Tag Archives: Posttraumatic Growth

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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Posttraumatic Growth : The Importance Of Relationships And Social Support

posttraumatic growth relationships social support

Our relationships with others significantly influence how we cope with and respond to trauma ; the researchers Fedesch and Calhoun (2006) suggested that specific reasons as to why this should be so included the following :

  • other people may positively alter how we view the world and how we interpret and perceive events
  • other people may introduce us to additional coping methods
  • other people may provide us with social support

Other researchers (e.g. Cordova et al., 2001 ; Leopore and Revenson, 2006) suggest that relationships with others in which we feel safe to make emotional disclosures may be of particular value.

Leopore and Revenson also suggest that our relationships with others can help with how we respond to trauma in the following ways :

  • weakening the connection between the trauma and negative emotional responses and replacing them with positive emotional responses
  • helping us to regulate (control) our negative emotions connected to the trauma by shifting our focus of attention
  • helping us to habituate to negative emotions connected to the trauma
  • facilitating positive cognitive reappraisals in relation to the trauma

Other Ways That Relationships And Social Support May Be Of Benefit :

  • Through his research, Weiss (2004) found that those who had suffered traumatic experiences can benefit in particular by having social relations with others who have also lived through trauma and who have not only coped with it, but have also experienced posttraumatic growth in response to their traumatic experiences and can, therefore, act as role-models.
  • Schroevers et al., (2010) conducted research suggesting that having other people to help the individual who has suffered trauma cognitively process information connected with the traumatic experience can also be of significant benefit

The Importance Of Avoiding Negative And Critical Social Interaction :

Research also suggests that, in the aftermath of trauma, it is at least as important (and, perhaps, even more important), to avoid negative and critical social interaction in the aftermath of trauma as it is to find positive support if one wishes to experience posttraumatic growth.

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

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Posttraumatic Growth – Techniques to Help Keep Remaining Symptoms of Trauma Under Control

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I have stated before that just because we have entered the phase of posttraumatic growth, this does not mean symptoms of trauma have been completely eradicated. Therefore, in order to be able to maximize the potential of our posttraumatic growth, it is very useful to know about techniques to manage re-emerging symptoms resulting from our experience of trauma, so that they interfere with our recovery as little as possible.

THE TECHNIQUES :

So, if, during our recovery/posttraumatic growth, we feel our symptoms are re-asserting themselves, we can employ the use of the following techniques:

– avoid interpersonal conflict (eg do not allow ourselves to be drawn into energy sapping and demoralizing arguments)

– talk to others about how we are feeling

– take as much time as possible for relaxation (eg gentle exercise,meditation, warm bath)

– indulge in as many enjoyable and pleasurable activities as possible, WITHOUT FEELING GUILTY ABOUT IT (see the activities as a form of necessary therapy)

– treat ourselves with compassion and do not blame ourselves for the effect the trauma has had on us

– keep to a routine; this is very important as it gives us a sense of predictability, control, safety and security

– make use of any social support systems as much as possible (eg friends, family, support groups). Research shows that those with a strong social support network in place cope better with the effects of traumatic experiences

– remember that many individuals who experience significant trauma find that ,once they have come through it, they have gained much inner strength and have greatly developed as people with a much deeper appreciation of life than they had before the traumatic experience/s occurred

– try not to avoid situations which remind you of the original trauma, where at all possible,as this is an effective way of overcoming the fear associated with such situations; avoidance keeps the problem going

– keep reminding yourself that human beings are extremely resilient; many people throughout the ages have been through appalling experiences yet have become stronger people as a result

– it important to remember that seeking professional help is not a sign of weakness or failure

Note : the above suggestions are based on advice given by the Academy of Cognitive Therapy.

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

 

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Posttraumatic Growth – Reconstructing The Life Story We Tell Ourselves

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We make sense of our lives by telling ourselves a story about it – however, this does not mean the story we tell ourselves reflects reality, not least because how we act and behave are often motivated by unconscious processes of which, by definition, we are unaware.

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Those who have suffered abusive childhoods very often grow up to believe that they are a ‘bad’ person (click here to read my article in which I explain why this is). Usually, this is the case because they are telling themselves an inaccurate life story (for example, part of the story they tell themselves might be : ‘I deserved to be badly treated as a child because I am a bad person’).

However, in order to recover from the effects of a traumatic childhood, and to start to enter a phase of posttraumatic growth, we need to adjust the story we tell ourselves; this can be achieved by understanding that our bad treatment in childhood was not our fault and that our adult behaviours, which might have been highly self-destructive, have their roots in our childhood experiences.

So, to slightly extend the example above,let’s suppose that the story we have been telling ourselves to make sense of our lives boils down to :

‘I was badly treated as a child because I am a bad person. My adult behaviour confirms that I am a bad person.’ (Old story)

HOWEVER :

once we understand and make sense of our traumatic experiences, what has happened in our lives takes on a whole new meaning, allowing us to reconstruct our life story to, for example :

‘The bad treatment I received as a child was not my fault. Problem behaviours that I have developed as an adult, resulting from my traumatic experiences, are understandable and forgivable. How I have been feeling and behaving as an adult is a NORMAL REACTION TO ABNORMAL EXPERIENCES. (New adjusted/reconstructed story we need to tell ourselves about our lives to allow posttraumatic growth to take place)

This new understanding of what has really happened in our lives is often a source of great relief and we need to ensure this enlightenment becomes a FUNDAMENTAL part of the new life story that we tell ourselves.

Changing our view of our life story in this way will NOT mean we suddenly become completely free of emotional distress; however, it can mark a point at which we can start to recover, and, with sufficient posttraumatic growth, become a much stronger and, indeed, thriving person.

