October 19, 2016

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We have all had experiences in our lives that made us pause and say, “WHAT?!”  I recently saw a post on Facebook that spoke to this experience on several levels.  It read, “When something goes wrong in your life just yell, “plot twist!” and move on.

Life is full of “plot twists” – those unexpected changes that seem to completely alter our intended and anticipated trajectory.  Some twists are positive:  an unexpected windfall, promotion, or fulfilling relationship.  At other times, the twist is so violent that we almost feel as if we are a spectator watching it develop from afar. “Are you kidding me?” “This can not be happening!”  “What now?!”  These twists in our personal “ movie scripts” are oftentimes highly relevant and can leave lasting effects – both negative and positive. We are all familiar with PTSD, Post-traumatic Stress Disorder, yet fewer of us are familiar with PTG, Post-traumatic Growth. In the throes of stress, one is much more likely to hear someone say “I’m dying inside” than, “It’s okay that I’m dying inside; I’m growing!”

Jim Rendon, writer of “Post-traumatic Stress’s Surprisingly Positive Flip Side,” reports that personality traits such as optimism, extroversion, positive affect and openness to experience have all been associated with PTG. While PTG does not begin to alleviate suffering (nor make anyone yearn for it), it allows for growth to occur within the context of loss and pain.  Jonathan Haidt, author of The Happiness Hypothesis, shares that although traumas, crises, tragedies, and losses come in thousands of forms, people have been known to benefit from them in three primary ways:

  1. Broadened and strengthened self-concept
  2. Enhanced and valued personal relationships
  3. Realignment of priorities and philosophies

While an extreme and devastating example of a “plot twist,” 9/11 victims and rescuers directly involved in that fateful day often report making enormous life shifts, valuing new relationships, and growing in countless way in the years that have followed. So too, it is not uncommon for those who suddenly lose a job, divorce, or receive a devastating medical diagnosis to begin to understand that they are much stronger than they realized which cultivates the confidence necessary for them to conquer future challenges.

This growth does not happen instantaneously; it is a gradual increase in confidence as a result of taking on more responsibility, being held accountable, learning a necessary skill, stepping (or being thrown) outside one’s comfort zone, developing personal strength, and seeking and receiving love and support.

Common experience and empathy create a strong foundation for PTG, which is fostered when honest concern and love is expressed, shared, and welcomed. A realignment of priorities and philosophies commonly includes helping others to successfully navigate their plot twists, as well.

As with any good film, the twist often evolves when least expected; so embrace the current moment for all that it is, and do your best to enjoy the ride, continuing to grow with each twist.

Live well/Be well.

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