Post-traumatic growth: what it takes to heal from trauma
It’s not an easy road, but experts say trauma can lead to new beginnings.
You may have heard of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder or PTSD. It is a mental health condition that arises after a traumatic event, often characterized by flashbacks, severe anxiety, and disturbing thoughts.
Fewer people have probably heard of post-traumatic growth.
Although trauma can invoke a frightening and debilitating response, in some cases it can be a catalyst for positive change. In the best of cases, it can even generate growth, strength and resilience.
Post-traumatic growth occurs when you are able to transform trauma and use adversity to your advantage.
The question is, how do you do it? Read on to find out.
“PTG is when someone has been affected by PTSD and finds a way to take new meaning from their experiences in order to live their lives in a different way than they did before the trauma” , Explain Dr. Marianne Trent, clinical psychologist and owner of Good Thinking Psychological Services.
“Examples of growth areas include personal strength, appreciation for life, new possibilities in life, spiritual change, and relationships with others,” says Trent. “PTG examples can be wide ranging from writing books, finding God, starting charities and many more. “
According to environmental psychologist and wellness consultant Lee Chambers, PTG can come in all sorts of ways, such as discovering latent talent and ability, finding the confidence to take on new challenges, and discovering a feeling of strength.
“It tends to engender a level of mindfulness and gratitude for life and the present moment and a focus on those relationships that need to be prioritized, usually those that the person feels were there for them through difficult times,” explains Chambers.
“Other frequently reported outcomes are a desire to help others and give back, appreciation for life, more self-awareness, and more compassion for others.”
While post-traumatic growth is nothing new, you may hear more about it as we come out of the pandemic.
a recent study published in the Journal of Psychiatry found that 88 percent of 385 respondents said they had experienced positive effects from challenging pandemic circumstances, such as homeschooling, loss of income and poor health.
In particular, respondents noted positive improvements in family relationships and reported a greater appreciation for life. Others said they had experienced spiritual growth due to the trauma of the pandemic and reported better mental health.
Post-traumatic growth raises an obvious question: Why do some people grow from trauma while others are crushed by it?
Trent and Chambers say that the following factors play a role:
- a strong support system
- personality traits such as extroversion and openness
- the ability to integrate the traumatic experience
- develop new belief systems after the traumatic experience
“Being able to find benefit from traumatic events is affected by many variables,” says Chambers.
An important factor is the strength of your support system. Those who have a strong network of supportive family and friends and the resources to seek mental health care are more likely to recover, studies show.
Psychology also plays a role.
“The two psychological traits that indicate a higher probability of experiencing post-traumatic growth are openness to experience and extraversion,” explains Chambers.
“This is probably because openness allows reconsideration of belief systems, and extraverts are more likely to initiate a response and actively seek social connection. Having positive personality traits like optimism and a focus on the future can also play a role, allowing us to see positive potential and use it.”
Integrating the experience
Trent says that PTG occurs when the person who experienced trauma is able to integrate their experience into their lives.
“In doing so, this leads to the development of new belief systems,” she says.
Otherwise, people may remain in the traumatized state.
“In my specialist work with people in trauma therapy, it seems that those who are less able to assimilate their experiences into their lives are more likely to get stuck,” says Trent.
PTG or resilience?
Trent points out that you technically have to experience post-traumatic stress before you can experience post-traumatic growth.
“To be classified as PTG, the person would have to have experienced symptoms of PTSD [first],” she explains. “Without these symptoms, any growth would be attributed to resilience rather than growth specifically due to trauma.”
Can anyone use stressful events to foster a deeper appreciation of life? Both Trent and Chambers say yes.
They recommend seeking professional mental health services, including:
- Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR)
- Compassion Focused Therapy (CFT)
- Trauma-Focused Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (TF-CBT)
“Accessing evidence-based, effective trauma treatments…can be life-changing,” says Trent. “Aftercare impacts can be like night and day for people in terms of increased functioning and decreased symptoms of trauma.”
It also confirms that these approaches are effective for a wide range of traumas, including:
- single event trauma
- multiple/complex PTSD
- trauma-related anxiety and depression
Chambers adds an important disclaimer.
“We have to be aware that trauma affects us all differently, and not suppress or ignore our suffering in a naive search for optimism,” he says. “By minimizing our trauma and its impact, we may not be able to express our negative emotions in healthy ways and reduce our chances of benefiting from PTG by reducing the experience.”
If you have experienced trauma, there are steps you can take toward integration. While it takes time, you may develop a post-traumatic growth response to your experience.
These steps include:
- reflecting on your experiences and emotions
- fostering a sense of community
- looking for mental health support
It is important to note that some traumas may be too much to process on your own. In those cases, it is important to seek help from a qualified professional.
As a first step, Chambers suggests processing your emotions by writing them down.
“Reflecting on what we’ve been through and how we’ve handled it, especially writing it down, helps us become more aware of how we handle our world that changes overnight,” he says.
As we reflect, we can cultivate gratitude.
“We can consider the things we hold dear and are grateful for and the meaning of our lives,” says Chambers. “When things are taken away from us and we get resourceful, we can begin to see how rich our lives are.”
Chambers believes that fostering a sense of community and seeking support from people you trust can also help.
“Communities have come together to support each other [during the pandemic], fostering ties and helping the most vulnerable”, he explains. “Many people say that this intentional connection has made them feel more appreciative of others and that they feel part of something bigger.”
For Trent, it’s about seeking mental health support and reaching out to those close to you first and foremost.
According to Trent, symptoms of trauma include:
- intrusive thoughts
- increased use of alcohol or drugs
- Sleep disturbance
If you or someone you know is experiencing these symptoms, Trent recommends the following steps:
- Talk to your doctor or call your local emergency mental health services.
- Talk to a trusted friend or family member about what you are experiencing.
- Consider journaling about your experiences. The very process of writing things down from A to Z can help with event processing.
- Instead of pushing your challenging thoughts or feelings away or using distraction techniques, learning to tolerate them for longer periods of time can help. Using distress tolerance techniques, such as box breathing for three to four breath cycles, can increase your ability to manage distressing thoughts.
- Learning about stabilization techniques or accessing psychological therapy can be incredibly helpful.
“In simple terms, the concept of post-traumatic growth lies in the understanding that traumatic, stressful and adverse events that happen to human beings have the potential to generate positive benefits,” Chambers supposes.
“These events, which can range from serious illness and loss of a loved one to warfare and sexual assault, are often life-transforming experiences, and post-traumatic growth is the positive outcome of enduring psychological struggle. of these events. .”
Knowing that traumatic events can be a catalyst for positive growth can give you hope if you are managing post-traumatic stress symptoms.
However, it is important not to minimize your traumatic experience and to take the time to process it properly, rather than rush into a false sense of optimism.
With the right support, doing so could help you move into a more positive space over time.
Victoria Stokes is a writer from the UK. When she’s not writing about her favorite topics, personal development and wellness, she usually has her nose in a good book. Victoria lists coffee, cocktails and the color pink among some of her favorite things. Find her at Instagram.
Last medical check-up on May 26, 2021