Post-traumatic growth is regarded by many to be a relatively new subject for the field of psychology. The idea that someone can be positively changed by a difficult life challenge, however, has generally been around for a long time.
From sources ranging from ancient religious traditions and mythology to literature and philosophy, many of us have likely heard of this idea that we can become better people by going through hardship.
In this article, we’ll explore post-traumatic growth, what forms it can take, and options for further support.
What Is Post-Traumatic Growth?
The concept of post-traumatic growth has captured the attention of research psychologists, individual therapists and celebrities interested in positive psychology.
Growth Vs. Resilience
People might mistakenly equate post-traumatic growth with resilience, but the two are generally not the same. Resiliency to many means that one can bounce back to normal after a crisis. Post-traumatic growth is generally defined as what can occur when someone who may have difficulty bouncing back experiences trauma—but then finds growth through the struggle. It is regarded by many to be a process that takes time, effort and resiliency.
Possible Growth Areas In Post-Traumatic Growth
Researchers have identified that improvements tend to occur in five general areas:
Greater Appreciation Of Life
Those who experience post-traumatic growth can become more aware of the value of their own lives and life in general. They may feel this appreciation as an emotion. Many might also show their appreciation for life by giving back to their local or global community.
A greater appreciation of life can mean experiencing greater joy in small pleasures and everyday life, too. They may spend more time appreciating nature or doing activities that make them happy. Their appreciation of life can also show up in greater interest in the world around them.
It can also increase their motivation to make the world a better place.
Improved Relationships With Others
Some people who experience post-traumatic growth might develop more satisfying relationships with the ones they care about most. They can also become more socially active and gregarious.
They may also value their relationships more, possibly prompting them to do what they can to maintain and improve those relationships. The wisdom they've gained through the traumatic experience may also help them with how they interact with others.
Seeing New Possibilities
People who have achieved growth after going through a traumatic event can become more aware of the inherent opportunities in each new experience they encounter later. Because they've experienced something difficult and survived it, they may see what is before them with added clarity and hope.
Gaining Personal Strength
If you're wondering whether Nietzsche's assertion that “what does not kill me makes me stronger” is true, the answer may be yes for those who experience post-traumatic growth. Those who grow after trauma can experience that growth as a gain in personal power and strength.
Have you ever noticed that many people find religion or change from one religion to another following a personal crisis? Some people may become more active in their present religious community or embark on a new spiritual quest after experiencing a crisis. Still, others may leave formal religion altogether to embark on their unique spiritual journey. These changes may come from a profound sense that there is something good in the world that can't be explained easily, and they may desire to connect with it in a deeper way than before.
Measuring Post-Traumatic Growth
Researchers who study post-traumatic growth generally need to be able to identify the signs that it has happened. The Posttraumatic Growth Inventory and other psychological tests can provide them with this information.
For these tests, the trauma that may or may not have triggered positive change can be ascertained. Then, the subjects may then be tested on their changes in the five growth areas listed above. Scientists can then study the results of these tests, possibly comparing other factors that are different or the same for people who have or have not grown through their trauma.
Who Is Most Likely To Experience Post-Traumatic Growth?
Some people may be more likely to experience post-traumatic growth than others. Researchers have found details that that two traits may make some people more likely to have personal growth after trauma.
These traits are considered by many to be extraversion and openness to experience—or reception. If you have one or both traits, post-traumatic growth may be more likely; however, that doesn't mean that people who don't fall in these groups can't have post-traumatic growth.
Do I Have the Power To Choose Post Traumatic Growth?
A common question for many after learning about post-traumatic growth is “Can I make this happen when I have trauma in my own life?” The answer can be a bit nuanced. Post-traumatic growth is considered by many to be a relatively new subject in psychology at the time of this publication. Questions generally remain about how much control you have over whether you thrive or falter after a traumatic event.
It can be possible that addressing your emotional challenges before trauma happens can help prepare you for growth, possibly increasing one’s reception. You can also work on your social skills so that connections with others happen more naturally for you in the wake of trauma and hardship.
Additionally, as you face and work on any mental health challenges you might have, you can become mentally stronger even without going through a traumatic experience.
Seeking Help Through Online Therapy
If you are trying to move forward from past trauma, speaking with a therapist can help. While post-traumatic growth is not generally considered to be universal, a therapist can help you work through past trauma and find ways to live well in the wake of your experience.
