Trauma. It can't be for nothing, right? Is the world really that cruel? It might seem like it sometimes, and maybe it's because I'm an optimist, but I like to think that good can come from any situation. It might take a while and it might be small, but I think it's always there.
It's kind of like panning for gold. It can be a slow process and you might only find a small nugget when you do find something, but it makes sifting through all that dirt or gravel well worth it.
That's how you can think of post-traumatic growth. It's sifting through the dirt of a bad situation to find the gold - the one thing that makes it all worth it.
What Post Traumatic Growth Is
According to Wikipedia, post-traumatic growth
Refers to positive psychological change experienced as a result of the struggle with highly challenging life circumstances.
This isn't a new concept, but it has only started to be researched in the past twenty years or so. Researchers realized that maybe they were focusing on the negative effects of trauma too much and that maybe they should ask people about positive effects as well. And they have found positive effects in different groups of people including, but not limited to, survivors of cancer and other life-threatening illnesses, survivors of abuse, survivors of terrible accidents, and those who suffered the unexpected loss of a loved one.
As you can see, post-traumatic growth can occur as a result of different types of traumas. The researchers who originally coined this term have described this type of growth as occurring in five different ways:
- Seeing new possibilities
- Changed relationships
- The feeling of being both stronger yet more vulnerable
- A greater appreciation for life
- Changes in the person's spiritual or religious beliefs
An important thing to keep in mind is that this growth occurs as a result of working through what you've experienced, not the experience itself. This is one reason why it's really important to deal with the things that happen to you. It is only when you deal with the situation that you are able to start down your path to recovery and have the possibility to grow as a result. For me, it wasn't until I finally started talking about what had happened to me that I was able to make any progress toward overcoming it.
When a trauma is so bad that it shakes you to your core and you lose your sense of self, you get to throw everything out the window and start over again. That's really what happens, isn't it. It's about starting over. You can look at this as a bad thing or you can see it as an opportunity to be better as a result.
What Post Traumatic Growth Is Not
It's not about trying to piece a broken vase back together. In other words, it's not about getting back to who you were. Let's face it, your life will never be the same again...but that doesn't mean it has to be worse.
There's this story of the broken vase that goes like this: When a vase falls to the floor it breaks into many pieces. You can try to glue the pieces back together and make it look and function as a vase again, but it will have cracks in it. What you can do instead is accept that it will never be the vase it used to be and think of what you can do with the broken pieces. Use those pieces to create something new, something beautiful in its own right.
Think of yourself like a broken vase. You've fallen to the floor and broken into many pieces. Now it's up to you to decide what to do with those pieces. Will you struggle to put yourself back together the way you were and remain broken, or will you find something new to become and be beautiful once again? The choice is yours.
Post-traumatic growth is about changing and finding new meaning in life.
It's also not a cure. The growth will not eliminate the pain. It will occur alongside it. You could also suffer from post-traumatic stress during this time. PTSD is separate from post-traumatic growth and can occur during, before or after it. The good news is that post-traumatic growth tends to be more common than PTSD.
You may be aware that I am working on a podcast. As of this post I am planning on launching it next week, which I'm really excited for. I wanted to create a show that highlights people who have experienced post-traumatic growth.
As someone who knows what it's like to go through something harmful to my psychological well-being, I know how hopeless and lonely things can get. But I also know that things can get better. I wanted to do something above and beyond just sharing my story. That's why I'm going to be talking to people who've experienced all sorts of traumas. It is my hope that through all of our stories, you will find your hope and your inspiration to experience your own post-traumatic growth.
More than that, I just want you to know that you are not alone. There are many people who've been in that bad place after a trauma but have been able to get out of it. They have been able to take the broken pieces of the vase and turn it into something beautiful.
If you do check out the podcast, which you can find here, let me know what you think. I want to make sure that it is helpful and interesting to you.
In case you can't tell, I really like this concept of post-traumatic growth. I like it because it means that what we've been through hasn't been for nothing. We weren't put through whatever we were put through because the universe has some sick sense of humor.
I believe in post-traumatic growth because I've experienced it myself. I didn't believe in it back when things were really bad because I didn't know that it was possible. I think just knowing it is possible can have a positive effect on someone.
Not everyone who's been through something traumatic will experience this either because they weren't that affected by the trauma or because they don't know how to make it happen. I believe that everyone is capable of achieving this growth, though. Or maybe that's just the optimist in me talking. Either way, if trauma has a silver lining then this is it. I don't think you can put a timetable on it, though. Everyone processes trauma on their own schedule.
This also isn't about minimizing the trauma or the suffering. That will always be a terrible thing that happened to you. Sometimes it's hard for people to move on because they might feel like they are betraying themselves if they start feeling better or that they are betraying a loved one that they lost. The thing is that it's okay to move on. Nothing will be gained from leaving the pieces broken. Find that silver lining and make something beautiful instead.
Please leave a comment and let me know if you have any stories or questions.
A note about comments:
Please keep in mind that all comments are moderated to ensure mutual respect. Let's have a personal and meaningful conversation.
photo credit: joanna.babinska via photopin cc
Allan Beane says
You and I have communicated before. I just wanted you to do that I continue to enjoy your articles. I would love for you to address your changes in spiritual/religious beliefs.
Melissa Wilson says
Hi Allan, I remember you. Thanks for stopping by and leaving a comment. I appreciate the support.
So I’ve stayed away from spiritual/religious topics because it’s kind of a touchy subject for me. Reason being is that the bullying occurred at a religious school. My religious beliefs were certainly affected by that and they’ve also been affected by my recovery. I will say that I am not a religious person but I do consider myself to be somewhat spiritual. Maybe I’ll write a post about this if more people are interested. Thank you for bringing it up.