Foundation, reminding you that a fully-integrated approach for assisting survivors of
traumatic loss involves a balance of head and heart. Wednesday Wisdom is written
and copyrighted by Carolyn V. Coarsey, Ph.D. and distributed by the Family
Assistance Education & Research Foundation Inc., fafonline.org. Reprint is available
with written permission from the Foundation.
Integration of Traumatic Stress Part II
"Those who have a ‘why' to live, can live with any ‘how.'"
–Victor Frankl (Austrian Psychiatrist 1905-1997)
Man’s Search for Meaning
help survivors heal in the aftermath of trauma. This week’s writing will highlight the
value of reflection and creativity in the healing process. Finding meaning in the
experience and using this learning to create a life of purpose, has proved to be a
common theme throughout history. For example, after the Holocaust, Psychiatrist
Victor Frankl devoted his life to helping people find meaning in tragedy and then
use that experience for the benefit of helping others.
Dr. Frankl labored in 4 concentration camps from 1942-1943, nearly dying of
starvation and the deplorable living conditions. His wife and unborn child, his
parents and his brother, did not survive the camps they were forced to live in—yet
within nine days after his release, Dr. Frankel wrote Man’s Search for Meaning,
which some consider one of the top ten books of all time. In his book and his life’s
work, Dr. Frankl argued that we cannot avoid suffering, but we can cope with it, find
meaning in it and move forward with renewed purpose.
In the Foundation’s 30 plus years of research on survivors, we continue to see this
theme play out. In October at the Foundation's most recent Member-Partner meeting,
one of the survivor speakers was a young man who survived the shooting tragedy in
January of 2017 at the Ft. Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport in the US. The
speaker detailed the entire event from the moment he heard shots fired, to a few days
later, when he returned safely to his home. Having spent his life up to the point of the
shooting, preparing and succeeding in one career, within days after the tragedy, the
survivor changed his mind about what he wanted to do with his life. When autumn
came, much to his family’s surprise, he enrolled at a university, studying a completely
different field. His new career involves helping others and will allow him to use his
experience to benefit those who may someday find themselves in
a similar experience.
Interviews with survivors show that moving forward becomes possible when one
uses their natural energy to create positively. Scholarships, foundations, support
groups, and a multitude of creations occur the moment a survivor realizes that
regardless of the harmful effects of the trauma, post-traumatic energy can become
creative for the benefit of service to others. Some efforts are broader in their scope,
while others take on a more personal form, such as a poem or other kind of writing,
artwork and similar expressions to be shared with others. Regardless of the size or
scope of the effort, the results are the same for the survivor. For them, this creative
outlet and sharing are significant to healing and integration of the trauma.
“It is not freedom from the conditions, but it is freedom to take a stand
Man’s Search for Meaning
When organizations experience a tragedy such as the shooting mentioned here,
accident or another form of traumatic loss, with the potential of harming the
customers, employees, and families involved, those in leadership positions often
find themselves under scrutiny. Multiple groups, i.e., government investigators,
local as well as federal authorities, varied special interest groups, and a multitude
of people want to learn the why and how behind a tragedy and ultimately, the
probable cause, as well as any mistakes made in the immediate aftermath by those
who responded. The stressful conditions surrounding an investigation, following a
disaster for those in jobs related to the event becomes a traumatic experience
of its own.
What is important to note, however, is that regardless of the distress imposed by
the investigation, it is a necessary part of the process. The final report about what
happened, what caused it, as well as mistakes made in the aftermath phase of the
crisis, will have a significant healing effect on all the survivors. Once the findings of
the investigation are released, like other survivors, employees of the organization
will feel an unconscious longing to find meaning in the experience. Old adages such
as, “When life hands you lemons, you make lemonade”, takes the form of
incorporating lessons learned into better processes and procedures, both in normal
business operations and in emergency response procedures.
While this part of healing cannot happen quickly, it is a natural part of the process.
For leaders and employees who endured the investigation, taking a ‘stand toward
the conditions' will occur when improvements result, policies and procedures are
re-written, and every ounce of learning from the experience becomes part
of improved systems.
In time, knowing that something good came from something so bad, will go a long
way in helping all survivors in their healing process.
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