Previously, I wrote about trans-generational trauma:
“Three generations removed from Holocaust survivors…I have lived my whole life with a sense of pain and grief for family members long gone, most of whom I never met. To this day, I carry a chronic sense of personal vulnerability to a repeat of trauma now several generations old. I am sometimes surprised by – and envious of – those who move about with a sense of freedom and safety in the world.”
A Child’s Search for Meaning
As a child and teenager, I was intrigued by certain people’s ability to cope. As a Jew growing up in Israel, the Holocaust was a pervasive memory, at once both close and distant.
I wondered how people were able to move beyond such terrible life experiences. Only much later did I realize that what impressed me was what we now call resiliency and post traumatic growth.
My own life experience increased my interest. During a particularly difficult time for my family, I was bullied for a full year by most of the girls in my class.
I was unable to find refuge anywhere, but finally discovered a wonderful resource in books. I read any book I could lay my hands on – poetry, fiction and especially biographies and autobiographies of Holocaust survivors.
I wanted to understand what they had gone through and hoped that their courage might rub off on me. I knew that my experiences couldn’t be compared to those of Holocaust survivors but I thought that if they could find meaning in life, so could I.
In the most difficult part of my social aloneness in the sixth grade, I read Frankl’s book, “Man’s Search For Meaning.” Frankl’s book deeply impacted me with the importance of finding meaning after trauma.
On-going Contracts with God
That year, I volunteered as a tutor with a beautiful little boy who suffered from a genetic disorder. He was eight-years-old, with a normal size head and a body the size of a one-year-old.
He was smart and funny and I loved him. He so much wanted to live but he knew that his lungs would not be able to support him much longer. I, too, deeply wanted him to live, but two-and-a half years later, he died. His death added to a list of loved ones I had experienced as taken away.
I started writing, journaling and writing poetry. I conversed with God over and over again. I made all kinds of contracts – I will do this and this, if only that will be allowed to happen; most of the time I lost my deals.
What I didn’t know at that time, because it was too difficult and painful to see that anything good could ever result, was that I was accumulating my own basket of experiences in resiliency and post traumatic growth.
Definitions of Resilience and Post Traumatic Growth
“Resilience refers to the capacity to cope, adapt, and maintain psychological and physical performance following a traumatic event” (Scali et al., 2012. in Gertel Kraybill, 2015).
Many people who have experienced trauma also make changes in the way they live, reflecting a change in values or priorities because of insights acquired in their struggle with trauma.
This is Post Traumatic Growth (PTG) a concept that was defined by Tedeschi and Calhoun. PTG does not necessarily diminish the pain, but it becomes a way to cope with the immense pain and suffering people face post-trauma” (Gertel Kraybill, 2015).
Tedeschi and Calhoun (2004) list five post-trauma outcomes that indicate PTG has taken place:
1. Improved and new relationships.
2. New possibilities, previously unavailable, become available.
3. Greater appreciation of life.
4. Better sense of personal strength.
5. Spiritual development.