The Transformational Power of Trauma


This notion that it is only through trauma that we can truly change is not an outlandish idea. Indeed, it is the common understanding throughout cultures and throughout time. Take the story of Joseph, son of Jacob, that Christians Jews, Muslims and theatre musical lovers are well versed in. Joseph/Yosef/Yusuf,  was the favoured son of Jacob, the grandson of Abraham. His brothers were terribly jealous of him, though. They threw him a well and allowed him to be taken as a slave by some passing travellers, whilst telling their father he had been killed. He became a servant at high official’s house in Egypt. There, he became the trusted servant- only to be sexually harassed by the wife of the High Official of the house. However, the wife claimed the reverse, which resulted in Joseph getting thrown into prison.

Yet again Joseph was trusted by the prison guards and given extra responsibilities/freedoms in prison. He also correctly interpreted some dreams of two fellow prisoners. This later helped him get released as the King became aware of him when the King had had a strange dream.  Joseph correctly interpreted the dream to mean that Egypt would have 7 years of feast followed by 7 years of famine. The King trusted him, and entrusted Joseph to manage Egypt for the next 14 years, thus Joseph became the second most powerful person in the kingdom.  Eventually, his brothers and father were reunited with him [1]. So here you see, Joseph was favoured to start with, was plunged to the depths, but never wavered from being patient and believing things would work out, and after these trials ended up effectively ruling the super-power of the day.

For those who don’t care much about religious stories, let’s take the prophet of the modern religion of technology, Steve Jobs. He invented the Mac, the first personal PC, but in 1985 was turfed out of the company as sales were plummeting. He set up a company called NeXT which created high-end computers with all of Job’s obsessive perfectionism. Sales were poor, though the software was good. It would seem that Steve was never going to reach the heights of his Mac days. Indeed, it was Bill Gates who was the venerated tech guru of the period.

As fate would have it, in 1996 Mac bought NeXT for its software, which allowed Jobs to eventually regain being CEO. He then started his journey to rehabilitate Apple. In 2001, he launched the I-Pod, which started the I-revolution and culminated in Apple becoming the one of the biggest US companies by market cap. Again we have story of early brilliance, followed by a major fall. But during the dark years, Steve Jobs could have been bitter and try to fight to regain control of Apple, but instead he stuck to his creative core and became massively innovative, though not commercially successful. This did eventually pay off when he returned to Apple to turn it into a company that transformed the music, telephone, and hardware industries.

Trauma and troubles have the potential of transforming one for the better, but it can also unleash the dark side of us. Shakespeare’s tragedies illustrate this all too well. Iago plays on Othello’s jealous and envious side to transform Othello from a once mighty general to someone who kills his beloved, Desdemona, and then kills himself. Hamlet, seething with anguish over his father’s death, skirts with madness and loses everyone he loves. Or take Anakin Skywalker, who was believed to be the “Chosen One” to restore balance to the Force. Enraged by his mother’s death, and conflicted on how to save his love, Padme, who he dreams will die, he gets manipulated by the Chancellor Palatine. The Chancellor is of course, the Sith Lord Darth Sidious. Anakin ends up losing much of body in a fight with Obi-Wan and more tragically kills Padme, who he believes betrayed him. He then becomes Darth Vader.

In the modern world,  the dark side comes in many forms: talking others people down, claiming credit for others’ work, while shifting blame for your failings on others, backstabbing peers acquaintances, saying one thing in public and doing another in private, bullying the weak, or failing to speak up to bullies and so on. When one goes through trauma, the dark side can become very strong!

To use trauma as a positive transformational force, these stories tell us to be patient, not allow our anger and paranoia to lash out at others and to hold on to our positive character traits whether they be creativity, trust-worthiness or something else. So may the force be with you.


[1] Holy Bible, Genesis 37-50, Holy Quran, Surah Yusuf


One thought on “The Transformational Power of Trauma”

  1. I agree & disagree — success by having Trauma may not stop you
    from creating an Apple ! and Steve should be recognized for that.
    But the trauma of being given away at birth did not make him a wonderful person being around –for family or friends. He lost something in his personal dealings – would not acknowledge Lisa was his daughter until much later in life.. Recreated a trauma for her. His bad treatment of people and staff is legendary – yes very successful in business but ………psychologically lot of questions !

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