For the past several years, we’ve heard a lot about post-traumatic stress and how it has ruined many lives, especially service people who have been through combat. But have you ever heard of post-traumatic growth (PTG)?
Yes, there is such a thing. Psychologists Richard G. Tedeschi and Lawrence G. Calhoun at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte came up with the term in the mid-nineties. Today there is a Post-Traumatic Growth Research Group at UNC Charlotte. Their website (https://ptgi.uncc.edu/what-is-ptg/) defines PTG as “positive change experienced as a result of the struggle with a major life crisis or a traumatic event.” The definition further explains that this is not a new idea. This theme of change through encounters with life challenges, sometimes in radically positive ways, has occurred in ancient spiritual and religious traditions, literature, and philosophy. The new part is its systematic study through clinical practice and scientific investigation.
The explanation says PTG tends to occur in five areas:
“Sometimes people who must face major life crises develop a sense that new opportunities have emerged from the struggle, opening up possibilities that were not present before. A second area is a change in relationships with others. Some people experience closer relationships with some specific people, and they can also experience an increased sense of connection to others who suffer. A third area of possible change is an increased sense of one’s own strength – “if I lived through that, I can face anything”. A fourth aspect of post-traumatic growth experienced by some people is a greater appreciation for life in general. The fifth area involves the spiritual or religious domain. Some individuals experience a deepening of their spiritual lives, however, this deepening can also involve a significant change in one’s belief system.”
Yet it must be remembered that people still suffer despite the growth. “Distress is typical when we face traumatic events.” And this in no way suggests that traumatic events are good. But life crises are inevitable for many people; the specific reaction depends on the person. Finally, not everyone will experience growth as a result of a traumatic event.
The bottom line — hope you never face a traumatic event. But if you do (like most of us), there is a good chance you may grow from it.