Finding Meaning in Loss
There is a way to turn trauma into an opportunity for growth. David Kessler, who co-wrote the book on the stages of grief with Elizabeth Kubler-Ross, said that there is a sixth stage of grief that he calls “the meaning stage.” Kessler suggests that though the pain of loss will never end, we can find meaning in the loss. And it is the meaning making that allows the trauma to become growth.
Some have come away from trauma with a greater empathy for others, and some have increased their resilience in the face of trials. Some have reset their life priorities, while others have deepened their faith. In all of these cases, the trauma resulted in renewed spiritual and psychological strength that is called “post-traumatic growth.”
The process of post-traumatic growth begins with the message that we give to ourselves about our loss. Some people are able to see the opportunity in loss and focus on what they have rather than what they have lost. It is the meaning that we give to the events that makes the difference between traumatic growth and traumatic despair.
Four Steps for Meaning
In his book, The Happiness Advantage, Shawn Achor offers the ABCD model for turning trauma into growth. The “A” stands for the adversity that we can’t change. The pandemic and its consequences are now part of history. And regardless of what we think, we can’t change that reality.
“B” stands for our belief about the event. What are you telling yourself about this experience? What is the meaning that you’re reading into these events?
“C” stands for consequences. Do we allow the trauma to permanently paralyze us into despair? Or do we move forward with hope?
Finally, “D” is for disputation. This involves challenging our beliefs that are not healthy and giving ourselves healthier perspectives.
All Things Work Together for Good
Let me give you a biblical example. The apostle Paul once said, “All things work together for good to those who love God and are called according to His purpose.” Paul wrote these very words from a Roman prison. Clearly, he does not mean that all things are good. His imprisonment for the gospel was not good. But he believed that God is at work in all things, bringing about good. Having been unjustly imprisoned and condemned to death, Paul could have become bitter and angry with God. But his ability to see meaning in the events allowed Paul to believe that God was at work, even in crisis, and to have hope.
I never want to minimize anyone’s loss. Every loss is real and must be grieved. The grief may last for a while, but the grief can lead to growth if we seek to find the meaning in the loss.
This is Ken Corr, with a mental health moment.