Growing from Trauma

Growing from Trauma
Applying a different lens may help us to grow from traumatic events.
Traumatic events are awful, even heartbreaking, yet some people are able to handle them better than others – and even benefit from them.

Those who undergo positive psychological change after a highly stressful event or circumstance, experience what is now known as “post-traumatic growth” or PTG, which is gaining increased attention in the field of positive psychology. This is in contrast to those who suffer from “post-traumatic stress disorder” or PTSD.

Psychology professor Stephen Joseph, author of What Doesn’t Kill Us, describes three ways in which most people develop emotional growth: relationships are enhanced as a result of valuing family and friends more or from having an increased sense of compassion; people view themselves differently, for example, understanding one’s own strengths and limitations, and develop more wisdom and gratitude; and a change in life philosophy, such as re-evaluating what really matters in life and being able to live more in the present. But he emphasises that this doesn’t mean there is an absence of suffering.

In Singapore, Jason Chee – a navy military expert who lost his master arm, three fingers on his right hand and both legs in a bad accident at sea in 2012 – is an example of someone who experienced PTG. Less than a year after the injury, he had learnt to play table-tennis with his non-master hand and represented Singapore in the ASEAN Paralympics. On Facebook, he shares his emotional ups and downs candidly.

Who’s most likely to gain positively from trauma? Researchers say those who are optimistic, open to new experiences, and surround themselves with positive emotions are likely candidates. Neuroticism is a no, no.

Traumas can shatter assumptions about ourselves or our expectations about life so Prof Joseph suggests that people can rebuild their own sense of self through telling new stories or reimagining new possibilities. “Understanding the significance of our experiences in ways that construct meaning, in which we view ourselves as survivors and even thrivers and that establish hopefulness in us, will lead us towards growth,” he wrote in Psychology Today.

Friedrich Nietzsche was right when he wrote in 1888 “that which does not kill us makes us stronger.”
    Mar 7, 2014
    M George
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