August 15, 2022

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Official Website Of Union Of Campus Journalits, University of Ilorin.

ALL YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT POST-TRAUMATIC GROWTH

6 min read

Can the things that don’t kill us actually make us stronger?

 

By Obansa Ashraf

There is a common saying that what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. I found myself asking if this saying has any truth to it and whether this phenomenon has been explored. It is evident from my lived experience that people who have been through hardships are often more mentally and psychologically equipped to deal with hardship as well as having a more realistic grasp of living — than those who have lived a relatively sheltered life — these kinds of people are usually more resilient than others. But I don’t think just “hardship” covers the scope of this popular saying and the phenomenon it tries to make sense of. I think in this saying, for something to be incapable of killing you and for its failure to make you stronger; it must have tried to kill you or at least you must have felt like you could (have) died from it. Nothing captures this “something” more than a traumatic event.

A traumatic event is an incident that causes physical, emotional, spiritual or psychological harm according to Healthline. The CDC defines a traumatic event as an event or series of events that causes a lot of stress.

The American Psychological Association defines trauma as an emotional response to a terrible event like an accident, rape or natural disaster. When the effects of this traumatic event persists and begins to affect normal daily life it may degenerate into a mental condition called Post-traumatic Stress Disorder.

 

WHAT IS PTSD?

Mayo Clinic defines Post-traumatic Stress Disorder as a mental health condition triggered by a terrifying event – either experiencing or witnessing it. Symptoms may include flashbacks, nightmares and severe anxiety as well as uncontrollable thoughts about it. Most people who go through traumatic events usually have trouble adjusting and coping with normal life but with time and care, they usually get better. If this issue gets worse, and begins to interfere with day-to-day life, it may result in PTSD: the usual aftermath of witnessing or experiencing a traumatic or terrifying event which may range from physical abuse, mental abuse to even the death of a loved one.

WHAT IS POST-TRAUMATIC GROWTH?

 

While some people never get over their PTSD, some people do heal from it and become stronger and better people through the process of healing. This event is called Post-traumatic Growth (PTG). 

The term Post-traumatic Growth was first coined by Richard Tedeschi, PhD and Lawrence Calhoun, PhD in the 90s where they defined it as the positive psychological growth that an individual experiences as a result of struggling with a traumatic event. Tedeschi and Calhoun discovered that PTG usually expresses itself in five ways:

  • Greater appreciation for life: People who have experienced PTG have a greater appreciation for living and are able to appreciate the little things in life. They are more able to appreciate the things they once took for granted.
  • Increased personal strength: People literally become stronger psychologically and are more equipped to withstand difficult times. Post traumatic growth can be a pathway to resilience and personal strength.
  • Deeper relationships: People who experience PTG are able to have and maintain deeper relationships with people. It is evident that some people get closer to their spouses, siblings or even parents after experiencing a traumatic event.
  • Spiritual and Existential Growth: Trauma or suffering forces some people to think more philosophically and theologically. Some people find solace in religion and philosophy. Some people who experience PTG start to get closer to God. They are more frequent and active in church or they pray more.
  • New possibilities in life: people who experience PTG are able to see and even embark on new journeys in life as they see possibilities where they didn’t see them before.

HOW MANY PEOPLE EXPERIENCE PTG?

Tedeschi says that it is hard to put a definite number on it but he estimates that about half to three-quarters of people who experience trauma eventually experience PTG and studies have shown that this growth is usually stable over time.

WHO IS MORE LIKELY TO EXPERIENCE PTG?

According to Tedeschi, some groups of people are more likely to experience PTG than others. These include:

  • Extroverts: Extroverts are more likely to seek help and be more active in response to trauma and thus more likely to experience PTG. These people have more positive emotions and thus are more optimistic about their lives.
  • People who are open to experience: These kinds of people are curious and like to explore new things. These kinds of people are more likely to reconsider their belief systems and principles and adjust in response to trauma thus more likely to experience positive psychological change.
  • Women tend to report more PTG than men but the difference is relatively small.
  • Age can also be a factor with children under the age of 8 usually lacking the cognitive capacity to experience PTG but people in their late teens and early adulthood-who are still developing their world view and basic principles are more likely to experience PTG. Older people are less likely to experience PTG as they have come to terms with a lot of things thus are more resilient and trauma does not affect them much.
  • There may also be genetic predispositions for PTG but this possibility is still being explored.

HOW CAN ONE INCREASE THEIR CHANCES OF EXPERIENCING PTG IN THE AFTERMATH OF TRAUMA?

Dr. Tedeschi suggests that people who have experienced trauma should not avoid the reality of their situation. They should face it go and accept the reality of what has happened to them.

He also thinks it would be helpful for people who have experienced trauma to find good listeners and people who will stand by them for the long haul. Having a good support system and building strong relationships with people may also help. People who can help them through their difficult times by genuinely listening to them and being there for them. Seeking professional help may also fast track recovery from trauma.

Additionally, looking for common examples of people in their own environment who have experienced PTG may also help them in their journey. Learning about PTG and the fact that growth and positive change is possible may also increase people’s chances of experiencing PTG.

RESILIENCE VS PTG

PTG and resilience are quite similar as increased resilience can be a result of PTG, but they are different according to Kanako Taku, PhD an associate professor of psychology at Oakland University who has both researched PTG and experienced it as a survivor of an earthquake in 1995.

Taku says resilience is the personal ability to bounce while PTG is what can happen when someone who has difficulty bouncing back experiences a traumatic event that shakes his core beliefs, endures psychological struggle and then ultimately finds a sense of personal growth.

Tedeschi explains that someone who is already resilient when trauma occurs will not experience PTG because the event does not shake the person to the core and he doesn’t have to seek new belief systems. Less resilient people on the other hand are shaken to the core by a traumatic event and they struggle to understand what is happening to them and what it means for their belief system.

WHY IS KNOWING ABOUT PTG IMPORTANT ?

There’s already a lot of awareness about PTSD and not about PTG. It is important that people know that it is possible that they gain strength and some positive change from whatever trauma or challenge that they may be going through. Dr. Tedeschi thinks that knowing about the possibility of PTG increases the probability of experiencing it. PTSD doesn’t have to be the conclusions of traumatic events-growth is possible.

In conclusion, sometimes, the things that don’t kill us truly can make us stronger. We can find some positive change as a result of trauma.

References

1 “Traumatic Events: Causes, Effects, and Management – Healthline.” https://www.healthline.com/health/traumatic-events. Accessed 30 Jun. 2022.

2 “Coping with a Traumatic Event.” https://www.cdc.gov/masstrauma/factsheets/public/coping.pdf. Accessed 30 Jun. 2022.

3 “Growth after trauma – American Psychological Association.” https://www.apa.org/monitor/2016/11/growth-trauma. Accessed 30 Jun. 2022. 4 “Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) – Symptoms and causes.”

https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/post-traumatic-stress-disorder/symptoms-causes/syc-20355967. Accessed 30 Jun. 2022.

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