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Post-Traumatic Growth

Post-Traumatic Growth is the positive psychological change that some individuals experience after a life crisis or traumatic event. Post-traumatic growth doesn’t deny deep distress, but rather posits that adversity can unintentionally yield changes in understanding oneself, others, and the world. Post-traumatic growth can, in fact, co-exist with post-traumatic stress disorder.

Understanding Post-Traumatic Growth

The phenomenon was identified by psychologists Richard Tedeschi and Lawrence Calhoun in the 1990s. Based on their research, the pair described five categories of growth that occur over time: Survivors of trauma recognize and embrace new opportunities. They forge stronger relationships with loved ones as well as with victims who suffered in the same way. They cultivate inner strength through the knowledge that they have overcome tremendous hardship. They gain a deeper appreciation for life. And their relationship to religion and spirituality changes and evolves.

Why does post-traumatic growth happen?

Life crises are seismic events. They have the power to shake the entrenched beliefs people hold and force them to think in completely new ways about themselves, their relationships, and the world. Confronting a traumatic event and trying to make sense of it can therefore lead to powerful shifts in thinking.

How common is post-traumatic growth?

Not everyone who suffers trauma experiences post-traumatic growth, but for those who do, the changes can be lifelong. Although the exact number is unknown, researchers estimate that half to two-thirds of trauma survivors may experience post-traumatic growth.

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Cultivating Growth After Trauma

Trauma survivors who want to cultivate growth can strive to process the experience once they have space from it; It’s nearly impossible to evolve in the middle of a crisis, but reflection in its aftermath can provide a foundation for growth. Survivors can explore how the experience changed their mindset, if they appreciate life in a new way, whether their relationships have deepened, or whether they embody a new sense of spirituality

How can I grow from stressful situations?

The belief that stress is harmful can create an additional burden of “stress about stress.” But there are ways to change your mindset to leverage the benefits of stress. Pay attention to the opportunities for growth that accompany stress, and choose those situations that have personal value. Reframe how you perceive the stressor, and regulate your physiological response, such as by engaging in breathing exercises.

How can I nurture growth during COVID-19?

While some may decide to strive toward self-improvement goals during the lockdown, that philosophy shouldn’t necessarily be the default. Growth from the pandemic may occur in the future when people have returned to a baseline level of functioning. In the meantime, simply coping is key, by expecting a short-term increase in mental health symptoms, allowing negative emotions to run their course, and keeping a record of effective coping skills.

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