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Posttraumatic Growth – How Trauma Can Positively Transform Us

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‘Whatever does not kill me makes me stronger.’

– Nietzsche

Much of the research into the effects of severe trauma has concentrated upon its NEGATIVE effects. However, as new research is showing that the experience of trauma can also have a positive transforming effect upon a person’s life, I thought I would redress the balance by including some articles, of which this is the first, on this new and exciting area of research which has been named POSTTRAUMATIC GROWTH.

Research suggests that, rather than destroying a person’s life, severe trauma can lead, in the end, to people gaining new strength and wisdom, redefining them in a positive way.

There are many documented cases of such transformations taking place. One such example, often quoted in the literature about recovery from trauma, is that of a man named Leon Greenman, a Holocaust survivor who spent years in a concentration camp. Years after he was liberated, during the 1960s (in response to a fascist political organization called the National Front) he devoted his life to giving talks on his experiences and why what he endured must never happen again – in this way, he found great meaning and was able to use his appalling experiences to positive effect.

Trauma, then, can mark a great turning point in our lives. It can help us to become more true to ourselves, to look at the world from a fresh perspective and to take on new challenges.

We are not able to undo that which has happened, but we can choose what new directions it will take us in. Many people grow and develop following severe trauma, and it is only recently that studies have started to be conducted on this positive aspect of the change in us that trauma can lead to; up until now, research has concentrated very much upon the negative aspects, such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

In fact, it is now being shown that trauma can act as a springboard to a higher level of functioning and growth – it seems, indeed, that the initial effects of trauma can be reversed and turned to our advantage. In this way, the negative and positive effects of trauma often go hand-in-hand. Posttraumatic growth is thought to be able to take place by the person making sense of what happened and then going on to find new meanings and understandings.

The new study of posttraumatic growth, then, focuses on how the suffering we endure as a result of trauma can positively transform our lives, rather than on just the suffering itself.

The Main Elements Of Posttraumatic Growth:

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



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

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