We Are Strongest Where the Breaks Are: Do you have evidence of Post Traumatic Growth?

Is it possible that abandonment has made you stronger?

Most people are familiar with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, but what about Post Traumatic Growth?

Post Traumatic Growth (PTG) is a concept developed over twenty years ago by professors Richard Tedeschi and Lawrence Calhoun  to identify strengths we pick up from struggling through life’s adversities.

When it comes to abandonment trauma, we’re more familiar not with the strengths but the emotional scars we tend to collect. When we go through a painful breakup and feel rejected to the core, our self-esteem takes a beating and we may emerge post traumatically a little gun shy.  Abandonment trauma can affect our choices in future relationships, heighten our sensitivity to criticism, and get us caught up in a variety of self sabotaging behaviors called Outer Child patterns which include:  interfere in our love life including abandoholism – being attracted to the unavailable;  fear of engulfment – the flip side of fear of abandonment where we feel turned off when someone becomes too available;  abandophobism – avoiding relationships altogether to avoid the risk of heartbreak;  emotional suction cups – becoming so insecure when we fall for someone that we aim our suction cups at them and scare them away;  cold feet where we panic, shut down or run away when we sense pressure;  and finally, ‘settling’ for a sure bet at the expense of passion.

If these represent some of the damages, what might be the benefits?  The language of Post Traumatic Growth emphasizes the term ‘thriving’ to describe a process that takes us beyond resilience, defined as recovering to your former level of functioning, to a higher level of personal growth.  According to Ginny Graves in Why Some People Really Do Grow Stronger In The Face Of Tragedy, trauma can help us become warmer, more prone to intimate relationships, and give us a renewed appreciation for life. These benefits come to our awareness over time, usually after the crisis has peaked –when we’re in the dénouement of recovery or well beyond it.

But in the midst of the traumatizing event, i.e. having our heart crushed by someone we love, it is difficult to recognize that co-existing with all of the wreckage is evidence of Post Traumatic Growth.

But what about during?  Can we take charge of the way we cope with abandonment trauma and its aftermath of heightened emotional responses in order to induce this growth?  The answer is yes.

The tools of abandonment recovery are designed to help us gain from the emotional upheaval rather than be diminished by it.  We learn how to handle the feelings at each phase of the abandonment grief process so that we can transform pain to growth.  The program helps us heal the underlying abandonment wound from past and present losses, build a powerful new relationship to self, gain emotional attunement, increase self-confidence, overcome self-sabotage, achieve goals, and create deeper connections.

What internal mechanism accounts for the ability for trauma to foster positive change?  The neuro-physiology of Post Traumatic Growth has yet to be fully established, but metaphorically it can be described as overgrowth – the scar tissue that forms at the site of the wound – evidence of the healing process.  Hence the truism: We are strongest where the breaks are.  The goal of abandonment recovery is to direct the overgrowth of scar tissue so that it enhances rather than restricts our forward progress.  The tools are there to help us tilt the ratio between trauma’s losses to the gains side of the equation, so that we can find greater life and love than before.

By Susan Anderson © 2015

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