Positive transformations after extreme trauma

Mary Margaret Baures (1994)

Twenty individuals who were successful in the wake of an extreme adult trauma were interviewed to understand what contributed to their positive transformation. The major finding of this study is that all the survivors, in contrast to repressing the trauma, transformed themselves around its horror. A number of attitudes, behaviors, coping skills and cognitive abilities which may have contributed to their becoming wiser, more human and more compassionate than prior to the trauma were identified. The survivors in this study used creativity to create a new reality, to convert pain and waste into truth and beauty, to give the dead a posthumous life, and to create a symbolic immortality. They aligned themselves with forces larger than themselves (some called these forces spirituality, others God, others mysticism, others fate), and brought their strength to others who were suffering what they suffered. Some form of denial allowed them to pace themselves through the process of adjusting to catastrophic loss. They focused on hopeful visions of the future, not on what they could no longer do or have. They accepted what they could not change and changed what they could. They became skillful at both agency and communion or independence and intimacy. They could reflect on the limits of their basic premises and balance different points of view. These cognitive abilities included the ability to choose an attitude toward their suffering, to make a conscious decision to give up bitterness and hate, and to give up previous expectations for their lives. They accepted the dark parts of life--disease, accidents, death--without being defeated by them. Direct contact with the dark parts of life seemed to motivate them to create a world where tragedy is not the final experience.