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Tag Archives: Existential Psychology

Posttraumatic Growth : An Existential Perspective

posttraumatic existential growth

We have seen from other articles that I have published in the ‘Postraumatic Growth’ section (see MAIN MENU at the top of this page) of this site that it is not only possible to recover from the adverse effects of trauma but even to go on to develop as an individual in response them in ways that would not have been possible had the traumatic events not occurred.

The concept of posttraumatic growth is closely related to existential philosophy / psychology. Yalom (1980) asserts that the four fundamental existential concerns that mankind faces are :

DEATH

FREEDOM

ISOLATION

MEANINGLESSNESS

Whilst most people go through life without dwelling on these four existential concerns too deeply (distracted as they are by life’s more superficial and mundane problems), there are certain life events that can bring them sharply into focus, including what Yalom refers to as a ‘COLLAPSE IN MEANING-MAKING SCHEMAas may occur as a result of severely traumatic experiences. (The term schema refers to the mental models we construct that help us make sense of / interpret the world around us. To read my article : ‘Childhood Trauma Leading To The Development Of Negative Schema’, click here.)

existential crisis

Yahom suggests that when a person becomes aware of one (or more) of these existential concerns as a result of trauma, s/he will enter a state of anxiety (i’e’ s/he will experience as EXISTENTIAL CRISIS).

Crucially, however, Yahom states, how long this state of anxiety lasts, together with its intensity, determines whether or not the individual who experiences the existential crisis a result of his / her traumatic experiences enters :

A) A positive state of posttraumatic growth 

or

B) A negative state of psychopathology

If s/he is fortunate enough to enter a positive state of posttraumatic growth, the individual can experience a profound sense of renewed meaning in life.

In relation to existential concerns, this may involve a far deeper appreciation of life given a more vivid awareness of one’s mortality and how precarious human existence is (specifically, this is connected to the existential concerns of meaning and death).

Or, to provide another example, a person may realize, given life’s brevity and uncertainty, s/he should make the free choice to live life more authentically, perhaps involving a radical change of career, lifestyle and social acquaintances (specifically, this is connected to the existential concerns of death and what to do with one’s freedom of choice).

A third example would be that of a person who finds a new, meaningful cause, related to the traumatic experience s/he suffered, to work for in life, such as a person who survived a highly disturbed childhood deciding to undertake helping disturbed children as his/her vocation (specifically, this is connected to the existential concern of finding meaning in life, and, thus, overcoming an existing, perceived state of meaninglessness).

 

David Hosier BSc Hons; MSc; PGDE(FAHE).

 

 

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