Martin Seligman, director of the Positive Psychology Center at the University of Pennsylvania, was speaking about post-traumatic growth on a recent edition of the Harvard Business Review Post-traumatic growth refers to positive psychological change experienced as a result of the struggle with highly challenging life circumstances. It is not simply a return to baseline from a period of suffering; instead it is an experience of improvement that for some persons is deeply profound.
Seligman is working with the US Army in an effort to reduce the rate of depression that soldiers experience following a traumatic battlefield incident. He has discovered that if a person is told that the possibility of post traumatic growth exists, the chances that the person will experience this growth instead of depression increase significantly.
In short, you just have to tell someone that traumatic experiences will make him or her a better people and it is more likely to happen.
Throughout my life, I have often said that if given the chance, I would change very little about my past, despite the high degree of difficulty that I have faced.
And for the most part, I still believe this.
The challenges that I have faced have made me the person I am today, and they have allowed me to grow in the same way that Seligman describes. The multiple near-death experiences, the robbery, the arrest and trial for a crime I did not commit, the years of poverty, the homelessness, the anonymous, widespread attempt at character assassination and the traumatic childhood all resulted in the resiliency, confidence and strength that I enjoy today.
I would not be the teacher, author, husband and father that I am today without having faced and overcome these challenges.
I am happy with the course of my life.
But does this mean that I should wish the same upon my children?
I have watched friends with lives of relative ease crumble at the first sign of trouble.
I have watched colleagues collapse in the face of bitter struggle, having never faced a serious challenge before in their lives.
I have witnessed the lack of perspective and balance that a lifetime of relative security can bring.
No parents wishes ill upon their child, but it was only through pain and turmoil that I was able to become the person I am today.
Should I hope that Clara and Charlie experience struggles similar to mine?
Should I wish for the same post-traumatic growth that I experienced?
Can they become a strong, independent, self-reliant, resilient people if their path is free of turmoil?
I’m not sure.
Perhaps the best I can hope for her are challenges that will test their mettle and leave them stronger and more resilient but ultimately un-scarred.
The only thing I am certain about is the unexpected gratitude that I feel towards the forces who helped me become the person I am today:
The Universe, for placing unexpectedly deadly bees and surprisingly slippery roads in my path.
The Bourne police officer who decided that I was guilty before bothering to investigate.
The three armed men who tortured and terrorized me on dark night in 1993.
The anonymous cowards who attempted to ruin my career through slander and libel.
Even my parents, who forced me to grow up at an early age and take care of myself and my siblings.
Post-traumatic growth: It can make the most despicable people seem nearly angelic.