Cracked...but Not Broken

Kintsugi is a centuries-old Japanese art technique involving the repair of cracked and broken pottery. This unique method not only repairs the pottery and reclaims its purpose, it also celebrates each artifact's unique history by emphasizing its fractures and breaks instead of hiding or disguising them. The technique involves rejoining the broken pieces with lacquer mixed with powdered gold. When put back together, the whole piece of pottery is revitalized with a new look and a second life. By embracing flaws and imperfections, you can create an even stronger, more beautiful piece of art. Precious scars and brokenness are not discarded but instead, highlighted and proclaimed with pride. At the end of the process, you have a piece of artwork that is more beautiful than it was before it was broken, because it was broken.

Let’s consider using Kintsugi as a metaphor for healing ourselves. This technique teaches us an important lesson: Sometimes in the process of repairing things that have broken, we actually create something more unique, beautiful and resilient.

To take the analogy one step further, trauma is taking the pottery and shattering it on the ground. Post-traumatic stress is the recognition that everything is shattered and the attempt to put that vase back together exactly as it was before. Taking all of the shards and repairing them into something new, making a new experience that is beautiful and functional because it has all the same pieces yet stronger than before,  that is the path to post-traumatic growth.

What is Post-Traumatic Growth?

Richard G. Tedeschi and Lawrence Calhoun created the term ‘post-traumatic growth’ in the mid-90s at the University of North Carolina. According to them, people who undergo post-traumatic growth thrive in life with a greater appreciation and more resilience. They define PTG as, “a positive psychological change in the wake of struggling with highly challenging life circumstances."

Generally speaking, an event might be considered highly challenging when it threatens a person’s understanding of the world and his or her ability to function within it. It is precisely when the foundational structure of the self is shaken that we are in the best position to pursue new opportunities in our lives. Post-traumatic growth does not deny deep distress, but rather suggests that adversity can unintentionally yield positive changes in understanding oneself, others, and the world.

Post-traumatic growth does not nullify or lessen grief. Instead, PTG should be conceptualized as something that co-exists with distress or, more specifically, something that only exists because of distress. Post-traumatic growth evolves from the same processes people use to cope with grief.  So, in effect, post-traumatic growth is an unexpected, but beautiful, byproduct of pain.

We all have a story—a story before experiencing a traumatic event, the story of the traumatic event and the story after it. Existential exploration following a trauma can lead to an experience filled with meaning and personal growth. Develop your story in a way that makes you feel strong and resilient.

Sadly, it often takes an event, like trauma, to awaken us from our stupor, shake us at our core, and launch us into the potential of thriving. Notice I said potential. It is ultimately our choice, to lean in to the distress or deny it. When we lean in to the potential of growth, we live in the awareness of life's deeper meanings. We know that we can create and seek deeper meanings in our life and often a trauma will and can help that process. When we are able to acknowledge that we have been through something traumatic, only then can we can take the time to heal it and have the opportunity to experience post-traumatic growth.