Many single parents are recovering from trauma. But trauma can also lead to growth. Psychotherapist Kelly Hearn is here to tell us more.
As a psychotherapist, I work with trauma on a regular basis, which isn’t surprising given the prevalence of it. Most people will experience an adverse event significant enough to be categorised as trauma in their lifetime. An emotional earthquake that causes us to question our entire framework for understanding our lives: our assumptions about the benevolence of the world, our sense of meaning and purpose, even our intrinsic self-worth can be shattered in the wake of a traumatic experience.
In my work, I hold the intention of supporting a process that not only helps people sift through the wreckage, but ultimately results in the reconstruction of an even more expansive life. While none of us would actively court disaster as a means for development, the reality is it can often result in psychological and spiritual growth.
Carl Jung talked about the ‘alchemy of transformation’ using the process of ancient alchemists – the transmutation of lead into gold - as a metaphor. Jung engaged in research to find common traits of change and growth over time, and in different cultures. He concluded there is a longstanding tradition of using intense crisis as a catalyst for positive development. Importantly, facing and processing the myriad distressing emotions emerging in the crisis is part of the alchemy; the pain a necessary agent for transformation. The ability to withstand, survive and emerge from the distress is what leads to the growth in a process that needs time to unfold at its own pace. Then, in the words of poet William Stafford, ‘Sometimes from sorrow, for no reason you sing.’
The term post-traumatic growth was first coined by American psychologists Richard Tedeschi and Lawrence Calhoun in the 1990s. Tedeschi and Calhoun identified five ‘domains of growth’ or positive change:
Not everyone who experiences trauma will see growth in one or all of these areas. And some may experience it elsewhere - I’ve known clients who found creative inspiration in their pain and created beautiful art from it. None of it comes easily considering the starting place is a pretty devastating one. But my belief is we can help each other cope through the worst and emerge from it stronger. That life may not have worked out the way we initially imagined, but there is beauty and fulfilment still to be found in the new post-trauma terrain.
For help and resources for single parents visit gingerbread.org.uk.
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