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Post-traumatic growth—hope after trauma

Fri, 11/09/2012 - 4:26pm | by Helen Hoart

For years we’ve heard about post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) but there’s a growing body of research that indicates that horribly stressful events in many cases can lead to growth not a downward slide into depression and despair.

Scientists have documented post-traumatic growth after natural and human-made traumatic events, including life threatening disease, war, abuse, immigration and death of loved ones.

Growth doesn’t happen as a direct result of trauma. It’s how the individual struggles with the new reality after the trauma that determines the extent to which growth occurs.

Are there steps we can take to ensure that when we or someone we love experiences a trauma growth rather than a debilitating stress disorder occurs? Researchers don’t have a prescription but they do point to some factors that can result in growth after a traumatic event. 

  • Spirituality seems to correlate with post-traumatic growth. In fact many religions point to how suffering can transform one’s life.
  • A social support group can act as a buffer to mental illness and stress response. Interestingly, there is some evidence that social support induces a neurological response that helps us cope with stress.
  • Personality can also play a role: Extraverts and people who are open to new experiences tend to weather traumatic events better than those who are not.  Optimists may also fare better since they may be able to focus on what’s important and disengage from things they can’t control or solve.
  • Another aspect that might help is the ability to grieve and gradually accept the trauma.
  • People who have experienced post-traumatic growth show a greater appreciation for life, revamp their priorities, experience better relationships, have a greater sense of personal strength and recognize new paths for one’s life.

A traumatic experience doesn’t automatically mean a spiral into despair. It can be a growth experience.

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