Five Forms of Post-traumatic Growth
Rain falls in everyone’s life. And sometimes trees, too. Trauma, unfortunately, is common. But so too is post-traumatic growth! About half of people report moderate to high post-traumatic growth, which is exciting since reinvention after trauma is necessary.
I tried (and failed) to find the source of the five forms of post-traumatic growth in the literature, but regardless, I think it is interesting to discuss different aspects of post-traumatic growth and consider which you’ve experienced.
Five Dimensions of Post-traumatic Growth
In brief, the five dimensions of post-traumatic growth are:
- Greater personal strength
- Improvements in relationships with other people
- Greater appreciation of life
- New priorities and redefined personal values
- Spiritual evolution
Let’s look at them one by one.
Finding personal strength
Discovering strengths gained through the difficult times is a process, as, while much may seem insurmountable, you have survived everything so far your past has thrown at you. Digging deep through the hard times may unleash skills you might never have otherwise discovered.
While discovering new strengths is important to personal growth, it often takes a little push to try new things. Trauma acts like a shove in the back pushing you on the train tracks, and it takes new skills to get yourself off before the express gets you.
A lot of my undiscovered strengths came from spending many hours in the gym and with books. I would not have spent the time on either of these without finding the trauma in my life. Yoga and meditation have added much to my life, and re-parenting my inner child is life-affirming in ways I’m still discovering.
Forming deeper relationships
Generally, after a loss, we go within and look for support from others. After awakening to trauma, toxic people seem to pepper life with disagreeableness and must be discarded. Expect to lose 50% of people in your life as part of post-traumatic growth. This deepens remaining friendships.
Friendship is a work in progress for me. As an outsider my whole life (who finally understands why I felt that way), re-learning trust is a process. I am working on finding a way to meet and support others.
Gaining an appreciation of life
Shifting perspectives are expected after trauma. Even after betrayal trauma, there is still the sunrise tomorrow. Eventually, you might find yourself living more in the moment and noticing things you missed before. Like a beautiful butterfly on the grass that looks like a bird’s eyes. Or the fog in the morning. Birds call and fried food. Pay attention to what seems like an everyday gift. Find a way to reflect on the good things in your life, and dig deep to find gratitude; joy can be yours once again. Joy is the result of gratitude, so post-traumatic growth is a daily practice of gratitude.
One day we will all be six feet under or tossed up into the wind. There is still life to appreciate.
Discovering more meaning in life
More meaning in life can be spiritual awakening or more mundane. There is meaning in daily living. The craft of living a life of purpose is meaningful enough. It can be the joy of taking care of the elderly or grandchildren. Meaning and purpose need rediscovering after trauma.
Personal spirituality comes from realizing that reality is a dream. Or close enough.
Finding ways to serve others. Help people in need. Or not. Discover more meaning in life in a must after trauma.
Seeing new possibilities
Trauma often forces you to chart a new, unexpected course in life.
Re-discovery or re-invention is mandatory for post-traumatic growth. I gave myself a five-year plan to learn self-love and find new possibilities. Starting with self-acceptance, you see new possibilities as you better learn who you are, which brings you contentment personally.
common manifestations of reported posttraumatic growth include a greater
appreciation of life and refined sense of priorities; strengthening of significant, close
relationships; recognition and elaboration of personal strengths; recognition of new
possibilities or a sense of purpose for one’s life; and spiritual development. (source)
Five Forms of Post-Traumatic Growth
The results of this meta-analytic review clearly support the hypothesis that optimism, social support, spirituality, acceptance coping, reappraisal coping, religious coping, and seeking support coping are associated with posttraumatic growth. Coping responses, especially positive reappraisal and religious coping, are more related to posttraumatic growth than optimism and social support. (source)
I have seen tremendous growth in myself over the last year since I retired. I have lost 60 LBS, found new passions and pursuits, and re-defined what it is to no longer be a physician. Thanks to trauma, I have another chance on life.
Recently I blew up when someone accused me of having a victim mentality. You can acknowledge that your suffering has brought you to where you are today and not be a victim. My amygdala went off like a rocket at the comment, so my neuroanatomical correlate of freedom needs some work.
But given my post-traumatic growth, I can recognize two things from this experience. First off, my gut has been telling me for weeks that he is not a friendly person (likely a covert narcissist). Next, since I reacted so strongly to the idea that I might be a victim, I need to look in the mirror and figure out how I am putting that out into the world. There is work to be done.
Post-traumatic growth has allowed me to recognize areas of improvement and know I will never be done.