MAKING MEANING OUT OF THE BAD
MAKING MEANING OUT OF THE BAD
Lately the news has been filled with many sad stories of traumatic events. From terrorist attacks that take unsuspecting lives to the overwhelmingly sad diagnoses of children with terminal illnesses, bad news seems to be all around us.
The sadness these reports evoke make many of us wonder how others go on after a traumatic experience. What would we do if we were in the shoes of the suffering? How do you turn major losses or disappointments in life into something good?
Before becoming a counselor, I am not sure I had a concept of what that would even look like. I often thought very fatalistically that people must just shut down and quit when they experience big hurts or traumas. But what I have seen firsthand is that the human spirit is very resourceful and resilient if given the right tools and circumstances.
Research tells us that personality traits such as optimism and extraversion, positive emotions and social support can help someone heal following a trauma or loss. Research also shows that making meaning out of difficult situations leads to lower risks of depression and better well-being in the long term.
By no means does making meaning of something bad mean that the trauma does not affect you or that you are saying the loss or disappointment is okay. Instead, it is knowing that good can come out of horrible, terrible things and that God is working all things together for our good and for His purpose (Romans 8:28).
But how does someone accomplish this? If you have experienced a traumatic situation, what steps can you take to begin the process of recovery?
First, there must be assessment of what has happened and acknowledgement of how it has affected you. A person cannot move forward on their journey if they are living in denial or if they are not effectively dealing with their emotions about what has happened.
In the aftermath of trauma, a person must allow themselves time to grieve what has happened. Only after this acknowledgment can a person move forward in a healthy way.
Fortunately, you don’t have to grieve alone. Coping with grief may take the form of counseling sessions or discussions with a trusted friend or minister. There is great power in sharing our stories with someone else, a trustworthy adviser who might be able to help us see a different perspective. Journaling, or writing down your thoughts, feelings and reflections, also can be a powerful personal tool for coping with trauma.
The next steps to work through are absolution and acceptance. In many situations, one person has wronged another, such as when a spouse cheats or when a person is a victim of crime. In some situations, the trauma is a result of poor choices by an individual. In both cases, forgiveness is a powerful step in healing that leads to acceptance and moving forward.
There is no amount of counseling, prayer or talking that will change what has happened or make it go away. Traumatic situations change a person’s life. They become part of the individual’s life story. They may even change the way a person views the world, people or even God both positively and negatively.
Take encouragement in knowing that a traumatic event does not have to control you or define who you are in the future. Recovery requires a willingness to examine honestly and objectively how a trauma or disappointment has changed us. In doing so, we can make sure not to carry baggage of past hurts forward in our lives. That doesn’t mean there will be no distress or feelings of being upset. Feelings will ebb and flow throughout the recovery process, even after you have made some meaning out of your hurt.
However, research and experience tell us that there is great validity in embarking on the journey of making meaning out of disappointment or loss. By doing so, we are protecting ourselves and moving toward greater levels of healing and growth.
This article was written by the following Pathways counselors:
Lisa Keane, MAMFC, LPC-S, Registered Play Therapist Supervisor, NCC
Kristin Lowrey, MSW, LICSW, PIP, Registered Play Therapist Supervisor
This article was originally published in The Alabama Baptist newspaper as a part of their Faith and Family series.