Trauma and Growth: Imperfect Information and Uncertainty

Trauma

Successful investing requires so much emotional and psychological fortitude. The analytical part is oftentimes the easiest aspect. Managing ourselves is what is typically most challenging. We are triggered by fear and greed and traumas of past mistakes that can lead to suboptimal outcomes. For this reason, I don’t restrict my blog to raw analytics, economics, and investing. 

I write a lot but at the end of the day, the most pertinent question is what am I going to do when I am faced with imperfect information and uncertainty? Will I take action and, if so, why, or will inertia take over and lead me to hold pat? Writing helps me work through issues and concerns that I’m wrestling with to help me avoid errors of commission and omission. Diving deeply into personal development, challenges, psychology, resilience, weaknesses, blind spots, biases, etc. help me think a little more carefully than I otherwise would so that I can hopefully improve my decision making. In my mind, risk is essentially losing something of value, and it’s not restricted to money. It can be one’s health, freedom, employment, and relationships, just to name some very significant ones. I don’t want to diminish or lose what’s important to me so it’s critical that I keep wrestling with these topics. 

Trauma

So what is the topic this week? Trauma. If there was ever a time to talk about trauma and ways of dealing with it, it would be now in our COVID age. I am turning to one of my favorite resources, the Harvard Business Review, for insights about this topic. The recent edition of the magazine featured an article by Rich Tedeschi, emeritus professor at the University of North Carolina – Charlotte, distinguished chair of the Boulder Crest Institute, entitled “Growth After Trauma”. The highlights I’m using are from an interview he did with Alison Beard on HBR’s podcast IdeaCast.

Like many people, I have had my share of traumas. I have written about some of my personal and professional ones over the years so I will not rehash them here again. Each has served me in some form or fashion in terms of reinforcing my values and priorities, what I can learn from the experiences to lessen the chances of those that I had more control over from happening again, as well as building up greater resilience and strength.  Not surprisingly, my experience is consistent with a number of the findings from Tedeschi’s research. Before delving into this, however, let’s see what he says about what a trauma can actually do to someone. According to Tedeschi,

[T]he event is causing you to reconsider some dearly held beliefs that you have.  Maybe some things that you haven’t really questioned before that you’ve assumed to be true, but now they’re kind of up for grabs.  And you start to wonder about some of the basic things that you thought about yourself, the kind of future you have, the kind of life you’re living, the kind of world you’re in.  Those kinds of events that create those questions and doubts.

Traumatic events can rock our world and make us question so much of what we have believed and held dear. They knock us off-center. We can let a traumatic event have us stay disoriented or figure out a way to get off of the floor, shake our head to get the cobwebs out, start to regain our orientation and footing and figure out a way to get back up again. Along these lines, it was very encouraging to learn that posttraumatic growth is more common than stress disorder and shows the power of the human spirit.

Trauma and Growth

What is also interesting is that it’s not binary in that either stress or growth is present. They can both be present together. According to Tedeschi,

And, then the other part of it is, they’re not mutually exclusive.  Someone with symptoms of posttraumatic stress can also at the same time report posttraumatic growth.  We just did a study in 10 different countries looking at people’s reports of growth after trauma versus what we call their depreciation, or symptoms of distress after trauma.  And, we found that the symptoms of growth were more common.

So what are the areas of growth that trauma can engender? According to Tedeschi, there are five of them. They are as follows.

  • Improved relationships with other people
  • A greater appreciation of life
  • New possibilities or opportunities or priorities in life
  • A sense of personal strength
  • Spiritual and existential change

I would sum this up as a blunt realization that life is short and we better make the most of it and prioritize what is important. We have a choice in terms of how we are going to respond to tough situations. We can either hide and wilter or face them head-on. If we choose the latter then we can exercise and develop the vitally important muscle of resilience. This is what Tedeschi says about resilience.

Posttraumatic growth builds resilience.  You know better what you’re capable of, you’ve seen yourself have success getting through something that’s been incredibly difficult, and you know, as a result you’re better equipped for the future.  You’ve done your practice and with that practice you recognize that you’ve got this history of being not just a trauma survivor, but someone who has learned important lessons about living life well and you’ll, and you’ll be able to use those lessons to navigate the next difficulties in life that you’re going to face.

Lessons Learned

One of the lessons I have learned, and something I have written about, is that we must do all we can to not get stuck by reliving the pain of the traumatic experience by not letting go of it and move forward productively as best as we can. We have to make the courageous commitment to either shed the victim mentality or make sure we don’t adopt it because if we don’t, then we will be stuck in the quicksand of a lamenting a past that fills our present with despair. This is something that Tedeschi focuses on as well.

One of the places where people get hung up is in wishing that what happened didn’t happen.  Trying to counter the facts of where they now are in life and just pining for the past.  You have to move forward and have a future orientation rather than continuing to grieve for the past.  Now, grief is important to connect with and to go through and there is loss amongst all these traumatic events that we talk about.

But you can’t get stuck in it either.  You have to recognize that just as you focus on loss part of the time, and you have to do that.  You also have to look forward part of the time and figure out what’s next.  So, it’s this kind of oscillation back and forth between loss and forward movement.  Another place is if you feel very lonely and alone in all of this.  And like you’re not understood by anybody.  And that’s why support groups have sprung up about all kinds of traumatic events.

This is undoubtedly a very challenging time for so many as our lives have been disrupted in so many ways. If you’re feeling down as a result, hopefully, some of what you read here may help you to try to look at these circumstances as a challenge to learn and from which to grow. It’s not easy, but nothing of value is easy to attain or it wouldn’t be valuable.

I have started reading a new release of lectures that Victor Frankl gave in Vienna in 1946 nine months after he was freed from a Nazi concentration camp. He is famous for writing A Man’s Search for Meeting. These lectures have a great application to this subject. My goal is to finish it so I can discuss his most salient points as I think the more we can learn about trauma and how to integrate it productively in our lives, the more helpful it will be for people given everything going on in the world.

 


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