Prof. Stephen Joseph, author of What Doesn't Kill Us explains why posttraumatic growth is such an exciting topic for modern psychologists. . .
Posttraumatic growth (PTG) is the idea that traumatic events, rather than necessarily leaving us damaged for life, can often be the springboard to new and higher levels of psychological functioning.
The idea of posttraumatic growth has become one of the most exciting topics in modern psychology because it changes how we think about psychological trauma. Psychologists are beginning to realise that posttraumatic stress (PTS) following trauma is not always a sign of disorder. Instead, PTS signals that the person is going through a normal and natural emotional struggle to rebuild their lives and make sense of what has befallen them.
Recent research shows that PTG is a response to PTS. The implications for treatment are profound. For anyone going through trauma this new way of thinking offers hope that there is light at the end of the tunnel.
In my book What Doesn’t Kill Us, I illustrate the idea of PTG through the theory of the shattered vase. Imagine that one day you accidentally knock a treasured vase off its perch. It smashes into tiny pieces. What do you do? Do you try to put the vase back together as it was? Do you collect the pieces and drop them in the rubbish, as the vase is a total loss? Or do you pick up the beautiful coloured pieces and use them to make something new – such as a colourful mosaic?
When adversity strikes, people often feel that at least some part of them – be it their views of the world, their sense of themselves, their relationships – has been smashed. Those who try to put their lives back together exactly as they were remain fractured and vulnerable. But those who accept the breakage and build themselves anew become more resilient and open to new ways of living.
These changes do not necessarily mean that the person will be entirely free of the memories of what has happened to them, the grief they experience or other forms of distress but that they live their lives more meaningfully in the light of what happened.
After experiencing a traumatic event, people often report three ways in which their psychological functioning increases:
- Relationships are enhanced in some way. For example, people describe that they come to value their friends and family more, feel an increased sense of compassion for others and a longing for more intimate relationships.
- People change their views of themselves in some way. For example, developing in wisdom, personal strength and gratitude, perhaps coupled with a greater acceptance of their vulnerabilities and limitations
- People describe changes in their life philosophy. For example, finding a fresh appreciation for each new day and re-evaluating their understanding of what really matters in life, becoming less materialistic and more able to live in the present.
Sadly it often takes a tragic event in our lives before we make such changes. Survivors have much to teach those of us who haven’t experienced such traumas about how to live.
What Doesn't Kill Us is published by Piatkus. Click here for more information.
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