What Doesn't Kill Us

The new psychology of posttraumatic growth

One Lesson from the Life of Nelson Mandela

Promoting posttraumatic growth of a nation

One of the things that Nelson Mandela’s death reminds us is how there can often be positive transformations out of adversity.

In his book Long Walk to Freedom, Mandela wrote:

“The policy of apartheid created a deep and lasting wound in my country and my people. All of us will spend many years, if not generations, recovering from that profound hurt. But the decades of oppression and brutality had another, unintended, effect, and that was that it produced the Oliver Tambos, the Walter Sisulus, the Chief Luthulis, the Yusuf Dadoos, the Bram Fischers, the Robert Sobukwes of our time—men of such extraordinary courage, wisdom and generosity that their like may never be known again. Perhaps it requires such depths of oppression to create such heights of character.”

Posttraumatic growth is most often thought of in relation to individuals, perhaps following illnesses or accidents, and how their adversity is the springboard to their personal transformation. While recognizing that there are still difficulties in South Africa, what this quote highlights is how adversity can actually be transformative socially; urging collective actions and promoting positive change, perhaps even for entire nations.

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To those who think of posttraumatic growth as a therapeutic luxury, think again about how the growth of an individual can benefit all those around and even sometimes entire nations. 

It is of great importance to humanity that we learn more about what leads to resilience and growth at the level of communities, societies and nations.

My question is whether we as psychologists are doing enough to develop resilience and growth at the level of communities, societies and nations? And if not, what more should we be doing?

For more information on my work and the topic of posttraumatic growth, check out my website profstephenjoseph.com

Stephen Joseph, Ph.D., is a professor of psychology, health, and social care at the University of Nottingham, UK, and author of What Doesn't Kill Us.


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