It is becoming increasingly difficult to sustain a positive resilient outlook. Have you noticed the frequency of news that bombards you with health threats in air and food quality, global natural disasters, threats of national terrorism, plus the broadcasts of loved ones lost in the Middle East war? Faced with the constant stream of TV bad news and negative psychological publications and talk radio, is it any wonder that there is an increase of folks in therapy, support groups, and anger management groups? When real trauma and crisis arise, how do we thrive and not just be stoic ‘bullet biters’?
Let’s not assume that we can erase all suffering and personal crisis that cause pain. We should avoid thinking that pain is the ultimate enemy with no other intention than to ruin our lives. Pain experiences, both emotional and physical, can be the catalyst for transformation to a different state of being, or the awareness for a new meaning of life. According to psychologist, Karen Saakvitne and Howard Tennen, “Our culture fosters denial of the long-term impact of trauma by urging victims to ‘get over it & get on with it’, idealizing those that bite the bullet and suffer without posttraumatic adaptations. Those that have progressed beyond trauma have processed those events, making them a part of a new, more vigorous and adaptive consciousness. These people now live in a state of discovery rather than just recovery.”
It’s time for positive psychology, not just pretending to be in a good mood everyday. As noted psychologist and immunologist, Dr. Paul Pearsall, states, “positive psychology tries to focus on our strengths, rather than repairing what is wrong with us. Our work is based on enhancing emotional and spiritual resources promoting ‘thriveability’ not simply treating illness to just recover. This thriving ability re-enforces our psychological immunity, so that we don’t have to strive to live well-balanced lives. We just do. Thrivers know that no emotional state or mood will last forever. Those that thrive after traumatic events seem to choose to release the event and its associated negativity and construct new meaning for the rest of their lives.” As one thriver said to Dr. Pearsall’s staff, “The possible we do immediately. The impossible takes a little longer.”
Positive psychology is an integral part of life coaching. Globally, life coaches assist clients of every culture and gender to release the ‘story’ of past events, or discard the assessments of their current situation to achieve desired goals or nurture a deeper calling to their lives. Consequently, people thrive in a real practical sense as well as in a social sense. From one of Dr. Pearsall’s studies, it was documented that thrivers use their wisdom to help others enhance their own talent for thriving. Many of those that had survived painful cancer treatments, horrific car crashes, or cruel domestic abuse, now guide others in the search for meaning after fear and misery. These thrivers will tell you that there is no quick fix. It takes as long as it takes. While it is contrary to psychology’s pathogenic view that depression is bad, many of these folks experienced a rock bottom down phase. However, they used this phase as their inward reflective time to construct the new reality, the more adaptive way that their life will be.
Who has been super-thrivers suffering severe trauma or excelled against overwhelming odds? Helen Keller. She was not born blind and deaf; it was not until nineteen months of age that she came down with an illness described by doctors as “an acute congestion of the stomach and the brain”, possibly been scarlet fever or meningitis. The illness did not last for a particularly long time, but it left her deaf and blind. By age seven, she had invented over sixty different signs that she could use to communicate with her family. At the age of 24, Helen graduated from Radcliffe magna cum laude, becoming the first deaf and blind person to graduate from a college.
If you think your ‘thrive drive’ may need a tune-up,ask yourself:
• How can you construct an escape route everyday so that you limit yourself to negative talk shows and TV broadcasts on health scares and mud-slinging politicians?
• What practices can you create that will assist in keeping ungrounded fear and insecurity out of your personal & family life?
• How can you dis-engage from affiliations and professional memberships where insenstitivity, intolerance, or discrimination is an accepted way of behavior?
• How are your internal beliefs bolstering your resiliency skills in the event of trauma such as, losing your job, losing a spouse, or even losing the ability to walk?
• What can you do to change any of these beliefs about yourself so that you feel continually aware & alive, not just surviving?