How Stress Can Lead to Growth

Video Footage: Rabbi Dr. Abraham Twerski

When people go to see a therapist, it is often at a time when they are overwhelmed with stress. Stress can be toxic and traumatic, but it can also be a call to action, and like the inspiring rabbi says in this video, "Times of stress are also times that are signals for growth, and if we use adversity properly, we can grow through adversity." Let me walk you through how I look at mental health problems and how they relate to stress.

When you were a child, you made your best guess as to how you could matter to your family and by extension, to the world. You may not have consciously realized what your guess was, but it nevertheless became your template for how to live. When you followed that template, it gave you a sense of balance in your psyche, like the balance a gymnast finds when walking on a beam. Each part of the gymnast’s body is in the perfect position to help her move fluidly.

But imagine that someone throws something at the gymnast, which she needs to catch. It may surprise her and she may have to pull her body out of position in order to catch the object. As she stretches to catch it, she has to pull her leg up to make sure she does not fall. This is a position that is very uncomfortable, but one that is necessary in the moment.

Your life is like that of the gymnast. Eventually you encountered situations where your template did not work well. Life threw something your way with which you were unprepared to deal. Your psyche responded by pulling itself into an uncomfortable and unsustainable position, just to survive the situation, and prevent you from “falling.”

Divorce, Death, Rejection - Stress Comes in Many Forms

What life threw your way may have been your parent’s divorce, a death in the family, some kind of abuse, rejection from peers, or any number of traumatic scenarios. The point is, you needed to pull yourself out of your most comfortable, and safe balance in order to cope with it. For example, you may have had to tell yourself that you are the most important person in the world, in order to protect yourself from your real feelings of anguish and sudden sense that you are, in fact, unlovable and unimportant. Or you may have had to tell yourself that the world is a dangerous place and no one can be trusted. Maybe you came up with the idea that all your needs were unimportant so as to not feel the sting of never getting them met. There are an infinite number of core beliefs that people come up with, and these beliefs are necessary to help one survive their new circumstances, but they come at the cost of pulling the person out of balance.

Unfortunately, many people find themselves stuck for decades with those beliefs that create such uncomfortable, unbalanced positions for themselves. Living like this is like trying to walk through life bent over while hopping on one foot. It’s painful and it doesn’t work very well. Often times, that leads to anxiety, depression, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), substance addictions or other compulsive behaviours, unhealthy relationships, or any number of other problems. The person’s brain gets fixated on the past traumatic experience where it was necessary to walk this way, and they need help seeing that they are no longer in that situation.

A Person's Stress Can Be a Call To Action

Stress is a natural part of life, but when one is out of balance, stress can be overwhelming, and it can make one’s problems acute. The person hobbles along until the stress of trying to function in life from such a compromised, unbalanced position becomes too much to bear. Maybe the person recently got fired as a result of their drinking, which in turn was the result of the imbalance. Perhaps they were rejected in some other way, or they had a breakdown. Some type of adversity has now befallen the person. These are the moments when people often come to therapy, and it is also at these moments when the wisdom of this video comes to bear. The person’s stress has become a call to action.

When people come to Welling Psychology, I help them explore how the stress in their life has triggered whatever problem it is with which they are coping. I focus on helping the person see that the problem stems from an (often unconscious) imbalance, and we work together to learn about it. We aim to discover within the person, the source for what is now required to grow through the imbalance, so a comfortable new balance can once again be found.

"Times of stress are also times that are signals for growth, and if we use adversity properly, we can grow through adversity."

In Summary

Imbalance comes into being because it is a necessary way to survive traumatic situations.

Psychological problems are an outgrowth of imbalance.

Stress can make these problems acute and increase adversity.

But, with the right help, stress can also become the catalyst for growing through the adversity, and the opportunity to create new balance and restore wholeness.

If you want help turning your stress into growth, give us a call at 780-439-8787.

Brian Welling, M.A, B.A.

Welling Psychology

Balance. Growth. Wholeness.

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