Digging through the rubble of suffering, we find…
Think of the single most traumatic and devastating experience of your life.
Seriously. What was it?
Losing a child? Divorce? Being abused by a parent? Losing all your possessions in a flood or fire? Car accident? Major surgery?
Furthermore, what happened to your psyche as a result of this experience? Do you feel more scared and weaker, or more confident and stronger because of it? Do you wish it hadn’t happened? Or do you thank God that it did?
Keep this in mind as you consider the following:
Pakistan, October 8, 2005, 8:50 a.m.
A 7.6 magnitude earthquake rocked Kashmir and killed over 250,000 people and left more than 3.5 million homeless.
In its aftermath, a team of U.S. researchers interviewed 200 survivors, most of whom had lost at least one relative and over 80 percent of whom had become homeless.
They found that 65 percent were suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). But 35 percent were not.
What was the difference between these two groups?
China, May 12, 2008, 2:28 p.m.
An 8.0 magnitude earthquake demolished the Sichuan Province and killed about 70,000 people, injured more than 370,000, and left 11 million people homeless.
A year after the earthquake, researchers interviewed more than 2,000 survivors. The researchers were checking for PTSD from the effects of the quake, but they were also looking for the opposite: post-traumatic growth.
Did the experience actually improve their psychological strength and vitality, quality of life, and relationships?
Japan, March 11, 2011, 2:46 p.m.
The fourth most powerful earthquake in recorded history thrashed the Tohoku region, killing over 15,000 people, causing more than 6,000 injuries, and leaving almost 250,000 people homeless.
Three months after the event, researchers surveyed more than 1,000 survivors who were near the epicenter. They found that their psychological outcomes were due less to the disaster itself, and more to their interpretations of the disaster.
In the case of the Japan earthquake, those who viewed the traumatic event as something that frightened them or damaged their lives suffered from stress, depression, and lower quality of life.
In contrast, those who viewed the event as a challenge to learn from were more likely to develop post-traumatic growth and a higher quality of life.
From the China earthquake researchers found that over half of the survivors reported significant personal growth from the experience. Furthermore, those experiencing the greatest growth were the most affected by the earthquake.
And remember the Pakistan earthquake, where 65 percent of survivors suffered from PTSD and 35 percent did not?
What separated the two groups was whether the person had a strong sense of purpose in life. Purpose in life was associated with both lower PTSD and depressive symptoms.
Traumatic events, rather than crippling us, can actually strengthen us and help us to grow. And the most important factor that determines our response to trauma is our sense of purpose in life.
In one neuroimaging study, researchers found that people with strong purpose in life have less volatile responses to negative events from their amygdala, the part of our brains associated with fear and anxiety.
“Your deepest wounds are the source of your greatest contribution.”
But this is not a given, but rather a conditional statement; it depends on how we view our wounds.
If we view our wounds as something that shouldn’t have happened, they will drag us down rather than lift us up.
The only way to transform our wounds into gifts is to see them in context of a greater purpose.
How can you use your wounds to serve and uplift others? What insights and strengths have they given you that you otherwise wouldn’t have?
You’ve been traumatized and wounded for a purpose. Have you discovered that purpose yet, or are you still licking your wounds?
Because if you want the wounds to truly heal, you have to see how they’ve prepared you to fulfill a profound and noble purpose.