Growth After Trauma

From Khiron Clinics, May 20, 2022

Experiencing a traumatic event can come with many setbacks. Some people can develop post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and others can struggle with mental health conditions such as anxiety and depression. Despite this, many people overcome these conditions and go on to heal and grow from their trauma.

Post-Traumatic Growth

Adverse events and experiences can stimulate positive change, a term that psychologists refer to as post-traumatic growth (PTG).

The term post-traumatic growth was coined in the 1990s by Richard Tedeschi and Lawrence Calhoun and describes how survivors of traumatic events can see positive growth in their lives. Although not an easy road, studies have estimated that around 50% of trauma survivors experience PTG.

People can experience PTG in many aspects of their life, such as their personal strength, spirituality, and relationships. Some also write books about their experiences and found charities to help others who have experienced similar events to them.

Other areas of growth that people can experience from PTG include:

  • Creative growth
  • Greater appreciation of life
  • More compassion for others
  • More awareness of personal strengths

Of course, everyone who has experienced trauma would rather it had never happened in the first place. Nevertheless, some positives can come out of their experiences.

Responses to Trauma

As only around 50% of people experience some form of post-traumatic growth, it begs the question of how some grow from their experiences, whereas others are hurt further by them and go on to struggle with mental health problems for years. This can be down to their response to trauma, which several factors can influence, such as:

  • A strong support system – people who have a strong support network and who seek mental health care are likely to be more resilient and experience PTG.
  • Personality – personality traits can play a big role in people’s responses to trauma. Those who are more extroverted and open to trying new things may recover from trauma better, as they are more likely to seek social connection and be more open to reconsidering their beliefs. Others who are more optimistic may also experience more PTG than others as they focus on the future.
  • Integrating the experience – being able to integrate traumatic experiences into your life is a key part of PTG. This can then lead to people developing new belief systems that allow them to change and grow.

These factors can help people to integrate their experience of trauma more quickly and effectively than others. Other people may struggle in the aftermath of trauma, leading to feelings of guilt, shame, and fear, with other symptoms including avoidance, anger, hypervigilance, and intense anxiety.

Post-traumatic growth can be present alongside these negative trauma symptoms, and it is not uncommon for the two to co-exist.

Growing From Trauma

Anyone can grow from trauma, no matter their personality or support systems. Seeking trauma treatment can stimulate PTG and help people lead a healthier, happier life after experiencing trauma. Treatments for trauma include:

  • Somatic experiencing – some of those who have experienced traumatic events may have experienced the freeze response, in which they seize up and cannot do anything to escape what is happening. The energy from this response can stay in the body for years, causing symptoms such as digestive complaints, sleep problems, and muscle pain. Somatic experiencing can release this tension and reduce physical issues caused by trauma.
  • Internal family systems therapy (IFS) – IFS looks at all the different parts inside a person and how those parts respond to various events. The three main parts are managers, exiles, and firefighters, with each trying to protect the person from trauma and its after-effects. IFS therapy helps to befriend these parts and relieve symptoms of depression and anxiety.
  • Yoga – yoga combines physical exercise with mindfulness and breathing exercises. Research has shown that yoga can increase bodily awareness and reduce hyperarousal in those with PTSD, thereby boosting emotional regulation.[1]

There are also steps outside of treatment that you can take to help you grow from your experiences. One of these is to reflect on your emotions by writing them down in a journal or using another creative medium like art to process them. This reflection can help to give you more awareness of how you handle your emotions and how else you may be able to channel them. Research has also found that expressive writing – writing about a topic that triggers a strong emotional reaction – can help people create meaning from their experiences and better express their emotions.[2]

Educating yourself about trauma can also facilitate greater levels of PTG. Understanding how trauma may affect your body and your brain can lead to greater levels of self-awareness and help you navigate your healing journey.

Another essential element of post-traumatic growth is community support. Communities help to support each other through challenging times and when times are hard, having people you can reach out to for support can help to accelerate PTG. Without support, it can be challenging to cope with traumatic memories and the symptoms of trauma alone, so do not be afraid to reach out to others for help.

Conclusion

Although almost everyone will have heard of PTSD, not as many people will have heard of post-traumatic growth. It is not possible to begin looking for PTG immediately – it takes time to recover from traumatic events. Tedeschi and Calhoun liken trauma to an earthquake, reducing preconceived beliefs into rubble. It takes time to rebuild, but it can be done.

If you have a client or know of someone struggling with shame or trauma, reach out to us at Khiron Clinics. We believe that we can improve therapeutic outcomes and avoid misdiagnosis by providing an effective residential programme and outpatient therapies addressing underlying psychological trauma. Allow us to help you find the path to realistic, long-lasting recovery. For more information, call us today. UK: 020 3811 2575 (24 hours). USA: (866) 801 6184 (24 hours).

Sources: 

[1] Gallegos, Autumn M et al. “Meditation and yoga for posttraumatic stress disorder: A meta-analytic review of randomized controlled trials.” Clinical psychology review vol. 58 (2017): 115-124. doi:10.1016/j.cpr.2017.10.004

[2] Kaufman, Scott. “Post-Traumatic Growth: Finding Meaning And Creativity In Adversity”. Scientific American Blog Network, 2022, https://blogs.scientificamerican.com/beautiful-minds/post-traumatic-growth-finding-meaning-and-creativity-in-adversity/.

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