Who’s ever heard of post-traumatic growth?
Most people are familiar with the term “post-traumatic stress disorder” – the condition that can occur after someone experiences or witnesses a life-threatening event. The result can be unexplained stress and fear that make it difficult for someone to function normally in their every day life. What may surprise you is that people who have a traumatic event in their lives are more likely to experience “post-traumatic growth (PTG).” These people discover a renewed appreciation for life and find life easier and more enjoyable than before, yet few people have ever heard of this term.
There are often three ways in which people improve:
1. Better relationships. For example, they may value their friends and family more and feel an increased sense of compassion for others.
2. See themselves differently. For example, they may feel they have personal strength and resilience, while accepting their weaknesses and limitations.
3. Changes in their life philosophy. For example, they may feel appreciation for each new day with a better ability to live in the present and re-evaluate their priorities and values in life.
Just to be clear, this does NOT mean that these people bypass the suffering and pain before finding a different path. It means they don’t get stuck there. They overcome the downward-spiral and find a way to grow and learn. In one study on women with breast cancer, pessimists were as likely to experience PTG as optimists—and in another report, those who felt more depressed after their diagnoses were more likely to say they had made positive changes up to two years later compared with those who found the ordeal less trying. Some reported that their new found strength came from thinking, “If I can get through this, I can get through anything.”
Why is knowing about post-traumatic growth important? There is a theory that if more people were aware of this possibility, more people would have the hope needed to rise above their fear and anxiety after an event. Statistically, there is a good chance that all of us will have a traumatic experience in our lives, so let’s be prepared. Also, why wait for a gut wrenching experience to enjoy the benefits of post-traumatic growth? Let’s try to live them now.
Tina Hallis, Ph.D. is a professional speaker and consultant for The Positive Edge. She uses science to help people shift the way they think so they can achieve more success in their work and in their lives.