Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Transcendence in Recovery from Trauma

“The prototype of transcendence strength is spirituality.”
— Christopher Peterson and Martin Seligman
With a reasonably tight definition of trauma to work with—involving threat of death or actual attempt on life, injury, or perception of injurious threat—we can see that the traumatised have truly endured much more than they should have. There is one theory for recovery that has credence in the world of psychological science: the nurture of awe in spiritual transcendence.
It is clear that, for the resilient trauma survivor, transcendence is a key in overcoming states of traumatisation.
The Awe That Takes Us to Transcendence
“Awe seems to reprogram people, making them more pious and more pro-social, with little concern for material wealth, reputation, or other petty concerns of daily life.”
— Christopher Peterson and Martin Seligman
We can safely assume that exposure to trauma changes lives seemingly irrevocably.
When the victim of trauma is caught in the maze of traumatisation they find many of the cascading effects beyond their control. There is a high surprise element to these effects, as many come without anticipation or warning. Recovery can seem an impossible target. But the idea of recovery—not the actual practice—may be much simpler than we think.
Science seems to agree that nurturing awe, which takes us to transcendence—of our problems, our situations, and even ourselves—is a key in recovery from trauma.
Peterson and Seligman highlight that a survivor’s spirituality need not be sourced in the divine, which is not something I support, but that a pervading spirituality can take us far above the prevailing effects of the trauma. Indeed, I know many individuals via social media who engage in an ongoing successful recovery from trauma because of their faith in God. Several of these people, praise God, are actively involved as advocates for survivors.
Through faith in God we are able to receive the divine curiosity and inspiration for life; to imagine the beauty and wonder in existence and creation, and the mind behind it all. Such thoughts blur the daily details of life into insignificance. Certainly for the trauma survivor there must be a new grasp on life to proceed forward. When people find all else has failed they often find it is time to try God.
One of the keys to recovery from trauma is a spirituality that leads us into transcendence and a felt awe regarding the perspectives of existence and creation. This occurs when we can stand amazed by what God has done in our world and who God is. Maybe nothing helps a trauma survivor more than faith in, and the experience of, God.
© 2012 S. J. Wickham.
General Reference: Christopher Peterson and Martin Seligman, Character Strengths and Virtues: A Handbook and Classification (New York, New York: Values in Action Institute/APA, Oxford University Press, 2004)
Acknowledgement: Dr Angela Ebert of Murdoch University, Perth, Western Australia.

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