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Commentary: Saying "yes" is a good option after trauma

Saying “Yes” to life can become a new mantra when traumatic losses are ambiguous.

In November, 2013, Dr. Michael Conforti, founder and Director of the Jungian group, “The Assisi Institute,” led a four-part webinar called “Memories, Trauma, and Healing.” One key to understanding this constellation: Trauma is different from other wounds. You have to find a way to live with it, Dr. Conforti suggested, because trauma doesn’t go away. Otherwise, he suggested, it will live with you.

This kind of discussion is in the air. This month’s AARP: The Magazine carries an article by Christopher Beam and David Dudley that explores the results of natural disasters, war, terrorism and other events that lead to a state of “not knowing.” And what are these results? Trauma-- because victims of these events sometimes go missing from other people’s lives without leaving any real hope of knowing how or why. They are "ambiguous losses."

The thing is, the usual therapeutic modes may not apply, and that can lead to more misunderstanding. Therapist Pauline Boss, professor emeritus at the University of Minnesota, quoted in the AARP article, notes that the usual grief therapy shouldn’t be confused with ambiguous loss therapy. There isn’t actually anything wrong with the person, she notes. It is the unreal situation itself that is the issue.

Experience has shown, she says, that it is possible to make peace with not knowing while at the same time moving forward with positive life events. Saying “Yes” can mean not blaming yourself, celebrating what you have in your life, and balancing it all with new experiences.

Another researcher, Avi Sagi-Schwartz, Ph.D, was quoted on Science Daily: “…the traumatic, life-threatening experiences Holocaust survivors had to face, which engendered high levels of psychological distress, could have also served as potential stimuli for developing personal and inter-personal skills, gaining new insights and a deeper meaning to life...The results of this research give us hope and teach us quite a bit about the resilience of the human spirit when faced with brutal and traumatic events.”

Sagi-Schwartz is a professor in the Department of Psychology and the Head of the Center for the Study of Child Development at Haifa University. The study was published in July, 2013, on PLoS ONE online.

Linda Chalmer Zemel teaches in the Communication Department at SUNY Buffalo State College.

She also writes the Buffalo Books column. Are you a Buffalonian with a new book out? Have you written a book or script with Western New York as a backdrop? Contact Linda at

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