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What is Post Traumatic Growth?

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Although trauma can have plenty of negative effects, it is possible to take away some positives from trauma. Here’s how.

Clinically Reviewed By:
Don Gasparini Ph.D., M.A., CASAC

They say every cloud has a silver lining...but is this still the case with something as dark as trauma? 

A traumatic experience (or multiple instances of trauma) can take a serious toll on your mental health, and in some cases, can even result in complications like acute stress disorder (ASD) or post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Trauma can knock you off your feet, deeply stress you out, and negatively impact your life –– even if it doesn't develop into something like ASD or PTSD. Through all the negativity, though, is it possible that any good can come out of trauma?

Regardless of the type of trauma that’s endured, it is possible for trauma survivors to grow from the experience and take some positives away from the situation. This phenomenon is known as post traumatic growth.

What is post traumatic growth? 

Experiencing trauma is unfortunately quite common. It’s estimated that up to 43% of children and teens live through at least one traumatic event in their childhood or teen years. The number climbs higher for adults, with 60% of men and 50% of women living through at least one instance of trauma in their life. However, all of these people have the capability to grow through the pain.

While the word “trauma” was first used in the 1600s, the concept of post traumatic growth is relatively new. It wasn’t coined or explained until the mid-1990s by two psychologists: Richard Tedeschi and Lawrence Calhoun. They developed “The Posttraumatic Growth Inventory” as a way to look at the “positive legacy” that trauma may leave on some individuals. 

The psychologists noted that while there was extensive research surrounding the negative impacts of trauma, there was far less about any positive change following trauma. They wanted to show that while trauma can be extremely devastating, it doesn’t mean that there aren’t any possible upsides to it. If you address trauma in a healthy way, you can grow from it and implement positive changes in your life –– and that can be a major beacon of hope for trauma survivors. 

If you experience post traumatic growth, it certainly does not mean that you are sweeping your trauma under the rug, pretending it never happened, and only looking at life through rose-colored glasses. It also isn’t discounting that the trauma you went through was very real and had detrimental effects. Rather, it is a way to help you go on with your life and take some unexpected bonuses away from something terrible, such as increased resilience and personal strength. You can come through the other end of trauma a stronger person, and implement newfound positive changes into your life going forward.

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What are the different aspects of post traumatic growth?

You can experience various different aspects of personal growth after trauma. To classify and quantity the positive changes someone may experience after trauma, Tedeschi and Calhoun created the “Posttraumatic Growth Inventory” which includes the following five “factors” or categories:

1. Relating to others

This factor relates to social support and relationships. Leaning on loved ones, opening up about emotions, and asking for help are behaviors that can help you heal from trauma, and this is something you can carry on throughout your life. 

After trauma, you might have:

  • Confidence that others can help you in difficult times
  • Newfound closeness with other people
  • More compassion for other people
  • The ability to openly express your emotions
  • The desire to put more effort into relationships
  • An appreciation for how great people can really be
  • An understanding and acceptance of needing social support

2. New possibilities

Trauma can affect you in positive ways that you never thought possible, such as opening new doors for you. You may find a new purpose in life, which can lead to beneficial changes. For example, you may:

  • Develop new and different interests
  • Embark on a new life path
  • Feel like you can do “better things” with your life
  • See new opportunities that weren’t available before
  • Feel the desire to make positive changes

3. Personal strength

It really is true that overcoming something horrible can make you stronger. When life throws something unpredictable at you, such as trauma, you are essentially forced to deal with it. Coming out on the other side of trauma, you may realize that if you can get through this, you can get through anything. Other personal strength benefits include:

  • Learning that you are resilient and can be self-reliant
  • Gaining confidence that you can handle difficult things
  • Learning acceptance
  • Discovering that you’re stronger than you thought you were

4. Spiritual change

Spirituality and religion are deeply personal. To some people, this can be a big part of their life, and for others, not so much. Regardless, surviving a traumatic event can potentially result in spiritual growth, strengthen your existing spirituality, or cause you to discover a new spiritual path. You may:

  • Having a deeper understanding of spirituality
  • Developing a stronger faith within your religion 

Note: According to the American Psychological Association, Tedeschi said that future versions of the Posttraumatic Growth Inventory will be expanded so that more people can relate to it, such as those people who are more secular (meaning not religious or spiritual) and people from different cultures. 