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David Hosier BSc Hons; MSc; PGDE(FAHE)

 

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The Main Elements Of Posttraumatic Growth

childhood-trauma-fact-sheet

Many people, after suffering a terrible trauma, find that, once they have got through it and started to recover from its damaging psychological effects, they eventually reach a stage whereby they are able to use their adverse experiences to develop them as a person in highly positive ways that benefits both themselves and society at large. This has been termed by psychologists posttraumatic growth (click here to read an earlier article I have written about this).

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After experiencing trauma comes a slow process of recovery (assuming effective therapy is sought); the length of time recovery takes will depend both upon the type, intensity and duration of the trauma, as well as the age the individual was when s/he experienced the trauma, and also the affected individual’s personal characteristics, temperament and genetic make-up.

Once the person who experienced the trauma is able to manage his/her painful and distressing emotions more effectively, finds memories of the trauma less difficult to cope with, and is able to function reasonably well on a day to day basis, a transition can start to take place in which the person begins the process of moving on from recovery into posttraumatic growth. Ideally, this period of growth and development should be guided and facilitated by an appropriately qualified and experienced therapist.

The process of posttraumatic growth involves taking stock of what happened and analysing its significance. The American Psychological Association identify ten key elements that the process involves :

1) re-establishing meaningful relationships with other people

2) accepting that change is an inevitable part of life

3) setting goals and starting to move towards them

4) taking decisive action

5) working on developing a positive self-view

6) learning from the past

7) good self-care

8) developing an optimistic outlook

9) seeking out opportunities for self-discovery

10) seeing crises as challenges rather than as insurmountable obstacles

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

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Copyright 2013 Child Abuse, Trauma and Recovery

How Posttraumatic Growth Relates to Coping Strategies

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It is possible, once the worst of the distress caused by trauma is over, to enter a period of posttraumatic growth (click here to read my article on this) in which the experience of our trauma can be used to POSITIVELY TRANSFORM US.

3 responses to trauma- ptsd, resilience, growth

How successful we are in achieving posttraumatic growth is significantly tied up with the coping strategies we employ in the aftermath of our traumatic experiences.

There are two main types of coping strategy ; these are :

1) APPROACH ORIENTED COPING (this strategy involves either changing the situation or managing the emotions we feel in relation to the trauma)

2) AVOIDANCE ORIENTED COPING (this strategy involves ignoring the problems and difficulties we are facing in as far as it is possible and distracting ourselves from them.

Much research has been conducted in relation to the relative effectiveness of these strategies and, as most of us would expect, it has been overwhelmingly shown that, over the long-term, approach oriented coping strategies are superior and lead to much greater posttraumatic growth.

Unfortunately, however, one of the key symptoms of post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is that those who suffer from it have a very marked tendency to avoid anything connected to the trauma that they have experienced.

Avoidance coping strategies are not all bad and are likely to have some short-term benefits in many cases, such as helping to protect us until we are ready to confront the trauma which has affected us. In the long-term, however, denial and avoidance are unlikely to lead to posttraumatic growth.

Short-term avoidance can, then, be healthy as it can reflect the fact that the traumatic event was overwhelming and could not be immediately processed. indeed, in referring to the trauma that has been experienced people often use terms like, ‘it’s too big to take in’ or, ‘i can’t accept this has happened ; it can’t be real.’ etc.

However, if avoidance goes on for too long it can prevent the person from working through their problems and the emotions which relate to them. Recovery can be blocked, preventing posttraumatic growth.

It is therefore very helpful, when ready, to move on from using avoidance oriented coping strategies to using approach oriented coping strategies. Using the latter involves accepting what has happened, processing it and working through the emotions the trauma has given rise to. In short, it involves trying to manage the situation in which we now find ourselves.

choosing the direction of our lives after trauma

TWO TYPES OF APPROACH ORIENTED COPING :

1) TASK FOCUSED

2) EMOTION FOCUSED

Task focused coping involves simply working out and implementing as many practical solutions to the problem as possible. This will vary widely from one set of traumatic experiences to another.

Emotion focused coping involves managing our psychological distress.

How we perceive our situation will dictate which of the above two coping strategies we use. If we perceive that positive change is possible and within our control we are likely to use task focused coping strategies. If, on the other hand, we regard a change in our situation to be impossible, we are likely to take advantage of emotion focused coping strategies.

Often, because of the effect the trauma has had on how we think, we may falsely believe there is nothing we can do to improve our life, whereas, looked at objectively, there is. For those who feel this may apply to them, cognitive-behavioural therapy (CBT) can be extremely helpful (click here to read my post on CBT).

One very important emotion focused coping strategy is to seek social support; such support may come from family, friends or professionals. By talking through our situation with others in our social support system we can gain new perspectives, new insights and new understanding which can lead to us positively transforming the meaning that our experience of the trauma has for us. This, in turn, leads to posttraumatic growth.

The quality of the social support we receive is more important than the quantity and it is ESPECIALLY HELPFUL WHEN IT HELPS TO MOTIVATE US TO START TAKING RESPONSIBILITY FOR OUR OWN LIVES.

Also, the better we are able to express our emotions relating to our trauma within our social support system, the more our posttraumatic growth tends to flourish. Intense emotions such as FEAR, ANGER, SHAME, GUILT and RAGE can be VERY DESTRUCTIVE if we do not allow ourselves to talk them through and finally let go of them. Indeed, hanging on to such feelings is extremely likely to BLOCK RECOVERY. Our social support system (especially good professionals) can facilitate our letting go of such feelings.

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

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