The Technical Definition
Post-Traumatic Growth is a term psychologists are now using to describe the positive change occurring in an individual after they’ve experienced a highly stressful life event. It refers to the idea that suffering does not have to debilitate a person. In fact, finding a way to endure through significant suffering can actually lead to meaningful development of personal character.
Huh, what does that mean?
You’ve probably heard the popular saying, “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.” This is the essence of post-traumatic growth. Studies reveal that beyond returning to your baseline after a traumatic experience, you have the potential to experience a profound improvement in their lives.
Most of us are acutely aware that life does not always feel good. In fact, there are many experiences along our path that are uncomfortable, painful, and even deeply tragic. Post-traumatic growth is the idea that some individuals can come out of life’s challenges “better” than they were prior to experiencing the trauma.
Most everyone has experienced some form of trauma — whether it was one significant event (e.g., a car accident, the loss of a coveted job, death of a loved-one) or occurred over a period of time (e.g., physical or emotional abuse, a hostile child custody battle).
The good news is that both children and adults may be able to experience meaningful growth and demonstrate great resiliency despite significant suffering. Post-traumatic growth research shows us after a trauma, individuals may feel one or more of the following:
- More competent and self-reliant
- Increased acceptance of personal flaws and one’s own humanity
- Improvement in relationships
- Positive realignment of priorities
- Strengthening of spiritual beliefs
- Greater appreciation of one’s life
How can I use this in my life?
What characteristics or qualities differentiate the individuals who experience growth after their traumas from those who do not? The following are a list of suggestions for what researchers have found will increase the likelihood of experiencing post-traumatic growth:
- Accept that the trauma happened. Easier said than done; however, acceptance is one of the most important pieces of our journey to healing. Prior to acknowledging that some suffering is inevitable and there is no “do-over” in life, you won’t be able to experience the freedom you need to move forward.
- Affirm that there is meaning and purpose to life despite how discouraged you may feel. Seek out the things that you love and make life worth living. Re-visit hobbies or activities that you’ve enjoyed in the past or attempt new ones.
- Persevere even when it hurts. Any journey that has value will not be without its challenges. Know that falling is part of the process, and it’s the activity of getting back up that develops character.
- Build your confidence. Despite what some believe, confidence is not an innate quality; rather, genuine confidence builds over time. Challenge yourself to take small risks and reward yourself for your small victories along the way.
- Explore your faith or a spiritual side. Oftentimes it’s in our hopelessness that we are challenged to look outside ourselves for answers. All of the major religions address the idea of suffering; decide what you believe and from where you derive your strength.
- Offer relationship. Begin to turn your eyes toward others who may be suffering. With a renewed sense of empathy, having also suffered, consider how you can offer others support and encouragement. It is often by helping others with their own healing, that we can also learn to heal.
- Begin to hope again. Consider a brighter future with more depth, now having a deeper appreciation for your life. Acknowledge that you have developed the ability to endure– and even find enjoyment in life even if inevitable suffering may be around the corner.
Cann, A., Calhoun, L. G., Tedeschi, R. G., & Solomon, D. T. (2010). Posttraumatic growth and depreciation as independent predictors of well-being. Journal of Loss and Trauma, 15, 151-166.
Calhoun, L. G., Tedeschi, R. G., Cann, A., & Hanks, E. (2010). Positive outcomes following bereavement: Paths to posttraumatic growth Psychological Belgica, 50 ( 1 & 2), 125-143.
3 thoughts on “What is Post Traumatic Growth?”
It’s amazing how much truth is in those old cliches. From my own personal experience I can see exactly what you are talking about. My fiance committed suicide a few years ago, and among his siblings, friends and me…we all survived this horrific event, we all grieved, cried and searched for answers to the unanswerable. However, some of us turned to our spiritual side, or to others, some of us became more open, accepting and forgiving. Some of the others let it crush them and one in particular has become an emotional cripple after the event. One particular friend won’t let anybody get close again, but in my personal case, I am more open to love and letting people in. I feel like it’s important to love again to let those I love know that I love them. I hold people closer where others now hold people at an arms length. I believe this one very tragic scenario, has made me a better person.
Abuse victim. Just seeing these words can be enough to make just about anyone freeze, flee or prepare to fight. However we hear the facts as a fellow victim, a friend, a teacher, an attorney or as the therapist, all witnesses struggle with the same questions. Does anyone ever “get over” the violation of abuse, especially when the ones who do the hurting are the same people who were supposed to be protecting us? Can anyone really have a good adulthood when childhood included early experiences too horrible to put into words? Dolores M. Miller offers us the unequivocal answer that “Yes,” it surely is possible to enjoy the Good that Life offers, no matter what has gone before.
With writings created during her personal journey from victimized child to someone surviving and on to thriving adult, Dolores gives us direct evidence of a true life “happy ending.” In letters to dear friends and family, poetic musings on nature, and loving prayers to the powers of the Universe, she illustrates many of the steps she took to reclaim the shining path of light and love that is her true birthright.
And how does someone get from the victim experience onward to thriving adulthood? By crying, sobbing, and screaming out loud, by raging and by writing, by expressing the horror, the sadness, the longing and the anger until all the parts are heard, loud and clear and usually then to repeat these very same steps, often more than once, because some things still have not been heard enough. Eventually, it becomes possible to “smell the roses” once again.
It was my privilege to support Dolores through some of these difficult avenues on her recovery journey. I thereby have the honor to bear witness to the strong and secure place she inhabits now, a psychological and spiritual space where she savors all the joys – great and small – that life offers, where she encourages herself and others when the journey of life includes bumps and bruises as are inevitable to the human condition, and where she generously shares Lessons she has gleaned along the way.
And so, just as Dee oftentimes would get a morning coffee to warm her as she worked towards her truest and best Life, I invite you to get yourself a cup of something warming to sip as you reach into the lovely treasure before you. As surely as the day follows night and “…on the shores of darkness there is light” (John Keats, To Homer), this volume offers real life evidence of one childhood victim who has achieved thriving adulthood. And where there is one, there can be many. We all can benefit by carrying within us this encouragement and support from Dolores M. Miller as we move through a Life that may often times require us to bear witness to the strength and possibility of the human spirit.
In peace, and with all that is Good,
Bonnie Frank Carter,
PhD Wayne, PA