What Exactly is Posttraumatic Growth?

What Exactly is Posttraumatic Growth?

Coined by a couple of researchers in the mid 1990s, posttraumatic growth refers to a significant positive life change resulting from the struggle with a major life crisis or traumatic event. This result does not mean the person did not suffer. This phenomenon has been studied for years.

You may be fairly familiar with the term or diagnosis Post Traumatic Stress (PTS). The National Institute of Mental Health describes this as a recurring flight or fight response stemming from an earlier scary, traumatic, dangerous, or shocking event. It has become a pretty common term in our culture recently and affects about 7.7 million Americans each year.

With posttraumatic growth, it is through the suffering or distress that growth occurs. Not everyone will experience this effect when faced with a major life crisis or stressful event, precisely why is unknown.

Also note, the concept of “growth” requires some definition. In this context it describes a significant shift in understanding of the world and the person’s place in it. It does not describe life returning to normal after such an event but rather a psychological change that is personal and deeply meaningful leading to a richer life purpose after the event.Although more research is on-going, what we do know is that there are five areas that tend to demonstrate the growth. A person may express one or more of the below:

  1. A sense that new opportunities have emerged from the struggle
  2. Change in relationships with others such as a deeper personal connection with loved ones or anyone who suffers
  3. An increased sense of one’s own personal strength
  4. Greater appreciation for life in general
  5. Deepening of spiritual life and/or a significant change in one’s belief system

One thing to remember is that posttraumatic growth is different from resilience. Resiliency describes bouncing back after a profound crisis. PTG signifies a change so significant as to alter the person’s perception of life — in essence they bounce back at an even higher level than prior to the event. This is not to suggest that trauma is a “good” thing to experience. Rather it simply describes one way that people move through the experience of crisis.

In some cases we notice that families can experience a transformation of grief especially when the death is sudden or traumatic, through the gift of body donation. Some feel that by giving to others, to help others live long, healthy, active lives there can be some measure of comfort or meaning in their own personal loss. This is not necessarily an example of posttraumatic growth but it can lead one to a deeper appreciation of life.

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