How Adversity Can Lead to Personal Growth - Experience Life Magazine
I was sitting at a small table in a New York City apartment with a couple named Sarah and Raúl and two women named Christine and Sandy. I had arrived two and a half hours earlier at this potluck affair with wine, chips and guacamole, and an apple pie, prepared to talk about death and grief.
Most people probably don’t consider this appropriate table conversation. But in cities across the United States, an online organization called The Dinner Party brings together adults who have experienced the unexpected death of a loved one to break bread and discuss how the loss has affected their lives. I haven’t experienced a loss like theirs; I’m a journalist who studies meaning, and I was invited to dinner to observe how people come together to forge meaning and grow through suffering.
Many of us may not have suffered the loss of a loved one, but we all carry around emotional baggage of some kind — baggage that can bring with it fear, hurt, guilt, and insecurity. At least one specific source of pain lives inside each of us and colors the way we see the world: the memory of an alcoholic mother or an abusive father, the pain of being bullied at school, the horror of losing a child, the trauma of being raped, the helplessness of being held hostage by depression, cancer, addiction, or other ailments of the mind and body. These experiences of suffering can be tremendously difficult to overcome.
They also pose serious threats to finding meaning in life. They can shatter our fundamental assumptions about the world — that people are good, the world is just, and our environment is a safe and predictable place. They can breed cynicism and hatred. They can lead us to have troubled relationships, to lose our sense of identity and purpose, to abandon our faith, to conclude that we don’t matter or that life is senseless.
But this is an incomplete picture of adversity. Traumatic experiences can leave deep, some-times permanent wounds. Yet struggling through them can also push us to grow in ways that ultimately make us wiser and our lives more fulfilling.
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