What good can this possibly do? People often ask the question at times of stress, crisis, or tragedy. This year has seen a pandemic that has killed hundreds of thousands of people, resulted in massive unemployment, and a worldwide economic collapse. In the midst of such personal and national catastrophe, it may seem that the solution is “nothing.”
However, we will be able to reflect on the long-term effects of this horrible period and what it has done for each of us as people, as well as for our companies, communities, and countries, at some point. Those results will very definitely contain some positive as well as some terrible. This phenomena has been studied by psychologists such as myself over the last 25 years. It’s referred to as posttraumatic growth.
We’ve discovered that terrible experiences may lead to good transformation, such as a better appreciation for life and spiritual development, as well as a realization of personal strength and the discovery of new opportunities. This is evident in persons who have experienced war, natural catastrophes, bereavement, job loss and economic hardship, as well as catastrophic diseases and injuries. So, despite the agony caused by the coronavirus pandemic, many of us may anticipate to grow in favorable ways as a consequence of it. And leaders may assist others in doing so.
Although posttraumatic growth frequently occurs organically, without the need for psychotherapy or other forms of formal intervention, it may be aided in five ways: education, emotional control, disclosure, narrative creation, and service. As a researcher and practicing psychotherapist, I (and my colleagues) have assisted hundreds of individuals in emerging stronger from such pain. You have the ability to emerge stronger. And you may be an expert companion for others, fostering reflection and inquiry, actively listening, and providing loving criticism.
The Growth Elements
Here are the five methods in further detail:
Education is important.
To go from trauma to development, one must first educate themselves on what trauma is: a disturbance of essential belief systems. For example, prior to the pandemic, many of us believed that we were secure from the kind of illnesses that had previously threatened people; that horrible things occurred in other areas of the globe but not in ours; and that our social and economic structures were strong enough to withstand any storm. None of this was correct. So we must now decide what to believe instead.
When our ideas are questioned, it may be perplexing and scary, resulting in tense, recurrent thinking: Why did this happen? Who is in charge? So, what should I do next? We are forced to reconsider who we are, who surrounds us, what world we live in, and what type of future we will have. It may be very uncomfortable. However, as research indicates, it may also bring in beneficial transformation. We must start by studying and comprehending that fact.
I once coached a lady in her thirties who had a stroke and was first unable to cope. But she quickly realized that her new circumstances would force her to reconsider her identity: “Now I have to find out what is next in this life I never dreamed I’d be living.” Part of me doesn’t want to believe I have to do this, but I know I must.” This was the first step toward her becoming a more compassionate person for herself, capable of accepting limits without being constrained by them.
Consider how you might reinforce—to yourself and others—the knowledge that the present health and economic crises may have both good and bad consequences. Remember that you, your team, and your business can reinvent how you operate and innovate in new situations. That may already be seen in the emergency measures put in place to keep operations running. For instance, I know an IT employee at a food service firm that lay off the majority of its employees early this year. As one of the few survivors, she was obliged to work in functions and regions she’d never worked in before, which was difficult. She quickly discovered, however, that without the normal bureaucracy and turf fights, she could ferret out inefficiencies and identify methods to improve on outdated systems.
To study, one must be in the proper state of mind. That begins with regulating unpleasant emotions like fear, guilt, and wrath, which may be accomplished by changing the kind of thinking that causes such feelings. Instead of concentrating on losses, failures, uncertainties, and worst-case scenarios, attempt to recollect triumphs, examine best-case scenarios, reflect on your own or your organization’s resources and preparedness, and think realistically about what you can do—personally and as a group.
After his board of directors removed him from his position as CEO, the creator of one restaurant chain needed to regulate his emotions. The news came as a total surprise to him, as he recounted in HBR (“Crucible: Losing the Top Job—and Winning It Back,” October 2010), and he was outraged at first. However, when his father, who is also an investor, advised him to “get [his] mind around being helpful,” he did. Instead of concentrating on his rage and the sense that he’d been deceived, he began to consider how he might remain calm and professional while still contributing to the success of the company. He later returned to take over as CEO of the corporation.
