Post-traumatic growth, also referred to as growth after trauma, describes growth that occurs in response to a traumatic experience. Instead of the individual becoming debilitated by the experience event, they use the associated trauma and adversity to their advantage.
- Understanding post-traumatic growth
- The five stages of post-traumatic growth
- Why do some people grow from trauma while others do not?
- Eustress vs. Distress
- Fixed vs. Growth Mindset
- Key takeaways
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Understanding post-traumatic growth
Post-traumatic growth (PTG) posits that negative experiences can spur positive, transformational change in an individual.
One study found that approximately 50% of trauma survivors with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) experience growth after a traumatic event. What growth looks like will vary from one person to another.
Some will simply appreciate life more, while others may find religion, start a charity, uncover a hidden talent, or write a book.
The five stages of post-traumatic growth
Psychologists Richard Tedeschi and Lawrence G. Calhoun were responsible for naming the phenomenon in the 1990s and, based on their research, identified five distinct stages of post-traumatic growth.
Each stage occurs with time as the individual deals with adversity:
How does the individual choose to direct the energy and tension associated with stress and anxiety?
Some direct it toward risky or addictive behaviors, while others make the wiser choice of physical exercise or trying something new.
Trauma has a way of redefining one’s worldview and priorities.
Individuals who grow post-trauma explore new and meaningful possibilities instead of defaulting to their previous lives.
Relating to others
Support is vital for post-traumatic growth, whether that be from friends, family, a therapist, or advice from someone who has lived a similar experience.
Appreciation of life
We are all told to cherish the little things in life, but few of us actually do so until we’ve experienced trauma of some kind.
Experiencing post-traumatic growth means the individual sees life as a series of small but joyous events.
Spiritual or existential development
Understandably, many people who experience trauma wonder why it happened to them or what they did to deserve it.
When someone is face-to-face with death, however, they become more spiritual and/or comfortable with their own mortality.
Why do some people grow from trauma while others do not?
Whilst many people develop PTSD after a traumatic experience, not all of them recover or benefit from the experience.
Researchers have found that several factors play a role in determining whether someone grows from trauma:
Individuals who are extraverted and more open to new experiences are more likely to grow from trauma.
Openness enables them to reconsider their belief systems while their outgoing nature motivates them to seek social connection.
Studies also show that individuals with a strong support network of family and friends have a greater chance of recovery than those who do not.
When someone can integrate the traumatic experience into their lives, new belief systems are established.
Those who struggle with integration tend to relive the event and suffer from mental illness and flashbacks of the event.
They also find it difficult to maintain relationships.
Eustress vs. Distress
Eustress is a form of positive stress, which might lead to overcoming obstacles and growth instead of leading to burnout and failure.
Indeed, the prefix “eu” in Greek means “good,” thus eustress is classified as good stress or the sort of stress which leads to growth.
To improve at any skill, it’s critical to maintain a state of tension, where you move enough outside your comfort zone to improve, and you’re in a deliberate state, which might lead to the so-called “flow.”
In this stage, you can achieve things, and keep improving, thus making you feel further motivated and energized, which leads to incredible growth.
In the opposite distress scenario, you’re instead moving toward feeling overwhelmed and frustrated and getting stuck.
Indeed, the trauma was strong enough to induce growth but not as strong to break you.
At that point you experience incredible growth, and you get into an eustress mode of action!
Indeed, having a growth mindset vs. a fixed mindset can help reframe the trauma into an obstacle to overcome rather than into a personal failure that makes you miserable.
When you can tap into your ability to reframe the trauma into an obstacle to overcome, you kick off an incredible growth and personal evolution process.
- Post-traumatic growth (PTG) posits that negative experiences can spur positive, transformational change in an individual.
- Psychologists Richard Tedeschi and Lawrence Calhoun were responsible for naming the phenomenon in the 1990s. Based on their research, they identified five stages or qualities of post-traumatic growth: personal strength, new possibilities, relating to others, appreciation of life, and spiritual or existential development.
- Not everyone will experience growth after trauma or recover from the experience. One’s level of extraversion and openness can be drivers of post-traumatic growth, as are a strong support network and integration of the trauma into daily life.