We have all heard of Posttraumatic Stress Disorder but recently I came upon an article that discussed a term I hadn’t heard before and that is Posttraumatic growth (Tedeshi, R.G.,& Calhoun L.G. 2004) It refers to a positive change experienced as a result of the struggle with highly challenging life circumstances. These changes may cause significant changes to how individuals view their understanding of the world.
The history of this term dates back thousands of years when the writings of ancient Hebrews, Buddhists, Greeks, and Christians as well as teachings of Hinduism, Buddhism, and Islam contain the ideas of the transformative power of suffering. The theme of human suffering has been written about by novelists, dramatists, and poets. Scholarly interest in post-traumatic growth began to gather strength in the 1990’s. Its premise is based on individuals who face a wide variety of difficult circumstances experience significant changes in their lives many of which can be positive. From two references, (Growing in the Aftermath of Suffering 1995 & Positive Changes Following Trauma and Adversity 2006) posttraumatic growth has been documented in relation to various natural and human made traumatic events, including life threatening disease, war, abuse, immigration and death of loved ones.
PTG occur with the attempts to adapt to negative circumstances that cause psychological distress such as major life crises. Growth does not occur as a direct result of the trauma but rather the individual’s struggle to adapt to his or her new reality or what some refer to as the “new normal.” Results seen in people are some of the following: greater appreciation of life, changed priorities, warmer and more intimate relationships, greater sense of personal strength, new life paths, and a deeper sense of spirituality.
Examining how you personally view life can definitely make an impact. People who fall in the category of optimists are able to focus their attention and resources on the most important matters and disengage from uncontrollable and unsolvable problems. The ability to grieve and gradually accept trauma can enhance healing. Having supportive relationships and having opportunities to share one’s feelings, confront questions of meaning, and accepting that some questions can never be answered.
For those of us who have lost our loved one by suicide, we often struggle with the never ending question of “Why did our loved one take his/her life?” We can play the “What If, Should’ve, Could’ve, Game” but the reality is we will never really know the darkness of their despair. Making the commitment to accepting things we cannot change, developing resilience, having optimism, reaching out to others, and helping someone else will help with your own personal growth.