Experiencing a traumatic event can be a challenging hurdle to overcome.
Experiencing a traumatic event can be a challenging hurdle to overcome.
While you may be aware of post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD, many people don’t know the other outcome that can arise following a difficult event or circumstance. Post-traumatic growth is a theory suggesting that you can come out of the other side of trauma stronger and more resilient than before. Taking a different perspective on trauma may make overcoming it possible and make positive changes in your life.
So, what is post-traumatic growth, and why is it important? Since the 1990s, PTG has been gaining popularity as an example of the human capacity to grow from hardship meaningfully. This guide covers the basics of post-traumatic growth, signs of growth, how to achieve this positive outcome, and real-world examples of how PTG has helped people grow from negative experiences. Read on to learn more.
Post-traumatic growth is a positive outcome of damaging trauma, where a person uses reflection and therapy to look beyond their struggle and stress. By gaining a different perspective and learning from their trauma, people can develop a greater appreciation for the world around them and better emotional resilience when dealing with challenging life circumstances in the future. Through psychological change, people who have experienced trauma can gain new understanding and positively affect their own life.
PTG focuses on positive psychology models, where hardships and difficulties can lead to a positive impact, gaining new perspectives and growth from past pain. Coined by Richard G. Tedeschi and Lawrence Calhoun in the mid-1990s, this term refers to how facing and learning from hurdles can lead to positive psychological change rather than the negative behavior and difficulties that come with conditions like post-traumatic stress disorder.
Post-traumatic growth has several distinct indicators, divided into five individual areas. Each section is a different type of positive transformation that can arise from growing following trauma. They include:
People who have grown and learned from trauma may have a greater appreciation of life, including a heightened sense of gratitude for what they have. For example, if someone has trauma from a manmade disaster like a fire, they may appreciate their safer surroundings and the family and friends they share their life with.
Growing from trauma enables people to form closer, improved personal relationships with those they value. For instance, if someone has experienced PTSD as a witness to a crime, they may gain more from building strong relationships with the people around them both for their safety and out of appreciation for their loved ones.
A positive, optimistic attitude is a common sign of post-traumatic growth. People who have experienced trauma may be more receptive to embracing new opportunities and taking positive life risks. For example, someone who experienced a loss may be more willing to make a big change in their professional life to improve their day-to-day happiness.
Personal strength and resilience evolve from trauma as a positive response to experiencing difficulties in life. For instance, someone who has experienced trauma in their life may be able to find inner strength if difficult circumstances arise in the future. By gaining personal strength, they can handle stress and anxiety more effectively.
Spiritual change and connection can result from a traumatic event where people find strength through their faith and beliefs. In contrast to the survivor’s guilt that individuals with PTSD often struggle with, post-traumatic growth can help build a stronger, long-lasting faith in various forms. Research has shown that spirituality can aid in resilience and recovery for some trauma survivors, providing a positive outcome through growth.
To grow from trauma, people first need to experience a trauma that enables them to reach a positive outcome over time. While no one wants to experience trauma, understanding some of the key types can be valuable in understanding how these events or circumstances can be a challenge that people can overcome using PGT. The types of situations that could lead to trauma include:
It’s integral to seek the proper help if you or a loved one experiences trauma. The sooner you can access support, and the higher the quality of this support, the better it will enable you to grow from it. People experiencing trauma are often subject to immediate stress and anxiety, with the potential to develop PTSD in the months or years following the event, making it essential to access proper care.
If you or someone you know is experiencing any of the following, seeking support from a medical professional or psychiatrist is a good first step:
It’s important to note that post-traumatic growth, as a theory, doesn’t mean avoiding the usual routes for treatment and care after experiencing trauma. Instead, it provides a method of positive psychology alongside conventional treatment to help you grow without impacting your capacity and resources to recover from the severe stress trauma can cause.
There is no rule about who can or cannot achieve growth from trauma. However, there are many factors, both internal and external, that can play a role in your ability to recover from trauma and learn and grow from it. These factors can affect whether or not you can experience positive growth from a negative event. The two primary categories include:
Personal factors are anything internal to the person that can affect their ability to grow following trauma. For example, individuals with an optimistic personality and self-acceptance of their experience may find it easier to achieve growth than someone with a negative outlook and denial of their experience.
Environmental factors are anything external to individuals that can affect their chance to growth from a traumatic incident. For example, having the financial stability necessary to access therapy and travel to their support network can play a significant role in successfully growing from trauma. In contrast, someone with insufficient resources and a smaller support network may find this more challenging.
Utilizing the right tools and methods is integral to succeeding in post-traumatic growth. While everyone processes and handles trauma differently, some essential foundations benefit anyone looking to grow from a traumatic experience. These methods include:
Working with a trauma-informed therapist or a therapy team is a valuable way to understand trauma, work through it and move toward a positive outcome. As PTSD is one of the classic problems that can arise from trauma, it’s important to work with professionals to understand and process your feelings and thoughts surrounding a traumatic event. An educated therapist has the resources and skills to help you or a loved one navigate the process following trauma, helping to work through anxiety and depression to achieve eventual growth.
Reflection and learning are integral ways to internalize and understand how your brain and body react after trauma, particularly regarding your emotions, close bonds, and relationships. Educating yourself on what trauma is, what to expect, and how to navigate the process helps achieve the goal of growth and a positive outcome. A therapist may support you in reflecting, or you can research and explore the topic in your own time to gain an in-depth understanding of trauma.
Support from loved ones and other community members is critical when moving toward post-traumatic growth. Recent research has shown that social and cultural climate is vital to maximizing your ability to grow from trauma. Utilizing a wider social network, contributing to teams, and joining support groups are all recommended ways to socialize, become part of a community and develop an effective support network.
Post-traumatic growth can sound like a generalized concept without insight into how this process can benefit those who have suffered a trauma. Here are some real-world examples to consider what PTG can help recover and in creating a positive outcome from a trauma:
The COVID-19 pandemic could be considered a global trauma, with the majority of the US, and the world, affected in one way or another by the events. For many people who struggled with the trauma of the pandemic, post-traumatic growth has already started. Many people have gained a positive outcome from negative trauma by looking towards the future, embracing new things, and enriching their lives.
Parents who have lost a child to cancer often utilize the outcome of that trauma to enrich their lives and the lives of those around them. For example, many parents go on to vital roles in raising money and awareness for charities and organizations. Through their trauma of loss, they have gained personal strength and resilience to support others in similar circumstances.
PTG was first introduced in the 1990s but has recently gained popularity due to new positive psychology models and interventions. Positive psychology focuses on healing and growing stronger from events and psychological changes in a person’s life, providing individuals with positive outcomes from complex or challenging circumstances.
Post-traumatic growth aligns with these methods by focusing on optimism, resilience, and effective growth. For example, resilience training has become a popular method to improve life satisfaction and quality of life. Tools used in post-traumatic growth methods are also utilized in interventions such as MBSR (Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction) or SMART (Stress Management and Resiliency Training) to gain self-focus and reduce stress.
Post-traumatic growth is most effective when treatment for stress and PTSD begins as soon as possible following trauma. PTG helps people who have experienced trauma to move towards a positive outlook, alongside vital treatment for anxiety, depression, and other concerns related to traumatic incidents. Finding a qualified trauma-educated therapist is an excellent starting point for beginning the process of post-traumatic growth.