Traumatic experiences are a part of our lives, whether we want it or not. Since there is no unified definition of traumatic experience, it is hard to tell how many people undergo them during their lifetime.
Traumatic growth, although associated mostly with negative impact such as posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), it can also make a positive difference in one’s life. Of course, it is not immediate, as it rather occurs as a result of coping with a trauma than as a result of traumatic experience itself.
Research shows that posttraumatic growth can manifest through five different aspects: relating to others, noticing new possibilities, finding personal strength, going through spiritual change and showing new appreciation of life.
First of all, people who experience posttraumatic growth can change their attitude towards other people, redefine their relationships with family members or friends. For example, people who survived heart attack are more likely to spend more time with their families and realize the importance of their relationship. They can also feel a need for more intimate relationships or start helping some charities. The change occurring in the life philosophy manifest through revaluating priorities and finding new meaning in life. For instance, people who survived life-threating catastrophe, may say that in one moment they realised the whole meaning of life. They may become religious or simply ignore material things – whatever it is, it makes them more conscious of the value of life. Furthermore, finding personal strength seems to be a unique result of trauma. A devastating experience, that affects you in negative way, somehow can make you more resistant to other life challenges.
Of course, posttraumatic growth is exclusive to people undergoing trauma. There are multiple factors that determine whether a person will experience growth. Psychologist divide them into two types: related to personality and related to environment. Research has proven that the most important environmental factor is social support. It means that a person following a traumatic experience will be more likely to experience growth if they receive emotional and instrumental help. For example, research shows that cancer survivors showed higher levels of posttraumatic growth when they perceived the received social support as high.
On the other hand, personality factors can be equally important. One of the most significant aspects is the way a person copes with stress. Strategies that are beneficial, when it comes to dealing with trauma, are: positive reappraisal and seeking emotional help. It means that person will be more likely to experience posttraumatic growth if they try to see advantages and new chances after trauma. Also, research proves that speaking freely about emotions and expressing feelings may be helpful.
The same traumatic experience may influence two people in different way. There are no quick-fixes when it comes to trauma. It is important to remember that there are many ways of finding help. Posttraumatic growth is possible, when you feel support and you are trying to see positives in your situation.
Linley, P.A., Joseph, S. (2004). Positive change following trauma and adversity: A review. Journal of Traumatic Stress, 17 (1), 11-21.
Magda Domańska is a master’s-degree student at the University of Warsaw, Poland. She is interested in educational psychology and family therapy. She is participating in a summer internship programme at Willingness.com.mt.