Post-Traumatic Growth: How to Change Perspective on a Bad Event
I was once delivering a workshop on resilience when someone asked me:
“How can I change perspective on a bad event? How can I feel like a bad thing that happened to me was actually a good thing?"
The truth is... you most likely can’t.
It’s unlikely I'll ever look back on my back injury and say, “I’m so glad that happened.”
After all, I had the worst mental health year I’d ever had following that -- and that was really. hard.
But there were also other things:
Like the fact that my injury taught me how to say no. I simply didn’t have the energy to do as much as I could before, so I had no choice but to start maintaining better boundaries… and I was pleasantly surprised to find that people didn’t mind as much as I’d imagined they would.
I had to start asking for help, and I realised there are a lot of people who don’t mind giving it.
My struggle with the way I was feeling that year also paved the way for my interest in finding practical, lasting ways to feel better: the kind of information I couldn’t find back then. And that eventually blossomed into my career.
So am I happy that I injured my back? Will I ever be? No.
But I also can’t say I’d change it even if I could. Because it’s part of my story now, and that means it made me who I am.
It was hard... and I learned from it.
I think we often think that changing perspective means switching one point of view out for the other. But the best way to change perspective on a bad event is usually to zoom out -- to take stock of whether there’s anything you gained, any way you grew, alongside all the hurt.
This is the essence of what Positive Psychology calls “post-traumatic growth”. That alongside trauma, we might recognise that we are not the victim of the experience, but rather the hero who made it through.