What Is Post-Traumatic Growth & How Do You Know When You’re Going Through It?

­­There’s a strange phenomenon that occurs to some people after they’ve experienced severe trauma. The name for it is “post-traumatic growth.” It’s a term clinicians use to identify certain people who undergo a surprisingly uphill transformation after going through something massively crushing to the mind, body, and/or soul and it’s a pretty amazing process.

So, what exactly is it anyway?

The American Psychological Association defines Post-Traumatic Growth (PTG) as a positive transformation following trauma that results in “a new appreciation for life, a newfound sense of personal strength and a new focus on helping others.”

Okay, but what does that really mean?

First, it may help to clarify what it is not. It’s not simply being resilient. Some of us are natural-born survivors. We either came up from the mud and personally identify with the struggle or otherwise are naturally just equipped with the ability to withstand crisis. We may be a bit shaken by chaos but never broken. We’re the type of people that never fully crack despite how hard we’re hit by life.

What are the signs?

To determine if someone has experienced PTG, psychologists look for positive responses in these five areas: (1) appreciation of life, (2) relationship with others, (3) new possibilities in life, (4) personal strength, (5) spiritual change.

Can you give any specific examples?

Forbes posted an article highlighting the story of Jessica Harthcock, who was paralyzed from the waist down during a high school diving practice. Despite vehemently being told otherwise, she was determined to be able to walk again and a few years later this happened for her. She also connected with so many people along the way. She’s clearly a happy and motivated person who is sharing their psychological wealth with others.

For us skeptics out there, how do we know this is real?

I’m sure some people are thinking this must be some form of detachment/coping mechanism and/or a temporary delusional high to avoid facing pain and reality. Surely with time the truth will sink in and haunt the person, right? Researchers wondered the same thing, so to verify the validity, they questioned other people in the patient’s life. From what they’ve discovered, the new mindset the victims adopt seems to stick.

Does and can this happen for everyone?

For this who are naturally resilient, they’re not likely to be as affected by the event and therefore not traumatized as deeply or in the same way. They are naturally equipped to deal, pick up the pieces, and move forward. For other people, it can be encouraged by a properly trained psychologist. There is still more for researchers to learn and discover about this occurrence.

Where can I go for more information?

There are many resources online for learning more about trauma, its effects, and where to seek help. Specifically, information from well-trusted sources such as the American Psychological Association is advised. If you or someone you know has personally undergone trauma and need support, please seek help from either a hospital (in emergency situations) or an outpatient psychologist, preferably one trained in trauma-based therapy. If you’re someone who has experienced post-traumatic growth, congratulations. Don’t be afraid to share your story and let others know they’re not alone and there’s hope for them too.

What does this mean for all of us?

Whether you’ve personally experienced major trauma or not, most of us have endured our fair share of struggle. It’s encouraging to see that even those who go through the simply unimaginable have hope and this should be inspiring for the rest of us. Happiness and well-being begin with a positive mindset and there are endless benefits to practicing mindfulness and incorporating affirmations and meditation into our daily routines. With a little effort, we can do the work to re-wire our brains and train our thoughts. Let’s raise a half-full glass to that!

Alright, let’s recap.

We should all be familiar with what trauma is. But, just for a refresher, the American Psychological Association defines trauma as “an emotional response to a terrible event like an accident, rape or natural disaster. Immediately after the event, shock and denial are typical. Longer-term reactions include unpredictable emotions, flashbacks, strained relationships and even physical symptoms like headaches or nausea. While these feelings are normal, some people have difficulty moving on with their lives.” This is what makes post-traumatic growth so mind-blowing. It’s truly amazing to see that some people are able to come out of these events, make a full recovery, and on top of that even rise up.

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