What's Posttraumatic Growth?

19 April, 2020
Some people are mortified and devastated when confronted with adversity. For others, it's an unparalleled process of personal transformation. But what does one or the other mean? Continue reading to find out more about post-traumatic growth!

Nobody wants to have to face adverse situations in their life. However, sooner than later, you’ll deal with your own painful experiences. The experience is devastating for some people and it may even lead to health problems. But this event brings with it a posttraumatic growth for others. One that positively changes the course of their lives.

It’s difficult to imagine how emotional trauma can bring anything positive. Nevertheless, many people manage to transcend adversity, thus experiencing a real personal transformation. But what exactly is posttraumatic growth and what factors are responsible for it?

A person looking at a flower.

Posttraumatic growth

You can define posttraumatic growth as the positive changes a person experiences as a result of a process of struggle undertaken from a traumatic event.

It doesn’t only refer to the fact that an individual can overcome the adverse experience without developing conditions and recover their initial state. Posttraumatic growth implies a true transformation of the way in which a person perceives themselves.

Thus, after a negative experience, there’s a perception of clear changes in the person’s perspective:

  • They somehow revalue their life and it also produces a change in their priorities.
  • Their social relationships become more intimate and warm. Interpersonal bonds strengthen in the face of adversity and suffering helps develop empathy and compassion. This happens, for example, in the case of parents whose child is experiencing medical problems. Many of them report feeling closer and more united after sharing this experience.
  • They experience a greater sense of personal strength. Thus, the traumatic event significantly increases a person’s confidence and their ability to cope with future adversity.
  • In addition, they discover and recognize new possibilities and paths in life. It often happens to individuals who once experienced very strict and oppressive roles. Also, they find opportunities to redirect their lives after the negative experience.
  • Finally, spiritual development occurs. Morality and spirituality transform. A reconsideration of one’s scale of values takes place and a more transcendent life perspective develops.

A process of transformation

Note that this doesn’t happen from one moment to the next and it doesn’t happen by chance or by the good fortune of an individual. Posttraumatic growth is the result of profound individual restructuring. In light of the traumatic experience, the most ingrained paradigms and cognitive schemes destabilize. Their understanding of the world is shaken and their set of meanings challenged.

Thus, when it comes to facing the new and painful reality, a process of deconstruction and reconstruction of the person’s perspectives and assumptions sets into motion. This leads to more positive and functional ones. This is because no one experiences posttraumatic growth as the same person. It’s a journey of profound transformation.

However, it isn’t a painless path. Stress and negative emotions manifest and stay present during the process. Moreover, it’s an indispensable element for growth to occur. So, what makes some people come out of adversity stronger and transformed, while others fall into a dark pit with all of its consequences?

A person walking.

A proper coping style

Much of the difference is marked by one’s personality and temperament. Not everyone has the same degree of optimism, positivity, and resilience. People’s genetics and the environment most likely shaped their traits and abilities.

Thus, some people are more likely than others to use more useful and functional coping styles. Studies show that those who resort to reflective styles and emotional expression experience post-traumatic growth to a greater degree.

Therefore, if your current coping strategies lead you to experience endless pain in the face of adversity and you feel helpless, consider modifying your style. Everyone can develop coping skills that lead them to increased confidence and optimism. Thus, although you can’t prevent negative or painful events from happening to you, you can benefit from posttraumatic growth and learn from each one of your bad experiences.

  • Bustos Caro, A. C. (2011). Cuando se acaba el amor: Estrategias de afrontamiento, duelo por pérdidas amorosas y crecimiento postraumático en estudiantes universitarios (Bachelor’s thesis, Quito: USFQ, 2011).
  • Acero, P. (2012). Crecimiento postraumático y construcción de sentido en la adversidad. Cuadernos de crisis y emergencias2(11), 7-12.