Good Things from Traumatic Experience, Part 1: Influence & Healing

This title sounds like an oxymoron.  But, I know from a personal recent traumatic event that it is not only possible but enormously beneficial.  (More on that in a minute…)  Just as I wrote in a previous post (Positive Lists About “Bad” Situations), when we find something good in a bad situation, it helps us to not stay stuck in the awful feelings, such as, suffering, dread, anxiety, victimhood, fear, or anger.  When we feel negative emotions, it does not help anyone.  We can’t feel bad enough to make someone feel better or to make better circumstances happen for someone.  Our good feelings and actions, however, can help someone.

This I know because my husband recently had emergency heart bypass surgery.  Scary, shocking, painful, stressful, devastating, traumatizing, horrific.  For him and myself (in different ways) it was all those bad feelings and more.  But, the purpose of this series of posts is not to describe the details of just how dreadful it all was.  The point is that I got some good –I mean, really amazing– realizations out of the trauma and recognized the huge benefit of focusing on those rather than dwelling on the awfulness.

This post is specifically about the influence people have on others.  For instance, during the hospital stay, I started noticing how Don’s physical status would change based on the personality of the nurse.  If she or he was grumpy or pessimistic, he’d stay where he was or get worse.  When the shift would change and the new nurse was optimistic and lighthearted, he’d almost instantly show improvements physically and he had hope.  I was amazed –and frightened– of that power!

I soon realized I couldn’t leave his physical improvement up to a random nurse that I had no control over.  I was with him more often than not, so I had to be the upbeat, loving, optimistic, light, and happy one.  And so, that’s what I did despite feeling scared, exhausted, angry, sad, and confused.

I was optimistic about him getting better.  But I also had a general upbeat mood. Additionally, I spent a lot of time distracting him.  Nobody wants to sit around 24/7 talking about feeling better when they feel crappy!  I did everything from reading aloud to doing trivia questions and puzzles to showing videos of our dog to playing music.  What this did was take his mind off of fear, depression, and pain.

So, there are two things going on here that I realized: 1) Our emotions have an effect on others and 2) positivity and optimism –plain ol’ feeling good– promote healing.

Sidenote:  Of course, the surgery, procedures, medicines, and expertise of the medical staff all played a significant role.  Absolutely an understatement.  But, after the major procedures were finished and he wasn’t improving for a couple of days, the most significant aspect was the love, kindness, and upliftment from others.  (And it wasn’t only me; many family, friends, and medical staff were positive, kind, and helpful, as well!)

First, regarding our emotions influencing others.  Have you ever been in a room when someone really upbeat entered and the whole feeling in the room shifted?  And surely you’ve noticed the power that charismatic people have on affecting others.  It’s actually been shown that emotions are contagious.  People unconsciously take on the feelings of others, especially those closer – physically and personally- to them.  Psychologists have studied this and even termed it, emotional contagion – humans synch their own emotions with those expressed by people around them.  It is primarily a subconscious, automatic process that takes place in the brain. It’s an instinct that goes back to caveman days when humans couldn’t rely on language to communicate their feelings.  Studies have shown that people automatically mimic and emotionally synchronize with another in a matter of milliseconds.

On the second realization, there are scientific studies that confirm the link between positive emotions and healing.  It’s been known that stress has major negative repercussions on the body.  Chronic stress releases too much cortisol and adrenaline that cause immune cells to not function properly.  On the flip side, it has also been found that positive emotions decrease these stress hormones and boost the immune system.  The positive, good-feeling emotions release endorphins -natural chemicals in our bodies- which enhance the immune response.

Interestingly, during the trauma, a part of me (ego) had felt guilty for being upbeat and positive.   My ego said I should be serious and show concern!  To the ego, it appeared like I didn’t care because I didn’t outwardly show worry.  Having these studies surely helps me now to know the ego’s way is not better for anyone.

Volumes can, and have been, written about these two phenomena.  The scientific studies validate what I personally saw before my very eyes and also assuaged my ego.  These are unquestionably invaluable and useful points to have gotten from a traumatic event.

Don has since told me that he really picked up on the strength, love, and joy I emitted and that it gave him hope.  Nice to have that personal validation, as well.

Postscript: Please know, if someone doesn’t improve physically, it does not mean it is our fault or because we weren’t “upbeat” enough.  Everyone has their own free will.  We cannot force someone to heal.  We merely offer the help and it is their choice what to do with it and there are countless factors that go into that personal decision.

Advertisements

Fighting Against What We Know is Good for Us

So we’ve gone over lots of ways to feel more joyful.  We love them, are excited by them, tried them out and know they work!  So why do we not keep doing them?  They’re not difficult.  That’s not the reason. They don’t require something we don’t already have.  That’s not why.  They don’t cost a thing.  That’s not it.

Whether the thing we are not doing is as big as not following our heart’s desires, or simply not praying, meditating, doing exercises to increase our self-worth, eating well, physically exercising, etc., it all falls under the category of fighting against that which is beneficial for us.  (Steven Pressfield calls this Resistance, with a capital R and has an entire book about it, The War of Art.  Be sure to check out his life-changing ideas.) Note, we are not talking about things we “have to” do but aren’t, such as a work project, filling out our taxes, or studying for a required class, etc.   These are things others are telling us to do but we are not interested in.  We’re talking about things we know will help us, things we know are good for us, things we know we will enjoy once we get started.  Why on Earth would we fight against doing them!  And, more importantly, how can we ‘just do it’? (thanks, Nike)

Put simply, we fight against them because that’s human nature.  It’s part of the process of being human.  As said, Steven Pressfield’s book elaborates wonderfully on ‘the why’ of this.  So no need to get into all that here.  I’d rather focus here on ‘the how’ of overcoming it.

First, we must recognize that it is merely part of the human experience; everybody struggles to do what they know will be good for themselves.  We all struggle with self-doubt and fear of change.  This struggle is ego in action.

Then, focus more on what it is we are resisting rather than the resistance itself.  Don’t give too  much meaning to the challenging thoughts.  Don’t analyze fears and opposition.  Once we get involved in weighing our fears, they will most surely win.  Ego will always make us believe the fears and excuses are justified.  If ego asks ‘what ifs’ about it going wrong, answer ego with ‘what ifs’ about it going right.  And be specific.

Ask for help and support from family or close friends. Sometimes we need an objective boost.  Be sure to ask ones you know are on that wavelength.  Don’t ask a skeptic or Negative Nelly!

If you don’t have anyone like that in your life (and even if you do), turn to God/The Universe/Creator/Source (let’s not waste time and energy by getting caught up in the name).  I used to think it was a weakness to ask for help, be it other people or even God.  I realized that is ego once again resisting doing what is good for me.  A succinct request, such as, ‘God, show me and help me to do the next step of divine work/highest good/best for me and all concerned’ will do.

After we ask for divine help, then wait for answers and inspiration in hopeful, fun, light, anticipation.  Rather than milling around in despair.  Solutions, motivation and courage won’t come or be clear when we are feeling down and out.  Do something fun or light-hearted and forget about whatever has got us hung up while happily holding in the back of our minds the eager anticipation of the solution or progress.

What are you resisting that you know would be good for you?  How would you feel if you did it?  How would you change for the better?  Focus on these answers rather than beating yourself up for not doing it.