The last two years have been one of daily uncertainty and fear, but a crisis is also a great revealer of the myths and idols we hold. It “knocks us off our thrones” and breaks our “assumptive worlds.” Our assumptions are the beliefs we hold about who we are and the world we live in…at times, like these, they don’t hold up. In fact, they can shatter into thousands of meaningless thoughts.
In social psychology, shattered assumptions theory proposes that traumatic events can change how victims and survivors view themselves and the world. We all have three inherent assumptions including “overall benevolence, the meaningfulness of the world, and self-worth.” They are the bedrock of our conceptual system, and as such, they are the ones we are least aware of and least likely to challenge. We become confident in our beliefs and use them to plan and act in daily living. If nothing challenges them they allow our lives to move along smoothly.
Sadly, traumatic life events shatter core assumptions, and coping with them requires a new effort to construct more realistic and viable assumptions. We have to rebuild our belief systems to fit the new world we live in.
The world is benevolent
The world is meaningful
The self is worthy
This can be painful for people of faith who end up questioning their faith. When our assumptive worlds shatter, it causes believers to questions the goodness of God. They might “assume” that God is silent or uncaring. The promises they believed must be wrong since things didn’t work out the way they “believed.” Trying to reconcile a good God to their adverse life situations may turn some to question themselves, wondering if they ever heard God speak into their lives or if some sin or trauma from the past has made them unworthy of mercy.
I mean, if God never changes, then the problem must be ourselves, right? Christians believe that when they become followers they are “new creations.” New creations have to have renewed minds to find new beliefs about God’s goodness and nature in their lives. Renewal is exactly what we need when our assumptions become shattered. Neurologists called this neuroplasticity.
Neuroplasticity is the brain’s ability to restructure itself through training and practice, thereby creating new neuropathways in the human nervous system. Neuroplasticity, renewed minds, and rebuilt belief systems are about personal growth that is sometimes only possible after trauma.
The reason that believers feel peace after giving their lives to follow the Christian faith is that new neuropathways are being created. Transformation or growth is occurring. From a more secular viewpoint, life has a way of creating maturity in our thinking. The trick is how to not become bitter and negative afterwords.
There is a favorite verse of mine that goes: “Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. –Philippians 4:6-7 (NRSV)” Prayer and meditation increase brain neuroplasticity and makes renewal possible. Allowing our minds to let go of distractions and slow down helps us focus on what we control and let go of what we cannot. In Alcoholics Anonymous, this is the path to serenity.
After a shattering event, people are able to discover strength they didn’t know that had in them. They also find new purposes and seek out deeper connections than before. Faith also grows in people after difficulty. They start to see deeper meaning and value in their life. This is called Post-Traumatic Growth in contrast to Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.
Would you like assistance recovering from a shattering event or trauma? Need new tools for your organization or group? Contact Ron Huxley today!