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Growing through loss: How we make sense from trauma

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How do people overcome devastating and traumatic experiences and grow? Sally studied artists who experienced injuries that resulted in which they couldn’t do their art anymore. These are experienced as highly distressing, traumatic, and threatens their core identity. It’s about loss. These events trigger sensemaking: who am I? What is my place in the world?


People who grow from these events create meanings:

The injury as growth or loss: while painful, it helped them grow by opening up new worlds and possibility, made them stronger, or revealed some deeper struggle that could be resolved. Others didn’t grow and instead felt it simply ruined and defeated them.


Self as evolving or diminished: they draw clear boundaries, expand their former identities, or find ways to have continuity. Others defined themselves in the absence of their former self.


The work as connected or disconnected: Some continue some relationship to the art but on different terms and different roles, but still are connected. Others completely separate.


A big idea is that there are enabling and disabling meanings of traumatic events. When people have narrow, singular identities that are more vulnerable.   Secondary identities, range of personal experiences, and social connections are resources for resilience.   And organizations need to acknowledge and support people through sense of “loss” that is a normal part of the human experience.


I wonder: what are ways to design for dealing with micro-loses in organizations? How is the identity of a practice (e.g. cellist) different from other more entitative groups?

Harvard Graduate School of Education