It’s just not cricket: growth as a result of trauma

by Kaitlyn Massey, Psychologist

Traumatic events shake us to our very core and incite us to ask some of life’s most profound questions – How? Why? and What if…? These are questions that never really have answers. Reflecting on my own moments of grief, I know that pain hurts, but often, what hurts more are these unanswered questions. As a psychologist, I have seen that the pain of trauma can be almost unbearable for many people, but I have also seen people discover the ability to grow in ways they could never have imagined; a phenomenon that psychologists refer to as posttraumatic growth.

Posttraumatic Growth 2I find myself writing this blog in the wake of the accidental death of Australian cricketer, Phillip Hughes. Like most traumatic events, his death was sudden, unexpected and completely shocking. It left his cricket team and the entire Australian nation asking those unanswerable questions. But from this tragedy we’ve been able to observe the marks of posttraumatic growth.

Research has suggested that there are five domains of posttraumatic growth: (1) people can be presented with new opportunities which were previously unavailable, (2) they may feel a bond with others who have also experienced traumatic events, (3) they may have a redefined sense of self resiliency, internal strength and perseverance, (4) they may have a greater appreciation of life in general, (5) people may find a deeper spiritual commitment which may be different to their previous beliefs.

Losing the life of Phillip Hughes was unarguably the worst thing that could happen to the Australian cricket team and the wider community, but this tragedy has also produced some of the best personal and professional triumphs that I’ve ever seen.

Professionally, the resolve of the players to keep fighting until the last minutes of play at the Adelaide Test to bring home a victory was inspiring. This was the result of peak performances by Clarke, Warner, Smith and Lyon, who were close colleagues of Phillip and present at his fall. Meanwhile, back at the SCG, Sean Abbott, the bowler of the fatal ball, turned out his career best performance taking six wickets. He has demonstrated resilience and maturity beyond his years.

Further to the professional successes, it was the personal insights of the players and the uniting of a whole community that was truly soul-touching. I watched Michael Clarke speak at Hughes’ funeral, with his raw emotion and candid words, “His spirit has touched it and it will forever be a sacred ground for me. I can feel his presence there…” David Warner’s glance at the heavens to pay his respects when he was sitting on 63 not out during the first test, demonstrated another poignant moment.

Steve Smith celebrating his century in the Adelaide Test

Steve Smith celebrating his century in the Adelaide Test

On a community level, social media was flooded with images cricket bats propped up against doors, windows and shops. The small town of Macksville saw social barriers torn down as celebrities and locals alike lined the streets to pay their respects. These are small, yet significant markers of posttraumatic growth. Of course it is still early days for those closest to Phillip Hughes. Their grief will continue, and growth will be slow. It’s also important to emphasise that posttraumatic growth does not mean that the pain has ceased; rather pain is the context within which growth occurs.

Similarly, we all have our own personal tragedies that we try to comprehend. We ask ourselves many of those unanswerable questions. However, in the depths of this pain, we may glean a sliver of hope; that in some way, we’ve grown.

As they say, hope dies last. Therefore, my question for you today is what is your hope? For the Australian cricket team their hope is to play it with more passion, more emotion and a deeper sense of purpose than ever before.

However, it’s not just cricket, how can you use your past trauma to encourage personal growth?

References

Calhoun, L. G., & Tedeschi, R. G. (2006). Handbook of posttraumatic growth: Research & practice. Lawrence Erlbaum Associates Publishers.

Joseph, S. (2014). Posttraumatic Growth | Psychology Today. Retrieved from http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/what-doesnt-kill-us/201402/posttraumatic-growth

Moore, M. (2014). What is PTG? | Post Traumatic Growth. Retrieved from http://www.posttraumaticgrowth.com/what-is-ptg/

Tedeschi, R. G., & Calhoun, L. G. (2004). ” Posttraumatic Growth: Conceptual Foundations and Empirical Evidence”. Psychological inquiry, 15(1), 1-18.

