When I started to read Chapter 6 of Jeffrey Kottler’s “Change”, I expected it to mirror the previous chapter i.e. that instead of hitting rock-bottom through some sort of death spiral, you would hit rock-bottom as a result of some traumatic event. And while that is part of the chapter, the focus is on the reactions to the trauma, i.e. how “post-traumatic stress is not the universal consequence of tragedy or unfortunate events”.
In fact, in a table, Kottler outlines some of the potential benefits of post-traumatic growth:
- Toughening up;
- Staying in the moment;
- Altered priorities and values;
- Greater appreciation of relationships, etc.;
- Higher self-esteem;
- More tolerance for others/empathy, etc.
But what determines whether a traumatic event leads to negative or positive outcomes? As expected, the answer is always “it depends” but some of the ideas mentioned included:
- Severity and kind of event;
- Personality traits of the person (optimism, resilience);
- Prior experience with adversity;
- Pre-existing conditions;
- Absence of blame and shame;
- Drugs and alcohol;
- Personal resources;
- Support system;
- Spiritual beliefs;
- Meaning making.
So you stand a better chance of surviving and growing if low to moderate severity, you`re optimistic, you`ve overcome previous adversity, you don’t have a bunch of other factors you’re dealing with, you’re not to blame or shamed by the event, not relying on drugs and alcohol to get by, decent personal resources, strong support system, a spiritual belief system that puts things in perspective, and a way of interpreting what happened in a constructive fashion. Obviously, you may not have all of them, but it increases the likelihood of responding to an event with a more positive outcome.
If people have these “conditions” in place before the event happens, then Kotler argues that “such individuals already have solid skills to manage and bounce back from adversity, [and] they often take such challenges in stride, returning to their previous level of functioning but not necessarily spring-boarding to higher levels.”
By contrast, I was interested in how he talks about avoidance in both positive terms (buying time until the person is ready) and negative terms (denial or extreme procrastination). Overall though, Kottler notes that “responses to crises are often guided by how you conceptualize them”. I was also interested in how he views “secondary trauma” i.e. the impact of witnessing trauma happening to others.
In the end, though, I was a bit disappointed with the chapter. While there are some tips on how to recover, mostly obvious things (“take care of yourself”, “get help”), I thought there should be more about how people respond who DIDN’T have the ideal factors in place before the event. Without it, it reads to me almost like “if you’re strong enough to get through it, you’ll get through it easier than those who aren’t”.