I have already published many articles on this site showing how significant and protracted trauma during childhood can lead to the development of a complex form of post-traumatic stress disorder in later life. But some ‘bounce back’ and even go on to thrive.
Interest in post-traumatic stress disorder really took off in the 1980s and, during the 1990s, researchers noted that whilst post-traumatic stress disorder shattered many lives, some individuals eventually found that their lives were enhanced following their traumatic experience. This may, at first, seem counterintuitive, so I explain how this positive transformation following trauma may come about.
Researchers O’Leary and Ickovics developed a categorization system to highlight the difference between individual responses to trauma. This system involved four categories :
Category One – Succumbed :
Those who had their ability to function in life devastated were said by O’Leary and Ickovics to have ‘succumbed’. (N.B. this word is in no way a suggestion that individuals who fall into this category are in any way weak or deficient in any way whatsoever – after all, everyone’s life and ability to function can be devastated by trauma; nobody is immune).
Category Two – Survival With Impairment :
This second category represents those who, after their traumatic experiences, was able to resume some semblance of their former lives, but were not able to function as well as they had previously.
Category Three – Resilient :
This category comprises those individuals who were resilient enough to the effects of their traumatic experiences to carry on with their lives with a similar level of functioning to that displayed previously.
Category Four – Thrive :
Individuals in the fourth and final group were actually able to become more fulfilled in life, and function at a higher level, than prior to their traumatic experiences.
Why Are Some Individuals Able To Bounce Back And Thrive As A Result Of Their Traumatic Experiences?
As one might very well expect, psychological researchers quickly became very interested in trying to discover just exactly what factors were at play that allowed some people to actually improve their quality of life as a result of their traumatic experiences.
Research carried out to date suggests that about seven out of ten people who have experienced significant trauma derive at least some benefit to their lives as a result.
Those who are more resilient are likely to benefit most from their experience of trauma. So what factors help to make a person resilient?
Factors That Help A Person To Be Resilient:
Research suggests that the following factors help a person to be resilient to the adverse effects of trauma :
– an optimistic nature
– a high level of self-esteem
– a sense of humour
– strong relationships / secure attachments with significant others
– the ability to be capable of trusting others
– a sense of one’s own control (psychologists refer to this as having an internal locus of control)
– a strong sense of self-reliance/self a sufficiency / perceived ability to cope / resourcefulness
– good interpersonal/social skills
In What Ways May People’s Lives Improve After Trauma?
First, the experience of significant trauma can help the individual to put the smaller problems in life into their proper perspective.
Second, because the love and support of others are so crucial to recovery from trauma, many come to more fully appreciate the vital importance of their relationships with others, which, in turn, can make them work harder to maintain and strengthen such relationships. (This may not be applicable to all trauma survivors, such as those with Asperger’s syndrome.)
Third, by surviving significant trauma, many individuals gain a new sense of their inner strength in a similar way to how a person who gets through a SAS training course may gain a strong belief in their powers of endurance.
A final example of how a person’s life may actually be enhanced by surviving trauma is a greater appreciation of life in general, the development of a more helpful ‘philosophy of life’ and a strong desire to make the most of every single day.
David Hosier BSc Hons; MSc; PGDE(FAHE)