5. Appreciation of life

Surviving trauma can give you a new lease on life. Perhaps before trauma, you were just coasting through day-to-day without living to the fullest, taking most or all aspects of your life for granted. After surviving something terrible, you might:

  • Realize new priorities about what’s most important to you in life
  • Appreciate the value of your life
  • Appreciate every day as it comes

Especially when you put all of these categories together, it’s clear to see how many positives you can take away if you actively lean into healing your trauma to fosterpost traumatic growth.

How to grow from trauma and foster post traumatic growth

So, what promotes post traumatic growth? Well, everybody is different. It may come a little more easily to some people than others, but there are certain steps you can take to get you on the right path to post traumatic growth.

Here are some things you can do:

Lean on your support system:

Social support is crucial when healing from trauma. Your support system may include any of your loved ones, whether that’s family members, chosen family, romantic partners, or friends. You do not have to go through the aftermath of trauma alone. Your loved ones are here to support you. You can open up to them about your struggles when you need a shoulder to cry on, or engage in fun activities with them when you’re ready as a form of healthy distraction. 

A young teen smiles because he is healing from trauma

Find positive ways to integrate your experience into your life:

As previously mentioned, growing from trauma doesn’t mean you’re ignoring it. In fact, it can be beneficial to acknowledge the trauma and how you can incorporate it into your life. According to Tedeschi, ways you can do this include:

  • Learning how to regulate your emotions: When coping with trauma, it’s natural that you will face a variety of emotions, some of them being very difficult to cope with. Learning to regulate tough emotions can help you push forward. Mindfully noticing your emotions, meditating, exercising, or breathwork are some methods to help you with this. 
  • Disclosing your trauma: Your trauma isn’t something you need to keep a secret if you don’t want to. Opening up about your trauma in certain situations can help take a weight off your shoulders. By doing this, you’re also opening the floor for people to open up about their own struggles, and help people realize they aren’t alone if they’re coping with trauma or any other mental health struggles. 
  • Writing your future story: What’s already happened is in the past, but you can decide how you want to write your life story going forward. This can include looking at your new sense of purpose and appreciation for life and deciding how you want to affect how you live your life from here on out. 
  • Give back: Giving back to the community and serving others who are in need can help you heal. You can find purpose in helping people who are going through similar struggles that you have faced.

Seek professional mental health care:

Mental health services from therapists, psychologists, and psychiatrists can be very beneficial and even life-changing. While loved ones can provide great social support, this is not the same as getting professional help from experts who are trained to help people dealing with mental health struggles.

Working with a professional after trauma is key to help you work through trauma and its effects such as:

  • Feelings of hopelessness, sadness, anger, or guilt
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Flashbacks
  • Desire to isolate and withdraw

Specific types of therapy such as cognitive behavioral therapy or eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR) may be particularly helpful for processing trauma and learning to cope with your struggles.

Dealing with your trauma response early on can potentially help prevent you from developing a long-term mental health condition like post traumatic stress disorder.

Aside from using therapy to process the trauma and cope with the extremely difficult emotions surrounding it, a trauma-informed therapist can also help you get on track to find the positives in the situation and figure out how to use this as a learning experience that will help you grow in different aspects of your life. Depending on if you’re dealing with complex trauma such as ongoing childhood trauma, or acute trauma such as a recent instance of sexual assault, you may want to find a therapist who specializes in that area so you can get the most specialized care for you. In some cases, you might be referred to a psychiatrist who can prescribe psychiatric medications if the effects of your trauma are debilitating.

How Charlie Health can help 

Are you a trauma survivor who’s looking to process your trauma and experience post traumatic growth? Or, do you think you might have acute stress disorder or post traumatic stress disorder? If so, Charlie Health may be able to help you.

Our personalized intensive outpatient program provides mental health treatment for teens, young adults, and families dealing with a variety of struggles, including trauma. In our program, you will be matched with a trauma-informed therapist who meets your specific needs, and connected with a group of peers from similar backgrounds who face similar struggles to help you remember you are not alone. 

Coping with trauma can be very difficult, but with trauma-informed care and a supportive community, you can push forward, grow, and even thrive after trauma. Help is here now. We're available 24/7 to get you started on your healing journey. 

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