You may directly manage emotions by seeing them as they occur. Physical activity and contemplative methods such as breathing are also beneficial. Use these skills on yourself and share them with others to aid them. Recognize that the situation is still difficult and terrifying, and then show composure in the face of it. Encourage individuals to communicate more often so that they feel less lonely and can perceive their collective emotional power more clearly.
The truth has been revealed.
This is the section of the process in which you discuss what has occurred and is happening: its impacts (both little and wide, short- and long-term, personal and professional, individual and organizational), and what you are dealing with as a result of it. Making these things explicit allows us to make sense of the trauma and transform painful thoughts into more useful observations.
When you’re assisting someone in talking about what it’s been like to live through this catastrophe, asking a lot of questions might come off as an invasive interrogation motivated by curiosity rather than care. It is better to concentrate on how the effect feels and which of your counterpart’s worries is more pressing.
Negative events might heighten one’s appreciation for life.
A case study was provided by a previous customer. As a bright developer establishing himself at a new organization, he designed an application with enormous potential. But then his managers recruited someone from outside to manage it, and my client was supposed to report to him. The program underperformed under this manager’s leadership, and the developer was blamed, harming his reputation and career prospects. Finally, he went to HR. “I wasn’t sure whether this was the proper step,” he told me, “but I wanted some guidance.” Talking with the HR representative was therapeutic, and he ended up telling her more than he’d wanted to, since she asked questions like, “What did it feel like to have this project taken from you and basically screwed up?” ” She then attempted to assist him in recovering from that major career setback.
As a colleague and a leader, it is critical that you realize the many effects that the epidemic and the resulting financial instability, layoffs, and recession have had and continue to have on the lives of individuals around you. Begin by being candid about your personal challenges and how you are dealing with the uncertainty. You may then encourage others to share their tales and listen intently as they identify their obstacles and come to grips with how their struggles and losses relate to those of others.
Development of the narrative.
The next phase is to create a honest narrative about the trauma and our lives since then, so that we can accept the chapters that have already been written and envisage how we can write the future ones in a meaningful manner. Your narrative, as well as the experiences of others you assist, may and should be about a painful past that leads to a better future.
Consider the case of a charity CEO who was dismissed from two prior jobs due to sexual harassment charges. One night while travelling on the highway with his wife, they were engaged in a catastrophic incident, crashing into a stopped car with no lights on. His wife’s injuries were minimal, but he was rendered unconscious for a month and required a year of therapy before being able to walk and speak again. His new story went something like this: “Many would believe that it was this accident that placed my life in danger.” However, I was already in grave danger. I was inflicting harm to people, damaging my job, and on my way to a life without my wife or children. The accident pushed me to pause, gave me time to contemplate, and taught me what true love is.”
When you’re ready, begin shaping your and your organization’s story of this year’s tragedy. What changes have you made to your priorities as a result of this? What new avenues or possibilities have resulted as a result of it? Consider well-known examples of crucible leadership including individuals like Oprah Winfrey and Nelson Mandela, as well as corporations like Chrysler and Johnson & Johnson that have emerged stronger from adversity. They are manifestations of posttraumatic development. Study them and draw hope from them, and encourage people close to you to do the same.
Those fare better in the aftermath of trauma if they find job that helps others, such as assisting people near to them or their larger community, or victims of comparable tragedies to the ones they have experienced. Two women I know who had each lost a child founded a foundation to assist bereaved families connect with others who understood their pain. Forty years later, the group flourishes under the guidance of individuals who have suffered comparable tragedies and wish to share their strength.
Ken Falke, a bomb-disposal expert in the United States Navy for more than 20 years, is another outstanding example of service. He wanted to help others heal after seeing the traumas of war firsthand. He and his wife, Julia, started by visiting war veterans in hospitals, but they thought it wasn’t enough. So they formed the Boulder Crest Institute, where I now work, and structured its Retreat for Military and Veteran Wellness programs on the posttraumatic development paradigm.
