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Health and Wellbeing

03 Mar 2020

Post-traumatic growth - bouncing forward after difficulty

Many of you will know the old adage: if it doesn’t kill you, it makes you stronger.

We now have a name for this phenomenon in psychology: post-traumatic growth (PTG), which is defined as the positive psychological change experienced as a result of adversity. In other words, in certain circumstances, our minds can grow from difficulty.

What does post-traumatic growth look like?

These are just some of the areas that researchers have found can change for the better after adversity:

Relationships

Some individuals describe that they come to value their friends and family more deeply after a traumatic event, and don’t take people for granted as much. Serious challenges can also give us an increased sense of compassion and longing for more intimate relationships. Ask yourself: who helped you get through a traumatic experience?

Emotional growth

After adversity, some people find that the challenge gave them a deeper inner wisdom, personal strength, and gratitude. Trauma can even help people be more accepting of their own vulnerabilities and limitations. What did you learn about yourself or the world after a difficult experience?

A better outlook on life

Adversity can cause individuals to re-evaluate their life purpose and mission, becoming less materialistic and more able to live in the present. Ask yourself: What do you really want to do with your life?

What contributes to post-traumatic growth (PTG)?

Research suggests the people who can successfully bounce forward after difficulty are those who define themselves not by what has happened to them, but by what they can make out of what has happened. These are the people who actually use adversity to find the path forward.

This isn’t true for everybody however. So, what distinguishes the people who find growth in these experiences from those who don’t? There are a number of factors involved, and here are two of them:

Mindset

People’s ability to grow from adversity rests largely on how they view the cards they have been dealt, so the strategies that most often lead to PTG include: reinterpretation of the situation or event, optimism, acceptance, and coping mechanisms that include focusing on the problem head-on rather than trying to avoid it.

Personality

Specifically, high openness to experience and high levels of extraversion. People who are more open are more likely to reconsider their belief systems and extroverts are more likely to be more active in response to trauma and seek out connections with others, both of which lead to a greater likelihood of experiencing PTG.

How to: post-traumatic growth

Many of us experience deeply challenging or traumatic events in our lives. Try these the next time you experience a challenge that has the capacity to knock your resilience:

Feel deeply

Don’t diminish your response to the adversity itself. It’s really important to feel the tough emotions before bouncing forward. Psychologists can be great for supporting you with this.

Constructive self-disclosure

It’s important to share and talk about our adversity to process it fully, it’s called constructive self-disclosure. Find a safe space or person where you can share your story, or a professional who can help you make sense of it.

Personal strengths

Look at how your personal strengths got you through the trauma. How did you handle it, and what have you learned from the experience? •

 

Rajna Bogdanovic

Clinic Psychologist

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