By Crystal Yarborough
After experiencing a traumatic event, many people are aware of the possibility of developing post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). People may not consider that growth can also happen after a traumatic experience. The notion that good things can happen from bad events is not a novel idea, but post-traumatic growth is becoming a more researched phenomenon in clinical psychology.
The University of North Carolina at Charlotte researchers Tedeshi and Calhoun defined post-traumatic growth as “the experience of positive change that occurs as a result of the struggle with highly challenging life crises.” Post-traumatic growth is not just resilience, but it refers to ways that people may change above and beyond their lives prior to the traumatic experience.
Tedeshi and Calhoun studied ways in which people may grow as a result of traumatic experiences and found five different categories in which people may experience growth:
- Enhanced relationships
- Greater appreciation for life
- New possibilities
- Enhanced sense of personal strength
- Enhanced sense of spirituality
People may identify cherishing their loved ones more or may find that they value life more than they did before the traumatic event. People may have an increased sense of spirituality that may or may not be connected with religion. Some people may be surprised at the personal strength that they developed as a result of the traumatic experience and may have a new plan or sense of purpose with their lives as a result of the trauma. Some examples of this growth may include starting a cancer survivor starting a support group or people feeling closer to their community as a result of surviving a natural disaster together.
It is important to note that post-traumatic stress and post-traumatic growth are not mutually exclusive concepts, as people may experience a range of outcomes as a result of their trauma. First, not everyone will experience post-traumatic stress or growth after a traumatic experience. Second, people may experience both challenges stemming from the incident and as well as areas of post-traumatic growth. The concept of post-traumatic growth does not suggest that the traumatic experience was a “good thing,” but does help people to make meaning from the incident in ways that may enhance their lives.