Talking about past trauma can often feel very vulnerable and personal, and it may help to be able to talk about it in a space where you feel most safe and at ease. With online therapy, you can meet with a therapist from wherever you have an internet connection and feel most comfortable—whether that’s your home or another safe place.
Is Online Therapy Effective?
Research has found details that suggest that online therapy can be an effective option for a range of concerns, including those who are working to survive and live well in the wake of trauma.
For instance, one research study examined the effects of an internet-based cognitive behavioral therapy intervention for complicated grief on post-traumatic growth and optimism. It found that “post-traumatic growth increased” in the group that received the internet-based treatment.
What is an example of post-traumatic growth?
Research shows that there are a few areas where post-traumatic growth can occur. As summarized in a post-traumatic growth inventory, some people may become more aware of the value of life in general and experience greater joy in the little things or be inspired to give back. Relationships with others may help them value, and they may have a deeper appreciation for the people around them and be more open to new possibilities. Getting through difficult times can help people gain personal strength or lead to spiritual growth, where they become more active in their religion or carve out their own spiritual journey.
What are the 5 phases of post-traumatic growth?
Some researchers believe there are five elements to treating trauma from a post-traumatic growth perspective. They are educating about how we respond to trauma, teaching emotional control strategies, discussing trauma memories, developing a personal story that includes positive aspects of the self and a view of one’s overall life that integrates the trauma experience, and planning to serve others.
What is the post-traumatic growth effect?
Post-traumatic growth can be generally defined as someone making positive changes in their lives due to struggling through a crisis or traumatic experience.
Is post-traumatic growth good?
Yes, post-traumatic growth is generally seen as a good thing. People who experience this type of growth may become more aware of the value of life in general and better appreciate and improve their relationships. They may also be more willing to try new things, become more spiritual, or be inspired to give back.
What is the difference between PTSD and post-traumatic growth?
PTSD, or post-traumatic stress disorder, is a psychological struggle or mental illness that may occur in people who have witnessed or experienced a traumatic event. People with this condition may have intense, disturbing thoughts and feelings and may relive the trauma through nightmares and flashbacks.
Post-traumatic growth involves positive outcomes resulting from the struggles following a traumatic event; in some ways, the two can be considered opposite reactions to dealing with trauma. Some recent research found that direct connections between PTSD symptoms and elements of growth are “low in magnitude,” and active coping styles may be more likely to lead to growth.
Is post-traumatic growth rare?
It’s hard to determine if post-traumatic growth is rare as it is still considered a newer area of research. One systematic review found that it occurs in about half of people who experience trauma and is more likely in people who are younger than 60, those who have had less time pass since the physical or psychological trauma, and those who work in professions where they see trauma frequently, like veterans, firefighters, or intensive care staff.
What are three types of events associated with post-traumatic stress disorder?
Many adverse events are associated with developing PTSD, including war, terrorist acts, natural disasters, rape, sexual assault, serious accidents, or intimate partner violence.
What are the five stages of trauma recovery?
Some recent research shows that there are five stages of trauma recovery.
First is the pre-contemplation or pre-trauma characteristics stage, which refers to the core belief systems, principles, and behaviors the person had before the trauma. This stage is when personality psychology is challenged by trauma.
The second phase is contemplation or rumination. In this stage, your brain tries to make sense of the trauma and figure out what happened.
Next is preparation or event centrality, a turning point where the person uses the previous processing and applies it to their life moving forward.
Action or control is the fourth stage, when the person starts taking active steps to make changes and recover.
Finally, the fifth stage is maintenance or mastery, where trauma survivors begin to practice and refine changes and coping skills as they move forward with life after the trauma.
What are the seven domains of developmental trauma?
The seven domains of developmental trauma are biological, or the impacts on brain development and the integration of right and left brain functioning; affect control, which can include intense periods of dysregulation or shut down; disassociation, which includes automatization of behaviors without conscious thought, compartmentalization of painful feelings and memories, and a lack of self- or emotional-awareness; attachment, which refers to excessive dependency or disengagement; behavioral control, or being oppositional or aggressive; cognition, including delays in language and deficits in problem-solving and abstract reasoning; and self-concept, when children think they are “bad” because of stressful events that have happened to them.
What interventions promote post-traumatic growth?
Recent research shows that some things that can positively affect post-traumatic growth include feeling negative emotions, practicing positive coping strategies, and taking positive growth actions. Human beings with resilience and certain positive personality traits, like agreeableness, are also more likely to experience post-traumatic growth.
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