Strength or Growth
“Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.” ~Viktor E. Frankl
Recently, I listened to a fascinating radio show on NPR called the Hidden Brain. It made an interesting point I thought worth sharing.
We live in a culture of “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger,” that adversity propels growth. “No pain, no gain.” That mindset is particularly strong in North America.
An enterprising psychologist Eranda Jayawickreme, who as a child had witnessed human atrocities during a civil war in Sri Lanka, wondered if that was true.
His curiosity led him to explore the concept of post-traumatic growth.
He studied a wide variety of trauma survivors and found that while trauma can promote strength, strength itself did not necessarily equate to growth.
Post traumatic survival can breed apathy, a feeling of separation and distance. I’ve experienced this, a sense of removal from reality, from others’ pain in the face of a traumatic event.
However, trauma survivors can also build empathy for others’ pain, develop a willingness to connect, and increase their capacity for closeness.
As Victor Frankl wrote in his masterpiece, Man’s Search for Meaning, the choice for apathy or empathy lies with each of us.
It lies within us, in our ability to pause and choose a response to external stimuli—once we’ve taken the time to reflect.
What the research showed was that without active reflection, and time to process their emotions, trauma victims lacked the ability to choose more effective responses in the face of future triggers.
It seems that suppression of those trauma-related emotions, and a desire to “move past it” actually thwarts growth, which prevents the development of wisdom.
Strength may promote survival, but it is growth that leads to wisdom.
And to grow requires a willingness to confront, time to reflect, and a commitment to truth.
Everything that doesn’t kill you might make you stronger, but it doesn’t make you wiser.
That’s a choice.
“Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of human freedoms – to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.” ~Viktor E. Frankl