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Post-Traumatic Growth: How To Find Meaning, Resilience & Strength In Adversity

BRIGHAM CITY, Utah – This pandemic year has dealt loss and disruptive change to people all over Utah. The vast majority of Americans, 89%, named at least one negative change in their lives, according to Pew Research.

Our losses – whether the death of a loved one or a major financial or emotional setback – can severely impact our well-being.

Growing research suggested those who work through trauma can experience transformative change. Their adversity eventually becomes an advantage.

Living Through Loss

The Herbert family has taken that on faith because right now, it can be a struggle just to get out of bed.

“This last year has been the hardest ever. Ever,” said Heather Herbert.

The Brigham City family lost their 10-year-old daughter Ali to leukemia in November. A few months later, Jess Herbert was injured on the job. One week after that, he was laid off.

“That grief of sorrow, like, oh my gosh, I don’t know if I can go on,” said Heather Herbert.

With five other children at home, they must go on. But trauma has become their constant companion.

(Used by permission, The Herbert Family)

In this pandemic year, many others are in the same state. The families of at least 2,255 Utahns lost a loved one due to COVID-19. Thousands of others lost jobs.

About 25% of Americans said they’re considering a career shift due to the pandemic, according to a report by H.R. company Morneau Shepell.

According to Pew Research Center, 51% of Americans expect their lives will remain changed in major ways.

Growth After Trauma

“There are all kinds of painful things that have happened in the past year,” said Mara Haight. She is a therapist and the owner of the Utah Center for Post Traumatic Growth.

Trauma can force us to rethink who we are, what we believe, and what truly matters to us. Haight believes our most traumatic experiences can transform us in surprising ways.

“We can actually see we are stronger, more resilient than before the traumatic event happened,” Haight said.

Post-traumatic growth isn’t a new concept, but it is getting more attention after this past year.

To emerge stronger, Haight said, you must be willing to do the work.

Steps and behaviors that help lead to that growth include:

  • Connecting with friends or professionals to process what you’re going through.
  • Serving those who may benefit from your experience.
  • Accepting change – acknowledging that life won’t be the same, but it can still be good.

“Start to recognize, ‘Whoa! This thing that I never thought I couldn’t survive, I did. And I learned these things about myself,’” said Haight. “I’ve often seen people say, ‘You know, I don’t think I would go back to how things were before for me.’”

Studies showed the healing process can lead to stronger relationships, appreciation of life and new personal and spiritual strength.

Healing Journey

That is what Josh Hansen gained after his journey to work through PTSD and injuries suffered during multiple tours in the Middle East. He struggled to get there.

Sgt. Josh Hansen in Iraq. (Used by permission, Josh Hansen)

“I was in such a very dark place and the dark tunnel that I was in, the light was going out fast,” said Hansen.

The army veteran contemplated suicide so he wouldn’t be a burden to his wife and children. That changed when a fellow soldier took his life and Hansen saw at the funeral how much pain it caused family and friends.

“That was my serious wake-up call,” said Hansen. “I had to put more effort into my healing process. I had to force myself to get outside and do things.”

He started a non-profit, Continue Mission, to help other veterans. Hansen holds more than 150 outdoor events each year, which he designs around what worked for his own healing process. It took a decade, but he calls the transformation “amazing.”

“It’s such a new life for me and I’m so much happier than where I was,” he said.

Silver Lining

The Herbert family’s journey has just begun.

They started a disaster restoration business to support their family and to build their daughter’s legacy.

Ali Herbert (Used by permission, Herbert Family)

“We knew we wanted to incorporate Ali,” said Heather Herbert. A portion of all proceeds will help other families dealing with childhood cancer.

“We want to help, whether it is fuel or Christmas or memories,” said Jess Herbert.

Since Ali always looked on the bright side, the company is named “Herbert’s Silver Lining Restoration.”

It is providing them a pathway to heal, to make a living, and to make life a little easier for families who are also trying to find joy in a life with loss.

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