Post-Traumatic Growth “Better than ever.”

In an earlier article on PTSD (see CPFS Mental Health Notes—June 2010–on “PTSD”), information was given about the adaptive healing process from a traumatic event. Life after a traumatic event can go one of three ways: 1) we remain stuck in the experience (PTSD); 2) we return to previous level of functioning (Resiliency); or 3) we are a better person from the experience (Post-traumatic Growth).

Personal growth from a traumatic experience is not a new idea. Our grandmothers would lovingly encourage us: “When you get lemons, make lemonade” or “make hay when the sun shines.” In the movie, Lion King, there is a short vignette that exemplifies growth after trauma. Remember when Rafiki hits Simba in the head with his walking stick and Simba cries out “that hurts.” Do you remember what happens next? (See http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ykbx-yzFgBo&NR=1 ) What a wonderful message to have given to so many people, and yet how many of us missed that wisdom the first time.

Many of us wait for misfortune to be a time for change, or said another way, many of us take advantage of trauma and make changes in our self. Dr. Richard Tedeschi, a psychologist who works with grieving families, has identified five domains in which people change: 1) appreciation of life; 2) relating to others; 3) personal strength; 4) spiritual change; and 5) new possibilities. Let’s take a look at some examples of these domains.

With greater appreciation of life, we experience more purpose, different priorities, and meaning for each day. With changes in relating to others, we get closer to others, rely more on others, more open with others, more compassion for, and appreciation of, others;, and more trusting. With increase in personal strength, we have greater self-reliance, confidence in our coping skills, acceptance of how things work out, and feeling empowered. Spiritual changes include increases in faith and understanding of spiritual issues. When we experience “new possibilities”, we develop new interests, new skills, new life paths, new opportunities, and new direction.

Obviously, these changes don’t occur overnight. Be patient. As the Chinese proverb suggests: “The best way to clear dirty water is to let it settle.” Peace and serenity can be achieved, and are interwoven with feeling safe. When we feel safe, we are more motivated to approach (compared to avoid when we feel in danger), connect, and explore.

Research identifies numerous ways to facilitate the healing process: maintaining connections with others, accept change as part of living, don’t view crisis as insurmountable but as opportunity for change, maintain hope, keep things in perspective, nurture positive view in self and others (“we have what it takes to get through this”), and take care of yourself.

Let the staff at CPFS be your travel agent as you prepare for your exciting journey for the future.

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