Yesterday I listened to an interview with psychology professor Dr. David Feldman about his co-authored new book, “Supersurvivors: The Surprising Link Between Suffering and Success.” You can listen to this interview here: http://www.kera.org/2014/07/28/pain-then-gain/
I want to highlight a couple items from this excellent interview. 1) People who grow after trauma (what researchers call “Post-traumatic growth”) often experience some of the terrible suffering that afflicts those who experience all kinds of trauma and especially interpersonal trauma. However, these “supersurvivors” do not remain permanently in this state of psychological hardship. Rather, they have found ways to use their traumatic experiences and find new meaning and giving in the world. This is a type of catalyst that can happen in psychotherapy.
2) Feeling supported and held by people in our lives does not “just happen” and it is more likely when we are traumatized that we can think that “no one cares about me” and that perception is horrible for recovery, healing and growth. He made the excellent recommendation of being available to others when they are suffering and not by saying, “call me if you need anything.” That is the universal American nicety in response to someone else’s suffering and few suffering people will call with that request. Rather, Feldman says to offer several specific things that you could do for the person. For example, “I could could cook you a meal, pick up your kids from soccer, help you organize your closet or clean your kitchen.” These are one of hundreds of possible, specific suggestions that you are willing and able to do and the suffering person can choose from. I love this idea of being for others what we would want to receive from them if we were suffering. The bottom line is that we need to feel cared about and loved when we are suffering or experiencing traumatic experiences. Let’s do that for others as a model for them to do it for us when we need it. Group psychotherapy can help develop these skills of telling others what we want and need in a healthy relationship.