The first step in your quest for posttraumatic growth is as simple as believing that there can be growth after trauma. The question is not whether it’s possible – which it absolutely is – it’s whether or not you’re willing to take that first step towards it. And although your answer may feel like an easy “yes”, there is nothing easy about actually taking it. Deep down we all know that growth, even for the better, means changing, and change is never easy.
As a psychologist, I have seen first-hand how difficult it can be to discuss trauma. It brings up a lot of unsettled emotions, and rightfully so. It’s hard to feel the broken, painful pieces of your past bubble to the surface. It’s even harder to address them. But the difference between being stuck in the cycle of post-traumatic stress and moving towards post-traumatic growth is your willingness to do so. You can choose to suppress and remain emotionally detached, or you can choose to lean in, collect yourself, and reshape the reality you wish to live.
One of my favourite metaphors for posttraumatic growth is illustrated by both the Japanese art of Kintsugi and the theory of the mosaic: kintsugi (金継ぎ), or “golden joinery” in Japanese, entails repairing broken pottery by mending the areas of breakage with gold, silver, or platinum lacquer (so they remain visible). As a philosophy, it treats breakage and repair as part of the history of an object rather than something to disguise. The takeaway? Setbacks, like traumatic experiences, are not something you should feel ashamed of or hide from. They are part of your unique story. So often we want to throw away the broken pieces of our past and deny they ever happened. But by mending the metaphorical object of your past, you prove that out of something broken can come something whole and beautiful again, scars and all.
But, what about the kind of trauma that you can’t just glue back together with pretty gold lacquer? The kind that really shakes the foundation of your life? This is where the theory of the mosaic comes in. Say you have a beautiful vase that one day falls off the table and shatters into 1,000 pieces. Do you attempt to glue it all back together precisely the way it was? No. That would be impossible! Instead, you can take the pieces of this vase and create a mosaic – reconfiguring them to create a new work of art. It will still have many of the same characteristics as the previous vase (colours, textures, etc.), but at the same time be new and different (size, shape, function, etc.). The takeaway? Sometimes, in the face of harsh adversity such as trauma, life will require serious renovations.
“Renovating” after trauma is a complex process that requires time and dedication. While there’s no quick fix or one-size-fits-all solution, I’ve seen clients successfully heal over the years. Resilience is key, but it’s important to remember that healing isn’t about returning to your old self – it’s about bouncing forward to the person you want to be.
Whether you choose to follow the path of kintsugi or create a mosaic, the most important thing is to focus on moving forward rather than trying to recreate the past. Find the best way to piece yourself back together using the resources available to you and design a brighter future.
No matter what circumstances you’re facing, you always have the power to choose happiness and become a stronger person. Taking the first step towards healing is worth it, and growth is always possible.
Tal Leead, PsyD is a licensed psychologist in California with over 25 years of comprehensive clinical experience. She is also a best-selling author and the founder of Happier Being. Her current private practice blends a variety of styles with a focus on positive psychology.
The articles we publish on Psychreg are here to educate and inform. They’re not meant to take the place of expert advice. So if you’re looking for professional help, don’t delay or ignore it because of what you’ve read here. Check our full disclaimer.