Is Post-Traumatic Growth Possible?

Most people have heard of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), the set of negative symptoms that arise after trauma, such as insomnia, nightmares, flashbacks, unstable moods, behavioral changes, etc. But have you heard of post-traumatic growth or PTG?

PTG refers to the positive mental shift that can be experienced as a result of adverse events. The term was coined by psychologists Richard Tedeschi and Lawrence Calhoun, who studied the ways people actually blossom in the aftermath of trauma. They developed an “inventory” of self-reported positive outcomes that a person may experience with time:

  • A greater appreciation of life.
  • A greater value placed on relationships with close friends and family.
  • Opening to new possibilities and opportunities in one’s life.
  • Increased self-esteem and sense of one’s personal strength.
  • A deepening of one’s spirituality and a revaluation of life’s meaning and purpose.

Tedeschi and Calhoun warn that while some people do experience growth after trauma, it does not mean they don’t suffer in the process. Nor are they implying that trauma is ultimately a good thing for anyone.

Psychologist Kanako Taku makes the distinction between resiliency and post-traumatic growth. Resiliency is the capacity to bounce back after trauma. “PTG, on the other hand, refers to what can happen when someone who has difficulty bouncing back experiences a traumatic event that challenges his or her core beliefs, endures psychological struggle (even a mental illness such as post-traumatic stress disorder), and then ultimately finds a sense of personal growth.” Such a transformation “takes a lot of time, energy and struggle.”

In her video on PTG (below) behavioral researcher Vanessa Van Edwards expresses this difference as “bouncing back” from life challenges versus “bouncing forward” from them. She doesn’t minimize the serious, long-lasting effects trauma can have on a person. But she says growth is possible — even after suffering PTSD symptoms — if one takes these positive steps:

  1. Embrace your natural response to trauma. Don’t diminish your experience and the emotions that go with it.
  2. Share your experience in a safe place. Disclose constructively with people you trust.
  3. Learn to appreciate the inner strength that helped you survive the trauma.

Soul Wisdom Therapy provides trauma recovery and PTSD therapy.

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