What Leads to Post-Traumatic Growth?
I doubt there is a single person on the planet, or any one of you reading this blog post, who hasn’t experienced some type of traumatic event in their lifetime. Oftentimes, when we think of trauma, we think of the more known ones such as abuse, bereavement, illness, accidents or the threat of losing a loved one. However, we can experience trauma with less extreme events, as trauma is an event that causes us to feel threatened in some way, either physically, emotionally or mentally and one that makes us feel fearful, unsafe and insecure or afraid for our own life or that of a loved one. For a child, moving house, or having a loved one move away, or seeing something frightening, even in a film, can be traumatic. One of the most fascinating things about trauma is that a huge number of people recover afterwards and move on with their life. Whilst studying Positive Psychology for my Masters in Applied Positive Psychology and Coaching Psychology, I have been drawn to the whole field of Post-Traumatic Growth and what the ‘difference that makes the difference’ is, when it comes to growth.
According to Tedeschi and Calhoun, highly stressful events have a major impact on individuals that range from numerous psychological problems; anxiety, depression unpredictable emotional states, negative thinking, fear as well as physical problems such as aches and pains, muscles problems, gastrointestinal problems and fatigue, to name but a few. These problems can last for years, after the event has long passed, as well as unwanted memories of the trauma, flashbacks, regret, guilt and feelings of not being able to move on with one’s life. It can be especially challenging when other people appear to have moved on and you feel like you are stuck in some kind of limbo between how the past was and how it is now. I know this from my own personal experience after the death of my parents when I was in my twenties. For many years, research into trauma has focused on those individuals who ended up in a therapeutic setting because they were suffering severe psychological effects from highly stressful events. However, Tedeschi and Calhoun chose to look at those individuals who had experienced growth after a traumatic event which is why Post-traumatic Growth (PTG) is part of the field of study of Positive Psychology.
One interesting aspect of PTG is the fact that the trajectory of growth is more advanced in individuals who are younger because as we age, we have already had much life experience as well as having developed greater levels of resilience. However, anyone can experience PTG at any stage of their life. Adolescents and individuals in the in twenties often demonstrate the greatest levels of growth whilst older individuals often display higher levels of hardiness and therefore their ability to cope with major stressful events reduces the potential for growth.
Tedeschi and Calhoun in their research discovered five domains of PTG, which are the changes that occur in an individual when they experience PTG. They are as follows:
• Personal Strength: the feeling that you can cope with life’s adversities and have more wisdom and maturity as well as feeling stronger for the experience
• Closer Relationships: knowing the value of close relationships as well as having a greater sense of who the important people are in one’s life
• Greater Appreciation of Life: feelings of gratitude, hope, kindness towards others, love and teamwork
• New Possibilities: working towards goals, prioritizing values and time commitments and greater understanding of friends and family
• Spiritual Development: readjusting beliefs to encompass the trauma or revising spiritual beliefs altogether.
I am sure many of you already identifying with these aspects of your own growth. If you haven’t experienced this yet, there is still plenty of time. PTG can take time as it is necessary to go through the emotions associated with the stressful event and move towards a place of recovery. There are, however, also a number of factors that can support you in moving towards growth after a traumatic life event.
• Brutally Honest Optimism: believing that you can be ok and that you have the power to get over this experience
• Perception of Control Over Events: taking action after the event, as well as reframing it into a context that makes sense.
• Coping Style: having an active coping style that leads to problem solving rather than an avoidant coping style that leads to denial and impedes recovery
• Strong Sense of Self: having a purpose in life and a healthy narrative that makes sense of what had happened to you and prevents you from repeating some of the mistakes that may have been made by others that lead to the stressful event.
One of the most important things to remember when you are going through an intensely stressful life event is to get the support and help you need. If you are struggling with your mental health then working with someone who can diagnose what you are experiencing, especially when it comes to Complex PTSD, PTSD or Personality Disorders and provide you with the right kind of therapeutic support. If you are feeling it’s time to make changes and move forward in your healing then working with a coach who can help you work on your ‘New Possibilities’ as well as help you to develop a healthy narrative around your trauma is an excellent way to move to a more healthy place in your life, or what Positive Psychology calls flourishing.
Of course as always, if you have any questions that I can help you with or if you want advice about the kind of support you, or your loved may need, then please get in touch via email: email@example.com or via phone: 00353868373582. I see clients face to face and online and can support you using Coaching Psychology, Positive Psychology, NLP, Hypnosis, CBT and Mindfulness.
Thanks for reading.
I hope our paths cross again in future,