Post-Traumatic Growth: From Ego To Spirit

In the last year I have been privileged enough to meet two amazing young people, Patrick Mahaffey and Steven Sutton, two young guys who have gone through some of the worst experiences you could ever imagine.

After a devastating car crash, Patrick was told he would never walk again whilst Steven Sutton was diagnosed with 3B colorectal cancer at the age of fifteen and then told it was incurable in January 2013.

Stephen Sutton - Stephen's Story

Stephen Sutton in Hospital

Both have since gone on to achieve and do things most of us could only dream of, but why, how and where does this sudden drive come from when an individual is faced with such huge adversity?

Having recently read an article by Stephen Joseph, TED Weekends “What Doesn’t Kill Us” inspired by Stacey Kramer’s TED Talk “The Best Gift I Ever Survived,” he talks about this concept of Post-traumatic growth, first coined by Calhoun and Tedeschi (2006).

Post-traumatic growth refers to the way that adversity can often be a springboard to a new and more meaningful life in which people re-evaluate their priorities, deepen their relationships, and find new understandings of who they are.

Many scientific studies have shown that post-traumatic growth is common in survivors not only of life-threatening illnesses but also other various traumatic events, including disasters, accidents, and violence with 30-70 percent of survivors saying that they have experienced positive changes of one form or another from their experiences.

“My cancer was a huge kick up the backside, it taught me not to take things for granted and gave me a new motivation for life.” – Stephen Sutton

In Abraham Maslow’s book “Toward a Psychology of Being” he talks about self-actualisation and growth consisting of,“peeling away inhibitions and constraints and then permitting the person to “be himself,”to emit behavior—“radioactively,”as it were—rather than to repeat it, to allow his inner nature to express itself, to this extent the behavior of self-actualizers is unlearned, created and released rather than acquired, expressive rather than coping.”

In the case of Stephen, Patrick and Stacey, their traumas, although terrifying, also gave them a fast track pass to removing the many inhibitions and constraint that they had collected over the years and in doing so helped them to re-evaluate what matters most and take massive action.

“Along with growth or wisdom-building, the fruits of PTG may also include a preparedness or “resilience” for future events that may otherwise be traumatic.” (Calhoun & Tedeschi, 2006; Meichenbaum, 2006).

Stephen has since go on to raise over half a million pound for the teenage cancer trust and continues to inspire thousands more through his charity work. Patrick on the other hand has fully regained his ability to walk and continues to champion youth social action across the UK.

So how can we leverage this intrinsic drive and rapid growth without going through a hugely traumatic experience ourselves?

The answer is… We need to understand that we already have everything we need within us. We’ve become so blasé about our time and allowed our egos to collect hundreds of self sabotaging stories that hold us back from ever expressing our true self.

“Remembering that I’ll be dead soon is the most important tool I’ve ever encountered to help me make the big choices in life. Because almost everything — all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure – these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important. Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart.” – Steve Jobs

If there’s one thing I have personally taken away from meeting both these amazing people it is that you don’t / shouldn’t have to wait for life to give you lemons before making lemonade, lose your ego and start squeezing as much out of your life now whilst health and time is still on your side.

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