5 Ways Your Worst Experiences Can Bring Out the Best in You

... and help you discover who your real friends are.

Posted Apr 17, 2016

g-stockstudio/Shutterstock
Source: g-stockstudio/Shutterstock

As a psychotherapist, I've met plenty of clients who experienced debilitating symptoms after a traumatic event. Whether they'd endured a horrific act of violence, or survived a tragic accident, they suffered symptoms ranging from nightmares to mood instability.

I've also encountered plenty of people whose lives were actually better following a traumatic experience. Many report feeling happier, healthier, and more hopeful after a major crisis. This positive change experienced by survivors is called post-traumatic growth. Studies estimate that about half to two-thirds of survivors of a catastrophic event report experiencing growth as a result of their trauma.

That's not to imply that they didn't suffer after a traumatic event; just like everyone else, they experience a great deal of distress. But their major life crisis puts them on a path to a better, more fulfilling life. Two pioneers in the area of post-traumatic growth, Richard Tedeschi, Ph.D. and Lawrence Calhoun, Ph.D., have identified how people grow from trauma.

Here are five things you could gain from adversity:

1. You could gain a new appreciation for life.

A near-death experience or a major loss can serve as a good reminder that life is valuable and time is precious. Surviving something horrific may give you a better appreciation of the "little" things in life, like looking at a colorful flower or hearing a child laugh.

2. You may build mental strength. 

Surviving a stressful life experience could teach you that you're mentally stronger than you once thought. Enduring tough times provides an opportunity to draw on inner strength you never knew existed. Overwhelming hardship may serve as a reminder that everyone is vulnerable to tragedy, but that you're emotionally equipped to cope with whatever life throws your way.

3. You may experience better relationships.

Enduring a tragic experience may strain some of your relationships. But hardship can also help you grow closer to others. A crisis can serve as an opportunity to see who is really there for you during life's toughest challenges, and you may end up with a deeper sense of connection with those who matter to you the most.

4. You could recognize new possibilities.

Tragedy can open your eyes to a newfound purpose in life. A person who survives domestic violence may become an advocate for other victims. Or someone who loses a family member to a disease may devote their time to raising money for research. Adversity may help you discover opportunities you never knew existed.

5. You may undergo a spiritual change.

A reminder of your mortality may cause you to think differently about your spiritual beliefs. Your faith may be strengthened or you may experience a better understanding of spiritual matters. But regardless of your beliefs, a life-altering event may help you find new meaning in life.

Thriving vs. Surviving

There's a good chance you'll experience some type of trauma during your life—studies estimate that 75 percent of us will endure a tragic event at one time or another. But the good news is, a life crisis won't necessarily make your life worse. Several factors influence growth following a traumatic event. Modifying your core beliefs, learning skills to reduce psychological distress, and thinking about yourself as a survivor are just a few of the ways a trained professional can help you experience positive change following a life-altering event.

Learn more in 13 Things Mentally Strong People Don't Do.

This article first appeared on Inc.