Overcoming trauma with positive psychology
Caroline Miller, expert in positive psychology
WASHINGTON - Friday morning's shooting rampage at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn. left the small New England town, and the country, in shock.
Now, parents, teachers and others throughout the nation are searching for ways to talk to their children about the tragedy and to better understand it, themselves.
Caroline Miller, a Bethesda-based expert in positive psychology, explains that as hard as it seems now, some good really does come from awful things.
"It's called post-traumatic growth," Miller told WTOP on Friday. "I don't think we need to lose sight of the fact that some good really does come from awful things, and this is an awful thing."
While there is no question that the people involved in Friday's shooting and investigation will never forget what happened, those affected can grow from the experience.
Miller says that qualities, such as being more grateful for the things we have and developing a different sense of purpose, can stem from surviving a tragedy, like the Newtown shooting.
"Trauma makes us discover what we're capable of and how tough we are," says Miller.
However, there is no benefit to hiding emotion and grieving, when appropriate.
"Pretending that it didn't happen is not particularly useful when it comes to making meaning of challenging things," says Miller.
"It's hard not to be touched by the idea of a classroom of small children being slaughtered. Children need to see that we have appropriate empathy, sympathy and sadness for things that are sad."
Striking a balance between providing enough information and too much information is important when explaining tragic events to children.
"There is great research on what happens when you take in too much negativity, and it's not good," says Miller.
Miller advises that parents and caregivers take cues from their children when discussing tragedies.
"In resilient families, there are stories of overcoming," says Miller, who added that children who grow up hearing about set-backs and tragedies are less afraid of the world.
"They don't see it as such a scary place. These stories do have a place, particularly when they're told in the right way," says Miller.
In situations like the Newtown tragedy, it's appropriate to step-back and do some deliberate thinking.
"Stop dead in your tracks and ask, ‘How can this make me a better person?'" says Miller, who explains that optimal well-being comes from facing challenges, making meaning and finding some resilient outcome in tragic situations.
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