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How Can Trauma Promote Growth?

Trauma has many layers and types, but can simply be defined as an emotional response to a terrible event. Meaning the trauma we experience and the effect it has on our lives is based on each individual and their lived experience.

As humans, we all have a spectrum of experiences we'd consider traumatic to us, a tolerance level if you will. Based on your tolerance level, is how you individually process trauma.

For example, a majority of society considers heavy combat action in wartime a traumatic experience. They are understanding of that experience and the toll it could take on the individual. But what about a high school break up? For some, it's just a milestone in life, but for others it's traumatizing enough to reject the idea of dating and any potential partners for a decade.

In more recent news, it can be seen through the victimizing of oneself for being held accountable for breaking laws and inciting violence based in the belief that white skin is always on the side of justice.

We cannot choose what happens to us, but we can choose what we make it mean to us. Then we can decide what we want to do about it. Do we hide ourselves away from the world, lash out, and blame? Or do we find the silver linings and grow from adversity. Posttraumatic Growth refers to people who after experiencing trauma, "may remain emotionally affected, but their sense of self, views on life, priorities, goals for the future, and their behaviors have been reconfigured in positive ways in the light of their experiences".

Trauma can be like a wake up call or an alarm system from your body calling you to reflect on what your mind is fixed on. Which is where post traumatic growth comes in.

The three pillars of post traumatic growth are:

  1. Life is Uncertain - In a nutshell, shit happens outside of our control and that is a tenant of human existence

  2. Psychological Mindfulness - self awareness and the understanding that our thoughts drive our feelings, which drive our actions, which creates all of the results in our life

  3. Acknowledgment of Personal Agency - we own our choices and understand their consequences

Posttraumatic growth not only repairs poor mental health, but improves positivity and helps people flourish. Research shows that posttraumatic growth is related to fewer mental health problems, lower levels of depression and suicidality, and higher levels of positivity.

Some traumas are inevitable, are you making yours work for you? If you want to learn how, I can help.


Excerpts from Stephen Joseph, PH.D.'s "What Doesn't Kill Us: The New Psychology of Posttraumatic Growth"


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