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Rebuilding Life After Trauma: A Six-Step Plan

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Those that sow in tears will reap in joy
— Psalms 126:5

We must translate pain into action, and tears into growth
— The Rebbe

Destruction is a universal experience. Sadly, no one is a stranger to it.

It comes in many forms. Buildings crumble, seasons change, eras come to an end, people pass on from this world, and relationships fall apart. Sometimes the destruction is intentional, sometimes it is unexplainable, sometimes anticipated and sometimes unfathomable. What do we do when something beautiful and sacred is demolished? How can we rebuild a destroyed relationship or broken heart? How can we learn to dance again after we have cried such shattered tears? How do we rebuild from the ruins?

We stand now in a period of sadness and destruction. Each year on the 9th day of the month of Av we mourn that the Holy Temple in Jerusalem was burned to the ground. Yet we must get up from this destruction. We are ordered to build anew!

Perhaps the following six steps can help us through the process of rebuilding life after the trauma of destruction.

TOOL 1: DISCOVER THE PROBLEM

When things are going well, we take for granted that every detail of our lives is working smoothly and efficiently. Devastation, pain, and destruction force us to dissect the inner being of who we are, obliging us to honestly evaluate what is working and what is not. The first step in rebuilding life after trauma is to put the microscope to your life, to discover the root of the destruction, to single out its toxicity, and then to challenging its very existence. Once privy to this information, we are compelled to ask: What can I do to remove the destruction? What causes this destruction? How can I reconstruct that which has been decimated? What materials do I need to rebuild my life?

TOOL 2: SEE THE BIG PICTURE

A big part of destruction is only being able to see the crumbled mess that lies at your feet, right under your nose. We have the tendency to dwell on the ruins. It’s all we can see and focus on. A big step in rebuilding is to step back for a moment and take in the entire landscape. Look at your life up until this point, the experiences you’ve had, the lessons you’ve learned, your previous rebounds. Know that we are only given challenges that the creator knows we can overcome. From this we can see that the obvious next step is to get out your tools and construction hat because the only way forward after trauma is to rebuild.

TOOL 3: THE LAW OF DESTRUCTION

The law in Jewish tradition is that you may only tear down a house of worship in order to build a new one in its place. The law is very stringent and goes on to say that that the new building must be superior (in size, beauty, etc.) to the one being torn down. Additionally, the new building’s construction must begin immediately and must be pursued “day and night, lest difficulties arise that will cause it to remain desolate—even for a time.” From this we learn the importance of not idling around. We are commanded to begin rebuilding life anew. Even more, we learn that before the building was even destroyed, there were already grander plans in place for a bigger, better opportunity.

TOOL 4: START A MOVEMENT

In order to build (and rebuild) you have to move—you have to move away and distract yourself from the painful situation. Distance yourself from the cause that produced the pain in the first place. This movement may be as simple as finding a new friend, reading a new book, getting involved in a project, or taking a class—anything to alter your solitary, limited perspective on yourself and the world. Destruction is old, static, and predictable. Rebuilding life after trauma is new, dynamic, and innovative. Movement is the process of going from standing still, to still standing—and then from still standing to flying high.

TOOL 5: YOUR NET WORKS

Trauma, by nature, thrives on your isolation. By connecting with people; family, friends, colleagues, acquaintances, you are tapping into humanity and your role in the universe. When you are broken, your network can help complete you; when someone in your network is down, you can lift that someone up. Part of rebuilding life after trauma is simply reconnecting to humanity.

TOOL 6: CRACK APART OR CRACK OPEN

A crack can be the sound on destruction, but on the other side of the same coin, the crack is the sound of construction. We must break down in order to break free and achieve new heights. Sometimes it’s a matter of perspective. We must see and recognize the potential left by a gaping hole. A crack that destroys is one that cracks things apart; a crack that builds is one that cracks things open. The former focuses on what can’t be; the latter on what can. A seed must decompose before it sprouts.

The destructions of the first and second Temples in Jerusalem are the archetypes for coping with our personal traumas. This three-week period of mourning and sadness for the destruction of all the Temples is a time for us to realize what went wrong and what we can—and will—do to make it right. Repair your own life; help to repair the lives of others; strive to champion the entities which supply dignity and purpose to you and to the world.

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Useful insight when rebuilding life

Shirley

Thank you for leaving this encouraging and inspirational message. I needed to read this. I felt like I was a lost cause failing God, my family, and my daughter. I hope to be more to them, for Him, than I ever could have imagined before.

Brittany Werner

I just wanted to say this article is spot on. I simply googled rebuilding after trauma and this was one of the articles that came up. I thoroughly agree and will be passing the information along. Thank you.

Michael

Thanks for these thoughts!

Devorah Levene

Thank you again for such a significant flow of meaningful inspiration.