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Helena Önneby

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Post-Traumatic Growth

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Most of us have heard about PTSD or post-traumatic stress disorder. It’s a reaction to trauma and it often leads to a lot of suffering for the people that get it. But did you know that there’s also another reaction to trauma and stress that is called post-traumatic growth?

Post-traumatic growth is a phenomenon that describes a positive personal development after trauma or tough periods in our lives. I’m not medically knowledgeable in this and my intention is not, in any way, to minimize trauma or blame anyone who suffers as a consequence of trauma. I simply want to explore the factors that researchers see as important to developing post-traumatic growth. Because when we know about them, we can enhance our chances of growing through pain.

This year has been tough for many in different ways, and many have experienced increased stress as a consequence of both challenges and uncertainty about the future. But tough periods can become a take-off point for positive growth, if we choose to actually focus on what we can change in a situation like this. The factors following are seen as common denominators for the ability to grow through tough periods. Think preventative and strengthen these muscles before you need them the most.

Social relationships

Finding, developing and deepening our social relationships so that we have a strong network around us when life is really tough. We build in calm what we need in the storm. Developing meaningful relationships doesn’t happen on its own.

What people do you want to surround yourself with? How can you develop and deepen the relationship with them? How can you build strong bonds together that can handle the relationship being uneven when you need more support than you can give? Being there for someone else doesn’t only strengthen the relationship, it also strengthens you.

Acceptance

What has happened has happened, and it doesn’t help if you resist it or think that it’s “wrong” to have happened. Suffering exists in the gap between your expectations of reality and reality itself. Resisting doesn’t help. Accepting is not the same thing as lying down and giving up. Accepting is putting both feet on the ground in reality, and to be able to, from there, move in the direction that you want.

The ability to feel your feelings

I recently wrote an article about this. Many of us have never learnt how to feel feelings while we’re experts at thinking our feelings, analyzing, dwelling and going around and around. But to actually FEEL a feeling is a physical experience, not a mental one. Go back and read this article if you need to. Feelings needs to be processed and released so that they don’t get stuck and create inflammation, in our bodies and minds.

Gratitude

Being able to feel gratitude for what we have, to choose our focus, is so important. We all have a negativity bias. That’s okay. It has helped us survive in dangerous environments by always being cautious of problems or dangers in our way.

But most of us don’t need it as much anymore and we need to balance our negativity bias with building our gratitude muscle. No matter how much is difficult in your life right now, there are always thousands of things working that you can be grateful for. Notice and appreciate them and you will activate your parasympathetic nervous system and heal.

Spirituality

Research shows, that people who chose to see a meaning with what’s happening, to trust that there is something/ someone who wants your very best in every situation, cope better through trauma. And this has nothing to do with religion.

Life is not meaningless. You are not alone. And, personally, I believe that having faith is something we choose, if we were to wait for the evidence it would be called “know” (and not faith). The good twist is of course, that when you have chosen what to believe in, your mind wants to be right, so you will find lots of evidence of you being “right” for believing. But faith comes first. What do you choose to believe?

The best thing of all is that all these qualities can be developed to increase your chances of growing through crisis. What can you do today to develop what you need more of?

This is a guest post. The opinions expressed are the writer’s own.

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