To be of service, you do not need to establish a nonprofit or a foundation. Considering how you can assist bring assistance amid the ongoing crisis, whether by sewing masks or creating content, refilling shelves or retraining colleagues, helping small companies or consenting to a temporary salary reduction, may lead to development. Simply expressing thanks and demonstrating compassion and understanding to others might have the same effect.
The way you and your organization respond to the epidemic and its aftermath will decide whether you regard the epidemic and its aftermath as an unmitigated catastrophe or an opportunity to create new and better ways to live and function. Perhaps you can understand how such crises might be handled better in the future. Perhaps you can assist those who are most in need. Look for personal and shared missions that excite you and help you find purpose in your life.
The Advantages of Post Traumatic Growth
Hopefully, you and your colleagues or company will develop in one or more of the following areas as a result of this process:
People are often surprised by how well they have handled trauma. They are better prepared to face future problems. That also applies to groups and organizations. Groups generally emerge from such experiences with a better understanding of their collective knowledge, skills, resilience, and development potential.
Consider a restaurant owner who just established his new location in January. By March, social distancing tactics had forced him to rethink his whole strategy. He considered laying off his employees, waiting for the epidemic to pass, and beginning anew. But he shocked himself by recommitting to the enterprise and involving all of his employees—from the kitchen and wait staff to his business team—to see if they could find a solution to go forward together.
When new circumstances make it impossible to return to old habits, roles, and methods, we must adapt and innovate. Leaders must have the confidence and passion to try these new approaches and demonstrate to their followers that change should be welcomed rather than feared.
The restaurant owner urged his crew to create a company that would use the resources they had—both human and material—to ensure the enterprise’s survival. They started by taking stock of one another’s abilities and experiences, and then took on the task of revamping their job.
Relationships have improved.
These are often the result of the urge to provide and receive assistance through difficult times. Trauma may help individuals form new connections and make them appreciate the ones they currently have. It is a bonding experience to go through a crisis together.
With the restaurant personnel, this occurred immediately. They started to see the importance that each of them brought to the table. People who had hardly known each other three months before became closer and started working as a tight and flexible team.
Life is worth appreciating.
When faced with dread and loss, we frequently grow better at appreciating what we still have but may have neglected earlier. Leaders may set an example by recognizing the importance of essential aspects of life and working. We have a fantastic crew. Our clients value the job we perform. We’ve kept the company running for the benefit of everyone who still works there. Our company aims towards a greater goal. Even something as innocuous as commenting on how delicious your morning coffee tastes matters.
Trauma might cause individuals to be more appreciative of the connections they currently have.
Recognizing that the majority of their industry’s employees were being laid off, everyone at the restaurant volunteered to work for less compensation in order to ensure that no one was laid off. Everyone was relieved to still be working, regardless of what position they would play in the relaunched company. None of them appeared to see any work as beneath them. They were grateful for the chance to continue doing something useful.
This stems from contemplation on the “great questions” that are often overlooked in everyday life. The challenges to essential beliefs that we face as a result of trauma often drive individuals to become amateur theologians or philosophers in order to construct a life worth living. Organizations, like individuals, may be presented with existential issues such as, “Are we doing our company ethically?” Do we put the ideals we teach into action? Should we be spending our precious time and money on anything else? What is our contribution to societal improvement? What is the major reason for our continued existence? It requires bravery and insight for leaders to bring such challenges to light.
The restaurant team agreed that the company should be a mix of a grocery shop, a meal prep and takeout or delivery service, and a warehouse and distribution center for contributions to a local food bank. The owner and staff wanted to help the neighborhood and recognized that as a result, they would gain goodwill. They were preparing for both short-term survival and long-term prosperity. Anyone, group, or organization may do the same.
If you believe this is too optimistic or naïve, you may be too near to the horror of the epidemic. That might equally be said about others around you. So, while you go through and aid the process of posttraumatic development, be patient. Those of us who work in this profession understand the importance of time. Growth cannot be pushed, nor can it be hurried.
However, it is worthwhile to put in the work when you and others are ready. Let us ensure that we get something constructive from this difficult moment. Personal and communal development opportunities should not be wasted.