Dr. Suzanne B. Phillips

Licensed Psychologist, Psychoanalyst, Diplomate in Group Psychology, Certified Group Therapist, Author, Radio Host and Media Consultant Covering a Wide Range of Psychological Topics

Post: Finding New Meaning In Life After Trauma:Three Guidelines

This weekend the Wounded Warrior Project came to our town. Many had the opportunity to run the 4-mile race next to veterans and their families. The t-shirt of the young man in front of me read “ New Year’s Eve 5K, Afghanistan. ” Many were wearing shirts that read, “ If you Like Freedom- Thank a Vet.”  The father of a vet wore a shirt that read, “ We’ve got them back-Now Welcome Them Home.”

As of August 12, 2012 there are 49,251 wounded service members, 320,000 suffering with Traumatic Brain Injury and 400,000 with PTSD. We have lost 6,549 of our men and women to war.

On the 11th Anniversary of 9/11, thousands remembered an unprecedented terrorist attack on this country that took the lives of close to 3,000 worldwide and plunged us into war. It was an event shared publically by the world and suffered privately by too many.

How Do We Go On In The Aftermath Of Pain And Traumatic Loss?

The answer offered by well-known author and Holocaust survivor, Victor Frankel is consistent with positive psychology, definitions of posttraumatic growth and the nature of the human spirit to hope.

  • He suggests that we find new meaning in life, something that he recognizes as difficult in face of the tragic aspects of life –pain, guilt and death.
  • Frankl suggests that it is not a search for happiness, but for a reason to be happy despite suffering.

Here are three possible guidelines for finding your way to new meaning in life after trauma:

Meaning by the Hour

In his wisdom, Frankl clarified that finding a new meaning in life does not mean arriving at a single goal that will direct the rest of your life, or make sense of evil. Rather finding new meaning in life should be translated to finding a reason to go on, to having a purpose, to feeling valuable in the hour, the day, the week.

A 14-year-old adolescent girl, who lost her Dad on 9/11, has struggled for these 11 years with shyness, loss of two grandfathers, few friends and the recent move of her brother to college. It was a surprise to all when she announced that this is the year she steps up – she will play on a school team and she will read her Dad’s name on 9/11 at Ground Zero. She did.  She had been practicing,“ And my father…”

Meaningful Response to Suffering

There is considerable power found in re-framing suffering into meaningful action. Be it walking for a cure, helping others with similar illness or turning suffering into human achievement.

 A year ago Lt Brad Synder found himself in a hospital in Germany after an explosion blasted shrapnel into his face. He was blind. He told his Mom, ‘It’s going to be all right. Mama we’re gonna get through this, everything’s going to be fine.’ “ Last week at the Paralympic Games in London, he took the gold in swimming.

Meaning that Moves Feelings

  • Often our ability to find meaning after traumatic events is thwarted by feelings of guilt, shame or blame. “ Why should I live a happy life – if my child is not here to enjoy it?”
  • Guilt, shame and blame are common to the aftermath of trauma because they are defenses against feeling helpless in the face of life’s unfair and inexplicable events – We would rather blame ourselves than accept that we don’t have complete control of these lives we live.
  • You may want to consider that to stay frozen in grief, to define your life in terms of the loss of a child, sibling, spouse or buddy actually impairs your capacity to hold on to the best of them.
  • If the new meaning you give to life is to live well in their name or to reach out to help others in their honor, you carry them with love into your future.

“ He who has a why to live for- can bear with almost any how.”

Quoting Nietzsche, Frankl 1985)

“Image courtesy of morguefile.com By ronnieb”