We’ve all heard of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), but have you heard about post-traumatic growth? While PTSD has many negative connotations, and trauma is rarely a good thing, there is actually a bright side to any traumatic experience. The idea is that when something awful happens to you, regardless of what the trauma is (violence, loss, illness, abuse…) your initial response is negative — your defense mechanisms kick in and you do whatever you need to do to cope with that trauma. You shut down, you mourn, you avoid any reminders of that event, you get angry, you regress…but then, those negative reactions stop, and one day, you grow.
PTSD is Real, but it’s Also Possible to Experience Personal Growth from Trauma
The term post-traumatic growth (PTG) was coined in the mid 1990s by two psychologists at the University of North Carolina, Charlotte, Richard Tedeschi, PhD, and Lawrence Calhoun, PhD. This term applies to scenarios in which people undergo a traumatic, often debilitating experience, but despite, or perhaps because of, those psychological struggles they emerge stronger and better in the end.
These experts did extensive research, and after evaluating more than 600 trauma survivors they found that people grew emotionally, mentally, spiritually and physically as the result of any adversity they experienced.
As reported in the NY Times, a follow up study showed that the majority of trauma survivors “reported positive change in five areas: they had a renewed appreciation for life; they found new possibilities for themselves; they felt more personal strength; their relationships improved; and they felt spiritually more satisfied.”
And no, you do not need to experience posttraumatic stress first in order to experience posttraumatic growth. They can (and do) often co-exist, but personal growth from trauma can also happen independently and it’s far more common than you might assume.
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