Updated: Apr 3, 2021
In recent years, we’ve heard a lot about post-traumatic stress, or PTSD, and the negative effects it can have on a person’s overall health and wellness. PTSD is triggered in response to either experiencing or witnessing a traumatic event, particularly if that event is life threatening. This can result in flashbacks, nightmares, extreme anxiety and uncontrollable thoughts about the event.
Many people who experience or witness a traumatic, life-threatening event may have difficulty coping or adjusting for a certain period of time, but, eventually, they get better. Those affected by PTSD, however, are likely to continue to experience negative symptoms for months, or even years. With proper treatment through therapy, it’s possible to get the symptoms of PTSD under control. What if, rather than just getting those symptoms under control, it was possible to have some good come out of a negative situation?
Post-traumatic growth is the positive change experienced as a result of working through some major crisis or traumatic life event. The idea that human beings can experience positive change in the course of meeting life’s challenges is not new. It has long been part of philosophical, religious and spiritual traditions, and is regularly referenced in both classical and modern literature. More recently, the thought has evolved from simply an idea into a systematic study by social scientists and healthcare professionals.
Personal growth that comes out of trauma generally happens in one or more of four different areas: recognizing new opportunities and possibilities that were not there before; changes in relationships that include both strengthening personal relationships, as well as feeling more connected to the community at large; an increased sense of personal power and a sense that, “If I can get through this, I can get through anything.”; a greater appreciation of life.
It’s important to keep in mind that, although each of us will handle the stress of traumatic events differently, the discomfort we experience in the face of them is normal. Although we may grow as a result of working through those events, it does not mean we won’t experience suffering in the process. While, in some cases, the burden is the blessing, without recognizing that the burden is still a burden, we run the risk of ignoring our true feelings.
Post-traumatic growth is not a universal experience, but in the proper counseling environment we are presented with the opportunity to change a negative experience into something with, at least in part, a positive outcome.