Can trauma help you to grow? We think of trauma as a game over, as life changing and not for the better. But evidence from the world of positive psychology suggests trauma can have an up side. We take a look at how trauma can help you thrive.
What is post-traumatic growth?
The effects of trauma can be overwhelming. Nobody would choose the experience a traumatic life event but research suggests that when we do, something more positive may also be taking place.
Trauma can lead us to question deeply held beliefs. It can shake our world. We search for effective ways to heal and support. Psychology has begun to examine the potential for positive growth following trauma. The ability to thrive after trauma is known as post-traumatic growth.
The Post Traumatic Growth and Resilience Research
Richard Tedeschi and Lawrence Calhoun, psychologists at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte are leaders in post-traumatic growth research.
Tedeschi and Calhoun found reports of growth experiences exceeded reports of psychiatric illness following trauma. Surprising? Their work certainly contradicts conventional trauma thinking.
Examples of Post Traumatic Growth
Perhaps one of the most profound examples of post-traumatic growth and one of the most recognisable post traumatic growth quotes, Viktor Frankl, psychologist and holocaust survivor, wrote,
“Everything can be taken from a man but …the last of the human freedoms – to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.”
Once you start to look around, you’ll see ordinary people exhibiting post traumatic growth, doing extraordinary things. Post traumatic growth examples of people responding positively to trauma can also be seen in the creation of organisations such as the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of South Africa and the UK wide Mothers Against Guns campaign.
How trauma can help you thrive
It’s natural for your core values to be shaken after trauma. Calhoun and Tedeschi’s found that firmly held religious and philosophical beliefs are often questioned following traumatic events. Trauma prompts soul searching questions like, ‘how do I make sense of the world and what is my place in it?’ Beliefs and values are considered in greater depth. We often develop a greater understanding and appreciation of life following trauma.
How trauma changes you
This new found appreciation of the life, pivots our worldview causing an adjustment of vales and goals. Existing aspirations are questioned and new goals formed to fit in with the new, adjusted world view. But how do you measure post traumatic growth?
Post traumatic growth symptoms
Psychologists have developed tools to measure post-traumatic growth, including the Stress-Related Growth Scale and Tedeschi and Calhoun’s Post-Traumatic Growth Inventory. These scales measure items such as relationship to others, new possibilities, personal strength, spiritual change, and appreciation of life.
The benefits of post traumatic growth
Research using the above tools has linked post-traumatic growth with the following positive changes:
- Greater perception of competence and self-reliance.
- Increased acceptance of one’s vulnerability and negative emotional experiences.
- Better relationships with significant others.
- More compassion and empathy for others.
- Increased effort to improve relationships.
- Greater appreciation of own existence.
- More appreciation for life.
- Positive changes in one’s priorities.
- Increased religious/spiritual beliefs.
Finally, one important aspect of post-traumatic growth that Tedeschi and Calhoun emphasise, is that such growth exists alongside the emotions of suffering and loss rather than replacing them. We still bear witness to the existing trauma. Post traumatic growth leaves us changed and ready to use that experience to make a positive difference in the world.
Want to know more about positive psychology? We’d love you to take a look at our 100% Growth Mindset Toolkit and the rest of our resources, designed by specialists to help you thrive.
We’ve worked with thousands of people and Fortune 500 companies to build growth mindset individuals, communities, teams and business cultures. We design and deliver bespoke positive psychology at work training courses, Growth mindset training and growth mindset at work training courses. If you want to develop a growth mindset or recognise the business benefits of positive psychology, happiness at work and performance, get in touch, we’d love to hear from you.