Turns out that much of the science behind the idea that there is this common “growth” that occurs after trauma might just be wrong. It may be a combination of setting that expectation for someone who survives trauma and then asking them to recall what they felt like before the trauma compared to now, something humans are historically bad at doing.
It is likely much more complicated, and we may never know because some people might grow from it, and others may not. But did they grow because of it? It doesn’t matter.
“Ultimately, the most compassionate response to suffering is to validate survivors’ feelings, Jayawickreme says. “How people respond to adversity is nuanced. People can change in positive ways. People can change in negative ways. People cannot change at all. And that’s fine.””
Over the years of having this website, I’ve had many people suggest that my abusive childhood made me more compassionate and a kinder human being. Or, maybe it gave me a better sense of humor or made me more spiritual.
Or maybe it didn’t. No version of me wasn’t abused. If there had been a version of me that wasn’t abused, he could be more compassionate. He could be a complete narcissist. He could be funnier or kinder. He could be a selfish ass.
No one knows. That version of me is Schrodinger’s cat. It’s all the possibilities because the box can never be opened to see what’s inside.
So did the abuse make me more of whatever positive trait you want to identify, or did it maybe make me less of that? What if we stop trying to find the “good” that comes from trauma and recognize how damaging it is to go through any kind of trauma?
The reality is that no one asks to be traumatized, and not everyone gets out of it intact. Some of us are lucky. Some of us not only survive the trauma but also mostly manage to overcome its effects. Some of us might even survive the trauma and become better human beings than we were before despite it. Some of us won’t be able to do that.
Most of all, let’s stop normalizing “growth” as the result of things that we shouldn’t have had to live through in the first place. That just lets society off the hook for reducing trauma in the first place.