Positive Growth from Negative Experiences

Most of us have heard of Post-Traumatic Stress, but not as many of us are aware of Post-Traumatic Growth. It’s a theory that explains a transformation that can happen after experiencing trauma.

Developed in the mid-1990s, by psychologists Richard Tedeschi, PhD, and Lawrence Calhoun, PhD, Post-Traumatic Growth “…holds that people who endure psychological struggle following adversity can often see positive growth afterward.”[1] Examples of struggle include losing a job or relationship, experiencing the death of someone close to you, or yes, experiencing the losses brought on by living through a pandemic.

I’ve been reading about it lately, as I’m grappling with my own questions. What I’m looking for are ways to grow positively from the pandemic experiences of isolation, loss, and disruption. How we be resilient? I believe there can be growth in nearly every experience we survive — it may just be how we turn the lens.

How do you want to come out of this?

While “this” means COVID-19 right now, the question can be applied to other situations.

The PTG model defines 5 areas to look at when determining the extent to which someone has achieved growth, or what I might broaden as “meaning making.” The 5 areas are

  1. Appreciation of life
  2. Relationships with others
  3. New possibilities in life
  4. Personal strength
  5. Spiritual change[2]

I would encourage you to use these areas as launchpads for reflection.

Here are 3 questions to get you started.

  1. What are the ways you’ve shown resilience through this?
    To me, resilience is the ability to bounce forward and adjust to make it through something. It may be getting out of bed every day by 9. It may be making sure your kids are fed and occupied well enough so you can work. Perhaps it’s the courage to keep going when you just want to give up. Showing up, not giving up, and continuing to move forward. These are important traits that build resilience.
  2. What really matters to you?
    Look at the 5 areas above. Do any of them resonate as areas you what to improve upon? Are you willing to put up with the discomfort, pain, sacrifice, disappointment, and setbacks to achieve them? I’ve said it before, but it bears repeating … your purpose has to be greater than the discomfort it’ll take to get there or else you won’t do it. Or if you do it, you won’t sustain it.
  3. What meaning can you make of what you went through?
    It may be a little early for this one, but I’m planting the seed. It goes back to my COVID-19 question of how do you want to come out of this? Do you want to be a more present partner? Someone who doesn’t question their ability to cope with difficult situations? If you’re having trouble thinking about this, think about some other big challenge, setback, failure, or loss you’ve faced in your life. Now that you’re on the other side, what lesson(s) do you take from that experience?

So, are we all screwed, or can we come out of this in a better place and as better people? I think it’s possible to come out better, but, like anything, it’ll take some work. And models like PTG are here to help. And so am I. If you’re feeling stuck, reach out. Let’s start the conversation.

[1] https://www.apa.org/monitor/2016/11/growth-trauma

[2] Richard Tedeschi, PhD, and Lawrence Calhoun, PhD, Journal of Traumatic Stress, 1996