"Bad is stronger than good" is the conclusion reached by Baumeister et al (2001). We are designed as a species to pay more attention and respond to the negatives in life so we are more likely to survive. Negative impressions and ideas are likely to be formed more quickly and be harder to undo than positive ones - because we are fantastic at surviving.
We ARE strong but we often pick up the idea that we are weak and that there is something wrong with us. If we end up seeking help from a professional to support us at these times, there can be a focus on the 'bad' stuff that took us to therapy in the first place. But what if the therapy focussed on the strengths we had displayed in order to survive and adapt?
A strengths-based approach is something that is gaining greater interest and a wider appreciation as a model which starts with where we are and builds on the good in our lives. It occurred to me that the non-directive model of play therapy I practice could be seen to be underpinned by similar principles.
One of my favourite of Virginia Mae Axline's principles is her exhortation that the therapist "maintains a deep respect for the child's ability to solve his/her problems and gives the child the opportunity to do so." It is a trust in the ability of the human spirit to find what it needs in order to grow and develop. If we can pay attention to providing the safety, space and time for this to happen, a child will find their way to growth.
Axline is priming the therapist to see the child as strong and resourceful, as a survivor. As Dr Dan Siegel says, what we give attention to grows, so while it is necessary to bear witness to and hear the pain, it is also important to reflect the skills, strengths, talents and abilities that have been deployed to get us where we are now.
There is a reassurance in understanding that our bodies, brains and minds have performed exactly as they were designed to in the face of trauma. The response is a sign of our ability to survive the overwhelming. Post-traumatic growth recognises how we process and adapt to live in a world which will never be quite the same as it was before.
When the blindfold comes off and we see the scary things in the world, continuing to engage and pursue our goals is an act of courage and defiance. I see huge strength in that.