Short essays by Douglas Winslow Cooper, Ph.D., the author of TING AND I: A Memoir of Love, Courage and Devotion, published in September 2011 by Outskirts Press (Parker, CO, USA), available from outskirtspress.com/tingandi, Barnes and Noble [bn.com], and Amazon [amazon.com], in paperback or ebook formats. Please visit us at tingandi.com for more information.
Friday, August 19, 2016
Healing from Life's Traumas
Douglas Winslow Cooper, Ph.D.
caused by coups or wars, floods or tornados, famines or disease, fires or
vehicular accidents, or the more common, but still hurtful, separations,
divorces, deaths in the family—traumas cause physical and psychological
injuries that need healing. There is encouraging evidence that we often become
stronger after such healing is completed. That is fortunate, because a
world-wide study has shown that more than 40% of men and of women have suffered
trauma at the hands of other people.
probably heard the same adages I have: “the blow that doesn’t crush you
strengthens you,” “every knock is a boost,” “when the going gets tough, the
tough get going.” You may have thought you could do without quite so much good fortune,
those helpful blows and boosting knocks, and that you’d get going…elsewhere.
The School of Hard Knocks
successful people have attributed success to lessons learned in the school of
hard knocks, temporary blows that provided permanent benefits. Harlan Sanders
worked from age 40 to age 62 before his Kentucky Fried Chicken franchise
operation became an overnight success. World-class athletes and their weekend
work-out cousins confirm: no pain, no gain. Some companies emerge stronger from
bankruptcy, though others collapse. Why?
we break a bone, the break heals to become stronger than the surrounding bone. Skin
scar tissue is often tougher than the original. Even personal slights that produce
hurt feelings can toughen us up. Adria Goldman Gross, my friend and co-author [Solved! Curing Your Medical Insurance
Problems] came back from a life-threatening brain operation for her debilitating
and embarassing epileptic fits to establish a successful patients’ advocacy
say “the dose makes the poison.” Small doses of caffeine are invigorating;
large doses can kill. Responses to alcohol depend on the dose and on one’s constitution.
You can over-dose on vitamins. The technical term is “hormesis,” found widely,
including exposure to radiation. Even sunlight, beneficial in moderation, can
be overdone. Individual sensitivities vary.
life’s other major, non-fatal stresses?
research demonstrates post-traumatic toughening, the beneficent sibling of
post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Here, again, the nature and degree of
injury (and the constitution of the injured) greatly influence the outcome.
this topic, I found Supersurvivors: The
Surprising Link between Suffering and Success, by David B. Feldman, Ph.D.,
and Lee Daniel Kravetz. Their message: often we have choice between merely
surviving and “supersurviving,” gaining from the traumatic experience.
chapters titles captivate: To Survive or
to Supersurvive, The Paradox of Positive Thinking, The Truth of Illusion, The
World We Thought We Knew, The Company We Keep, Awakened by Death, Faith’s Mixed
Blessing, Forgiving the Unforgivable, The Right Choice. Let me give you a
and Kravetz begin: “On the spectrum of trauma survivorship, everyone falls
somewhere between hiding under a rock and becoming a rock star.” From survive to
thrive. A majority of survivors feel strengthened by the experience, though not
necessarily glad that it happened.
thinking? It’s more pleasant than negative thinking, but the data on its influence
on survival are mixed: be sure to take prudent preventive actions like
mammograms and don’t optimistically search for unicorns.
of illusion? Surveys show we think we are safer than we really are, perhaps
leading to taking ill-advised risks, like texting while driving. Yet, studies
have shown that CEOs generally are risk-takers, not because they underestimate
the hazards, but because they are confident they can handle them, they have
“grounded hope.” Hope stimulates action, fights depression, and serves as a
support? It’s been shown to extend the lives of those in hospices after major
disasters. Such help is a boon, even if temporary. Survivors do better
emotionally when they expect continued support. A parent, spouse, sibling, or
friend who stands by the survivor can make a world of difference.
Catholic nuns and Seventh Day Adventists have greater longevity than average.
Faith sometimes consoles and inspires, but can also perplex or distract, when
you break its rules.
While physically and psychologically beneficial, forgiveness is hard and cannot
fairly be expected of any victim. Still, as South African Archbishop Desmond
Tutu noted, an eye for an eye leaves everyone blind.
Limits---What if a Meteor Strikes You?
as the dose makes the poison, the degree of trauma can be too great to expect
you to recover from. This varies from trauma to trauma and person to person. Furthermore,
not every cloud has a silver lining. Yet, we can often salvage something even
while regretting having been injured. We do the best we can.
Recovering from My Own Saddest Time
learned my first wife was having an affair, I decided to divorce her. I spent the
next year dejectedly merely putting one foot in front of the other. I felt
crushed. Our happy decade together seemed a lie. The second year was a bit
better, dating, finally getting engaged but then disengaged. Not quite a happy
time. I did, however, hope that perhaps divorce could work out for the best…if
I could someday marry my college sweetheart, Tina Su. The rest is joyful history,
as told in our Ting and I: A Memoir of
Love, Courage, and Devotion.
What You May Gain from Pain
a blow crushes you or strengthens you will depend on the challenge, on your constitution,
on your situation, and on your responses. Shakespeare’s Hamlet somewhat
over-stated it, but there is truth in his “there is nothing good or bad, but
thinking makes it so.” Often, we conquer trauma by how we choose to view it and
what we learn from it.
Have you overcome a serious harm by how
you chose to view it? What do you think are the limits to this? To what extent
is it fair to expect this of others?
A former Harvard environmental
science professor, Dr. Douglas Winslow Cooper is an author who helps
others write and publish their books, via his coaching enterprise http://WriteYourBookWithMe.com. His life's central
theme has been his half-century romance (http://TingandI.com) with Tina Su Cooper,
his wife, now quadriplegic due to multiple sclerosis and receiving 24/7 nursing
care at home, care discussed at their website here.