NOTE: If you haven't already seen it, you may want to read this article covering the basics of Trauma here and then come back to this article.
While most people have heard of post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), many have never heard of post traumatic growth (PTG). And yet, it is the single-most powerful concept for a trauma survivor to understand if they wish to change their trauma response. It is even more empowering when they realize that they can proactively engage in post traumatic growth, a process I call intentional post traumatic growth, or iPTG.
Post Traumatic Growth
A full decade and a half after PTSD was introduced by the American Psychiatric Association, another parallel effect of trauma was identified; one that enhanced a survivor's psychological functioning. In 1996, psychologists Dr. Richard Tedeschi & Dr. Lawrence Calhoun revealed how trauma can be a catalyst for positive changes and coined the term post traumatic growth.
Post Traumatic Stress vs PTSD
The symptoms of post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) are well known… the nightmares and flashbacks, the diminished focus and memory, the debilitating emotional intensity or total lack of emotion, the difficulty staying in the present, the eroded sense of self, and the hyper-vigilance and hyper-arousal. These effects are well documented and many treatments are available.
Post traumatic stress on the other hand, is a natural response to stressful life events, in which many of the symptoms of PTSD can be experienced, AND, they resolve on their own. Post traumatic stress is a normal short-term reaction to stress and is not a mental illness.
There are three main areas identified by Tedeschi & Calhoun in which personal growth was experienced after trauma:
While the traumatic event(s) may not be your fault, it is your responsibility (and your opportunity) to outgrow your response to it.
Post Traumatic Growth Findings
Much research has taken place since post traumatic growth was identified and several key findings are relevant here:
- Post traumatic stress is a catalyst for post traumatic growth, and there is a positive correlation (more stress results in more growth) but only up to a point (where the stress verges on a PTSD diagnosis), so the relationship between the two is not linear. (Dekel and colleagues, 2012)
- 30% - 70% of survivors of potentially-traumatic events such as transportation accidents, natural disasters, interpersonal experiences (such as assault, combat, abuse), medical problems, and other major life experiences (such as divorce, bereavement) will say they have experienced positive changes of one form or another. (Linley & Joseph, 2004)
- Personal growth does not require trauma, but it is accelerated by adversity and challenge. In human consciousness evolution models, such as the work of Dr. Clare W Graves and later that of Don Beck’s Spiral Dynamics, it is the stressors of the external environment that force step-changes in human consciousness evolution in the history of our species. Adversity requires ingenuity for survival, and so an up-levelling of consciousness to a new worldview occurs in response to tragedy, upheaval and challenge.
Stephen Joseph PhD, a professor at the University of Nottingham has furthered the work on post traumatic growth and provides a comprehensive article “What doesn’t kill us…” and a book of the same title.
You Say Trauma, I Say Trauma Response
Trauma is the response to a deeply distressing or disturbing event that overwhelms an individual’s ability to cope, causes feelings of helplessness, diminishes their sense of self, and their ability to feel the full range of emotions and experiences.
Trauma is the response, NOT the event. So, we refer to the event as a potentially traumatizing event, since one person’s response may be trauma, while another’s might not. And, we refer to the response as trauma.
Remember, when you say “My trauma…” you are referring to your response, not to the event you experienced. A subtle, yet impactful distinction because we cannot change an event in the past, but we can change our response to it in the present.
Intentional Post Traumatic Growth (iPTG)
It has become clear to me in working with clients who have trauma from past events, that there is a more empowering approach to post traumatic growth. While PTG is a naturally occurring phenomena, you can deliberately embark on a PTG process in order to grow yourself right out of your trauma response.
After almost two decades in the personal development industry, I have seen firsthand how a growth mindset and a commitment to one’s personal growth can accelerate a survivor’s progress through and out of their trauma.
Some of the key principles of intentional post traumatic growth are:
Wildfire Wisdom's Approach
By combining the principles of iPTG and the tools of the unconscious mind such as Hypnotherapy, a powerful process has evolved into my Trauma AlchemyTM Method and the Evolving Through Adversity online program.
The first step in applying iPTG in your life is to resolve the unconscious blocks to outgrowing your trauma and enroll your unconscious mind in the growth process. This gentle and sacred work is offered in Evolving Through Adversity.
For an overview of Trauma, check out this article.