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Post-traumatic growth by Robert Genn

Post-traumatic growth
by Robert Genn

Over the past while I've had an abundance of emails from artists who are fighting cancer, stroke, stress, macular degeneration, concussion, body-destroying motor accidents and other trauma. Some are just reporting in, others are announcing they are throwing in the towel, while a few others are asking for help. It is, of course, difficult to advise on a one-to-one basis through the clouds, and I don't always feel confident of my guruship but, as usual, I have a few thoughts:

Post-traumatic growth is a relatively new area of psychological study. It deals with the positive changes experienced by some people as a result of a struggle with challenging life circumstances. It's not simply a return to the way things were before the suffering, but the welcome experience of a profound improvement.

The idea that suffering can be channelled to make us stronger runs through the history of philosophies and religions. While most of us no longer believe that artists need to suffer to make good art, we do know that a lot of good art comes from people who have suffered.

Dr. Robin Rosenberg, a clinical psychologist based in Stanford, California, has introduced an interesting method whereby sufferers can grow their way out of trauma. Much like Joseph Campbell's "The Hero with a Thousand Faces" Rosenberg thinks folks can gain strength by following popular superheroes and their stories. We're talking about the sort of characters in the current blockbuster action/violence/heroism movie, "The Avengers"--Hawkeye, Captain America, Black Widow, Hulk and Nick Fury. She also thinks we should pay attention to Superman, Batman, Spiderman and Joker. This is good stuff--I've often thought there's more in comic books than meets the eye.

Dr. Rosenberg's superheroes teach us a variety of life lessons. Among them:

+ We all have alter egos

+ We need to wear the costumes of our heroes

+ Being different can give us power

+ Adversity can be overcome

+ No matter what our abilities, life is frustrating

+ To overcome our fears, we need to run toward danger

Regardless of whether you think Rosenberg's superheroes are beneath your dignity, they do exemplify a simple and direct purpose uncluttered by nuance. Good and evil are sharply defined, and evil is often merely in need of shooting, beheading or blowing up.

Best regards,


PS: "Every superhero has a mission." (Dr. Robin Rosenberg)

Esoterica: We all know of disabled persons who have overcome and excelled. By accidentally narrowing the range of capabilities, we often build strength in whatever talent or ability may be left. Further, some overcomers I've noticed have a strong sense of fantasy and self-delusion--even delusions of grandeur and superhuman abilities. I personally like the costume idea. As you may know, there are social clubs of dresser-uppers who claim to gain power by hanging out as Spiderwoman and Spiderman, etc. It's becoming apparent that these nut cases are not so nuts. But I wonder if any psychologists or others might comment on my going to the party as Minnie Mouse.


Robert Genn has given ARTAZINE permission to post from his twice-weekly newsletter. For more of his artistic insights, visit his blog at www.painterspost.com.

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