness, imprisonment, and so on.
Dr. Seligman said, “To our surprise, individuals who’d experienced one awful event had more intense strengths (and therefore higher well-being) than individuals who had none. Individuals who’d been through two awful events were stronger than individuals who had one, and individuals who had three—raped, tortured, and held captive for example—were stronger than those who had two.”