Post-traumatic Growth
By Lara Noik a"h
Overview: Lara Noik a"h explains how post-traumatic growth can indicate that we are more because of what has happened to us.
“In the midst of winter, I found there was within me an invincible summer.” – Albert Camus

Something transforms in us once the worst thing that can happen, happens. In the mid-90s, professors of psychology, Tedeschi and Calhoun, coined the term post-traumatic growth to describe the idea that, unlikely as it might seem, we grow and learn through and from our traumatic experiences. We don’t just bounce back, we bounce up. We are not ‘less than’ because of what has happened to us, nor are we the same, we are more. They noted positive changes in the following five key domains:

Appreciation of life

When your life is suddenly on a precipice, its value comes into sharp focus. The most fundamental form of gratitude is gratitude for life. Not a good life (whatever that is). Not a successful life. Not even a meaningful life. Just life, at its most fundamental. I remember sitting on my patio, feeling the breeze and realising that I can only feel it because I’m alive. I felt gratitude in every fibre of my being. We climb the mountain of trauma and what do we find at the top? Perspective. 

Relationships with others

When I look back on my cancer journey, the things that stand out the most for me aren’t things at all. They are people. Yes, there were those who missed the mark, who did not understand or wish to be part of it, but there were others who seemed to just ‘get it’. They stepped up, providing relief, support and kindness. Lighthouses in a stormy sea. These are the relationships worth treasuring. Ultimately, when everything else pales into insignificance, it’s our loved ones who become the most important things by far.

New possibilities

It’s weird to consider that a deadly disease may offer us new possibilities in life, and yet it’s true. New friends, new ways of looking at the world, a new-found strength, and perhaps even new-found passions. We are not the same person we were before we were diagnosed. That’s not possible. 

A cancer diagnosis can stretch us to reconsider our values, our abilities and our priorities in a way that invites new possibilities. Talking, writing, and counselling people with cancer was never on my career agenda. Now it’s one of the most rewarding and meaningful parts of my day.

Spiritual change

The relationship between trauma and spirituality works both ways. Research indicates both; that spiritual people respond better to trauma and that trauma has an ability to inspire spiritual growth. People often report a feeling of being held and guided through their journeys, be it by their beliefs, spiritual leaders or loved ones. For me, it was unbearable to think that my experience was random. My faith in something bigger than me and the idea of meaning and purpose became so much more than mere esoteric ideals. They were and remain anchors.

Personal strength

Every time I’m anxious to do something, perhaps giving a talk or having a difficult conversation, I think to myself, “You did chemo, you can do anything!” Going through the unthinkable allows us to reconsider who we are. As humans, we tend to underestimate ourselves, to miscalculate what we are capable of, by far. I often ask my clients, if they had known beforehand what was in store, would they have thought they could get through it? A resounding no! Yet here we are. I’m not sure if cancer makes us strong, but it certainly reveals it. 

If I had a magic wand and could go back in time, would I forgo the growth in exchange for not having cancer? In a heartbeat. I’d guess most would. That being said (and with no magic wand available), the concept of post-traumatic growth offers us an alternative narrative. A narrative of hope. A narrative of strength. A possible summer.

Originally published here

Lara Noik a"h
In her short 42 years of life Lara a"h accomplished more than most do in a full lifetime. She worked as head social worker for the Chevrah Kadisha in Johannesburg for 7 years before starting her own successful private practice with a special interest in the fields of mental health, resilience, and relationships. She utilised an integrative approach incorporating the principles of innate mental health, Dialectical Behavioural Therapy (DBT) and relationship modalities. She believed in the innate resilience that exists within each human being and spent her career counselling individuals, couples, and groups from this standpoint. In addition she also ran the Marriage Prepare Programme for many years, worked at Papillon -a mental health recovery centre, ran online grief groups and was a co- founder of ‘The Ki’, an organisation which offers affordable therapy to the larger Johannesburg Jewish Community.