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Post-Traumatic Growth: Is it Possible to Grow Positively from Trauma?

bill.marcus
| October 1, 2018

By Cindy Coloma

Office woman lost in thoughtDifferent people deal with traumatic events differently. Some people are able to bounce back quickly, while others spiral in the opposite direction. Occasionally, we hear of someone who ends up stronger than they were before the traumatic event occurred; instead of regressing, they actually bounced forward.¹ How does that happen?

Transformation After Trauma

In the mid-1990s, psychologists Richard Tedeschi, PhD, and Lawrence Calhoun, PhD, developed a theory about what they describe as “transformation” following trauma.² The psychologists theorized that people who experience post-traumatic growth (PTG) actually experience a traumatic event that challenges their core beliefs. After taking time and energy to work through the struggle, these people ultimately find a significant sense of personal growth.

PTSD and PTG: What is the Difference?

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is marked by symptoms such as flashbacks, nightmares and severe anxiety, as well as uncontrollable thoughts following a terrifying event.³

PTG can actually occur after someone experiences a traumatic event and a psychological struggle, such as PTSD. Tedeschi and Calhoun actually developed a scale to identify PTG. It’s called the Post-Traumatic Growth Inventory (PTGI),⁴ and it measures positive responses in five areas:

  • Appreciation of life
  • Relationships with others
  • New possibilities in life
  • Personal strength
  • Spiritual change

An example of someone who has experienced PTG is Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg. In her book, Option B: Facing Adversity, Building Resilience, and Finding Joy, Sandberg states that the pursuit of meaningful work and building resilience like a muscle helped her bounce forward after the sudden death of her husband.⁵ Sandberg has created a website, optionb.org, to connect people and share stories of resilience.

Ways To Find Post-traumatic Growth For Yourself:

  1. Build relationships – Seek out people in your life who won’t rush you through the trauma healing process. Be vulnerable and seek connections with a healthy support system that will build you up and give you space to figure out your own path of healing. Encouragement from someone who loves you really can make a difference.
  2. Practice positivity – Begin to focus on new possibilities in life and work on appreciating the life you have. Journaling might be helpful. For example, you could start by making a list of everything that’s good in your life or everything you’re thankful for.
  3. Be curious – It’s actually healthy to question the beliefs you may have had before your trauma. Exploring faith and meaning can be healthy, and seeking to learn from the beliefs of others can help you connect and build relationships.

Sources

1 Dill, Kathryn. “In ‘Option B,’ Sheryl Sandberg presents meaningful work as an antidote for trauma.” CNBC.com, May 3, 2017.

2 Collier, Lorna. “Growth After Trauma.” American Psychological Association, November 2016.

3 “Post-traumatic Stress Disorder.” Mayoclinic.org, Accessed April 14, 2018.

4 Tedeschi, RG and Calhoun LG, “The Posttraumatic Growth Inventory: measuring the positive legacy of trauma.” US National Library of Medicine, Accessed August 14, 2018.

5 “We all live some form of Option B.” optionb.org, Accessed August 14, 2018.

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