Life throws a staggering number of adversities such as trauma, separation, poverty, infirmity, and bereavement that can be distressing. Although, like a coin has two sides, adversity also has its sweet face too. Thus, according to Carl Jung,” I am not what happened to me; I am what I choose to become.”
However, going through heartbreaking and psychologically damaging experiences throughout an individual’s life can often lead to positive outcomes. The outcomes include increased resilience, heightened feelings of gratitude towards others, appreciation towards life, and empathy. This incubation growth will substantially represent an individual’s personality when they successfully overcome their traumatic circumstances and emerge triumphantly.
Human beings are naturally diverse. There’s no standard for measuring the effect trauma leaves behind on someone’s life. So no trauma is less or more debilitating. Traumas can leave behind deep-rooted scars in a person’s psyche if left unhealed for long. However, when individuals consistently work through negative experiences, they move a step closer to understanding human suffering. Moreover, they develop empathy with negative life experiences.
How can these experiences contribute to an individual’s growth when they rise out of them?
Being compassionate, empathizing requires a person to step outside their perspective and fit into the mental space of another person. And this is achieved through various experiences in life. Various experiences contribute to an individual’s capacity for empathy and increase the knowledge and how to deal with a variety of situations.
As per Daniel Lim and David DeSteno research at Northeastern University, adversity correlates with compassion but cannot guarantee an increase in compassion in a person. But the results partially support the idea that adverse experiences in life foster prosocial behavior and compassion.
Further experiments also concluded that high-adversity participants have a stronger belief in their efficiency of making a difference in the life of other people’s suffering. The researcher explained, “Surviving past adversity leads people to believe they will be effective in helping others, which allows them to up-regulate their feelings of compassion in the face of more demanding events.”
Traumatic experiences require professional care and support to help an individual rehabilitate. Therefore, many foundations, NGOs have been established solely for this purpose. Thus, one such foundation was established by Laxmi Agarwal, an “Indian Acid Attack Survivor,” who is now a campaigner for the rights of acid attack survivors. Also, she is the former director of Chhanv foundation, an NGO working for India’s survivors of acid attacks.
Another study (Vollhardt & Staub, 2011) concluded that people who have suffered in life show altruistic and pro-social attitudes towards disadvantaged groups of people. There might be a theoretical understanding behind why high-adversity people show more kindness towards the people who are suffering and take up pro-social activities than low-adversity people.
People who have past traumatic experiences from childhood or adolescence use their compassion as a coping strategy that helps in self-healing. Assisting others to alleviate similar pain one went through can work as ‘an act of undoing’ what happened. It also helps enrich social relationships, promotes well-being, and increases self-satisfaction. Compassion is contagious. When one shows some of it, it comes back in double.
Suffering is subjective in nature. Thus, the aforesaid doesn’t mean that everyone intentionally forces themselves through suffering to become more kind. However, some sufferings, different forms of abuse or torture, should not be tolerated under any circumstances.