Image references:
Copyright to Cricket Australia / Getty Images
Mark Tyrell’s Therapy Skills

Resilience at Christmas: Living a fast paced life, for what?

by Lyn Worsley

(Clinical Psychologist)

Clinical Psychologist and Director of the Resilience Centre

Clinical Psychologist and Director of the Resilience Centre

It seems much more logical, doesn’t it, that in order to maximize our chances of finding happiness, we should try to do as much as we can, and experience as many things as possible. Got a half-hour to spare? Why not finish that report, make a few more appointments, or answer a couple of emails. Going on holiday? Let’s get a tourist guide to the city and see if we can visit every museum and gallery on the map, we don’t want to miss anything. So if we pack our lives full of activities, achieve everything on our bucket-list, we won’t waste a single, precious moment, and then we’re more likely to find happiness. Aren’t we?

It seems that we’re so focused on “doing” stuff (at work, at home, with the kids, with friends and so on) that we have little time to focus on just being, or living honestly and courageously in the moment.

So you’ll have spotted the paradox here: we keep busy because it leads to more experiences, and we think that more experiences is equivalent to more chances of being happy. But being busy reduces our chances of being happy because we reduce the amount of time we have to reflect and learn, to savour, appreciate, and be in the moment. In other words, we’re living inauthentic lives, which actually prevent us from being happy and enjoying the Christmas period.  

There is some interesting research about this. There was some research done which was based on holiday letters exchanged with friends and family at around Christmas time or the New Year, describing what has been going on over the past 12 months (DeGreeff, Burnett & Cooley, 2009).

What do we say in our holiday letters?

The researchers analyzed these holiday letters for signs of authenticity, for instance reflection on important life events such as births, marriages and deaths.

They came up with 3 different categories:

  1. Authentic,
  2. Inauthentic and
  3. In-between.

So in authentic letters, the letter-writers might talk about what happened during the year, and then discuss the impact on their lives, how it changed them, or how they have grown by the experience.

In an in-between letter, the letter-writers might acknowledge that events had meaning, but then fail to elaborate on what that meaning was.

In the inauthentic letters, the letter-writers might still mention the different life events, but in a more cursory way, for example presenting them in bullet points, like a shopping list, without any detail or explanation.

The stats were:

Authentic letters   32   5%
Inauthentic letters   495   83%

The vast majority was so distracted by the hectic details of daily life that they failed to show any awareness of ‘being’, a sign of authentic happiness in the view of the authors. So it looks as if we’re fooling ourselves into believing we need to do and achieve as much as possible. As a result we get so busy that we can’t appreciate the really important things in life.

So at the end of the article I was left wondering about a number of things:

  1. Can we assume that people are living inauthentic lives based on what they write in a holiday letter or anywhere else? Just because they don’t openly express the meaning and purpose they derive from certain life experiences doesn’t mean that they don’t appreciate their true value, or aren’t changed by them in a meaningful way. Perhaps some people are incapable or unwilling to express their authentic selves in writing.
  2. Is there a trend in holiday letter writing, which some people find difficult to go against? For example, perhaps there is an expectation that holiday letters will be light-hearted, optimistic, and cheerful, not full of profound statements about finding the meaning in life.

On the other hand, perhaps if more people did reflect on life-changing experiences in their holiday letters, others might also be encouraged to do the same.

 So what can we learn about how to prepare for Christmas, that may reduce our stress?  

I found this paper raised some very important questions about authenticity, how we achieve it, and how we can act as role models for those around us whether are they friends, colleagues or our children. So when you sit down to write your holiday letter to your friends and family this Christmas, what are you going to write about?

We make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give. (Winston Churchill)

I don’t think he was talking about presents, but rather what we give of ourselves. Our authenticity. The reflections on the year, the time to enjoy stopping and perhaps working out how fast we are going and how we may be able to slow down the pace is an opportunity to focus on what really matters in our lives.

This also gives meaning to the relationships we connect with at Christmas time. We know the reason we are in families, we see there is a greater meaning to the relationships, not the presents or the cooking, or the number of people but perhaps the odd and weird relatives, the strange neighbour in our unit block, the uncle that always drinks too much, the people who are actually family but are not related. They are all the reason for being here, for connecting in meaningful ways. Accepting each other, smiling at each other’s difference and not reacting by feeling we need to tell each other how busy we are!!!

It is about connecting again with people, which builds our resilience.

References:

DeGreeff, B.L., Burnett, A. & Cooley, D. (2009). Communicating and philosophizing about authenticity and unauthenticity in a fast-paced world. Journal of Happiness Studies.

Grenville-Cleve B (2012) Happiness, busyness and Holiday letters in Positive Psychology News Daily