I don’t know about you, but lately it seems I’ve heard a lot of bad news. One good friend was recently diagnosed with breast cancer and another friend lost her father and another good friend lost his mother. I turn on the evening news only to learn about more reports on terrorism, murder, climate change and the drought in California. Everywhere I look I am bombarded with bad news. Even in my own personal life, I struggle with balancing work and family and constantly feel like I am putting out fires with my children. Can anyone relate?
Many of us can feel overwhelmed with problems in our lives especially when we hit what I call “rough patches.” Whether it is child-rearing, a stressful job, a relationship or illness/loss we can all face challenges that can bring us down. What I have learned in my work as a psychotherapist is that clients who are able to seek the lessons or the good that can come from any given challenge tend to have the best outcome. When we focus on the lesson or draw meaning from a challenging event in our lives, we can begin to lift ourselves up and grow from the experience rather than have the experience weigh us down.
The task is to find the good. “What good can come from cancer or a loss?” you may ask. On the surface, you are correct. Cancer and loss are both terrible. Underneath the surface, however are vital lessons to be learned. Growth can occur after we go through challenging times. Victor Frankl, holocaust survivor and author of “Man’s Search for Meaning,” highlighted the importance of finding meaning in all forms of existence, even the most challenging. When he was in the concentration camps, he had a choice to focus on the devastation and the horror of his existence at that time, but instead challenged himself to find the good even in the most tragic of life’s experiences. What we learn from Victor Frankl is that our perspective of events in our lives matter. We can take a negative event/experience and try to find value or meaning from it rather than dwell on the negativity of the experience.
We have all heard about Post-Traumatic Stress-Disorder, and how traumatic events in our lives can cause PTSD symptoms. What we (the counseling and psychology field) are beginning to learn is that some people get through a traumatic event without PTSD symptoms and with reports of growth, new life purpose, and mission to make a difference in their world. This way of handling trauma is being termed Post-Traumatic Growth or PTG. According to Wikipedia, PTG “refers to a positive psychological change experienced as a result of adversity and other challenges in order to rise to a higher level of functioning. “ An example of PTG could be the breast cancer survivor campaigning around her community to raise awareness about the importance of early detection and self breast-exams. Another example is of the wounded combat veteran speaking at VA hospitals and running support groups for other wounded veterans of war. In both of these examples, the individual went through a stressful event and could have focused on the negative impacts their challenge gave them, but instead took what happened to them and tried to make meaning and a positive difference in their world. The key here is that we all have a choice: We can either focus on the negative experiences and have self-pity or we can take challenges handed to us and look at them as opportunities to grow and improve ourselves.
So the next time you are faced with a challenge, instead of thinking “Why me?” or start to feel depressed about your situation, challenge yourself to find the lesson to be learned. Ask yourself, “How can this experience make me a better person?” “How can this challenge make me stronger?” and “What can I learn from this experience?” You may find yourself rising to a higher level of being that is profoundly life enhancing…and enjoying your glass of lemonade.