Can we emerge stronger and wiser in the face of immense challenge?

In the mid-1990s, psychologists Richard Tedeschi, Ph.D., and Lawrence Calhoun, Ph.D., coined a new term. Their research showed that positive psychological effects could be realized after major physical or psychological traumas. They called this phenomenon post-traumatic growth, or PTG.

Human history is full of the incredible potential of people to rise above and transform in response to crisis.

Today, in the wake of a global pandemic and the horror of our Russian neighbors attacking our brothers and sisters in Ukraine, I’m having more conversations about what we can do, how individuals and teams can cope, and how to emerge stronger and wiser in the face of such immense challenge.

Growth as An Option

In addition to cultivating a growth mindset in regular daily activity, research shows growth is an option that can be explored and considered in trauma or challenge. Coaching questions play a powerful role in creating a path to PTG and the possibility of finding something of value in our most challenging life experiences.

Here are five possible new ways of thinking and relating that can come directly from the research on PTG (Posttraumatic Growth: Theory, Research, and Applications):

1. Appreciation: “I appreciate more what I already have, including small things.”
2. Personal Strength: “I am stronger than I imagined and equipped for bigger challenges.”
3. New Opportunities: “I am pursuing new interests or a different career path.”
4. Relating with Others: “I am more willing to help or accept help, and I want to be open and authentic.”
5. Spiritual Change: “My life has new meaning and purpose.”

In my own life, I had a direct experience of PTG when a life-threatening diagnosis shook me to the core in 2013. When my doctor told me I had cancer, I no longer felt secure in my most basic assumptions about my body, my life, and my future. I struggled with why this terrible thing happened to me and what it meant to my view of the world. In the years that followed, I began asking bigger questions, digging deeper, and getting more curious about my values, approach to work and relationships, and what brought peace, joy, and meaning to my life.

New Ways of Thinking, Feeling & Behaving

The opportunity posed by our current times is to expand our intentions, open our minds, and cultivate the seeds of growth in terms of new ways of thinking, feeling, and behaving. It’s important to view this process with compassion and sensitivity, however. It’s also important to note that an event is not necessarily traumatic in and of itself, but in the eye of the beholder at a particular point in time.

PTG does not discount our hurt or upset, and we must of course consider our state of readiness to look at the possibility of growth—is it “post” trauma or are you still in it? Honor where you are and give yourself the dignity of that space.

If you or your team would like to learn more about post-traumatic growth, resilience, or emotional intelligence, I am currently accepting new clients. I also invite you to sign up for my new masterclass to experience a profound shift in how difficult people can STOP driving you nuts (and actually make you stronger!) in just eight weeks.

Coaching Exercise: Consider exploring the possibility of coming out of life’s challenges stronger. When you’re ready, you may want to ask yourself: Where am I in terms of the five categories of post-traumatic growth? Have I noticed a change in any particular category?

  • Increase in appreciation and gratitude
  • New sense of my resilience and inner fortitude
  • Openness to new directions or opportunities that have come out of this
  • Expanded way of relating to myself and others in more positive ways
  • Awareness of a deeper meaning and purpose to my life
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