There is an emerging field of psychological study called posttraumatic growth. It’s an interesting study of how people change after a major life struggle or difficult period of time in their lives. According to the Posttraumatic Growth Research Group at the Department of Psychology at UNC:
What is posttraumatic growth? It is positive change experienced as a result of the struggle with a major life crisis or a traumatic event. Although we coined the term posttraumatic growth, the idea that human beings can be changed by their encounters with life challenges, sometimes in radically positive ways, is not new. The theme is present in ancient spiritual and religious traditions, literature, and philosophy. What reasonably new is the systematic study of this phenomenon by psychologists, social workers, counselors, and scholars in other traditions of clinical practice and scientific investigation.
Our lives go through different cycles and we all face challenges from time to time. But posttraumatic events are typically more intense, life-altering, and difficult.
The soldier who returns from battle….the man who recovers from a heart attack and subsequent open heart surgery….the woman who loses a spouse at the age of 34……the couple losing a child to childhood cancer – these situations truly represent life-changing feelings. And that’s when the posttraumatic growth is most likely to emerge.
According to psychologists, not everyone experiences growth after such an event. They don’t understand why. But those who do are able to use their experiences and difficulties for tremendous creative growth.
People grow posttraumatically in different ways. Many are able to enhance personal relationships. Others focus on spirituality, personal strength, dreams, or passion. They find that the trauma endured was the catalyst to push them forward and explore an otherwise overwhelming and intimidating avenue of life.
Imagine enduring an experience that enables you to do things you never imagined possible. Growth comes from taking more chances, failing without fear or embarrassment (because you took a chance!), exploring intellectual areas of life that were previously hidden from view.
Why does this matter for a creative person?
“Creatives fail and the really good ones fail often,” according to Steven Kotler on Forbes.
An invigorated drive towards creativity and learning spurs exceptional growth in people who may not have considered themselves ‘creative’ before. Their spiritual, emotional, and behavioral exploration of their surroundings and the world are now cast in a new light.
An intriguing result of studies of posttraumatic growth is the fact that people who overcome difficult times often begin to follow their passion for the first time. Instead of focusing on a job that makes money, they focus on a life that has meaning. They follow their dreams and it fuels their passion.
One of the most exciting results of posttraumatic periods in life is that creatives begin to surround themselves more with beauty – and they demonstrate a much higher acuity for sensitivity and responsiveness to artistic beauty.
We can all learn a lot from this. Rather than waiting for a traumatic event to fuel our passion, we should look for ways to grow now. Maybe it’s time to take an inventory of your life and see where you have been, where you are, and where you are going.
I hope you never experience a traumatic event that puts you on this pathway – but if you do, remember that there is a much brighter light shining on personal growth potential on the other side when you emerge.
Have you experienced a posttraumatic event that has encouraged your creativity and growth?