We are all familiar with post-traumatic stress disorder or PTSD. This refers to on-going psychological and physical effects long after a particular trauma has ended. Many of us are familiar with this term regarding the military, but this experience is also associated with all kinds of trauma including natural disasters, abuse, assault, rape, loss of a loved one, and war.
Post Traumatic Growth or PTG refers to the significant growth and resilience following trauma that returns the individual not only to the pre-trauma baseline levels but to improved levels of psychological well-being. This growth is not universal but is actually more common than PTSD. In some cases it even accompanies PTSD. PTG occurs across five areas: increased sense of opportunity, improved relationships, increased sense of strength, greater appreciation for life, and deeper sense of spirituality. PTG is NOT about putting a good superficial face on bad things but comes from deeply experiencing trauma and finding learning, discovering new things about yourself, gaining new insight on the world, experiencing growth, and gaining increased resiliency as a result. The science and research on PTG is relatively new, but the concept is central to many different religious and spiritual teachings.
I’m intrigued by this notion for several reasons:
1. Why have I heard so much about PTSD but never even knew PTG existed until the past couple of months, especially if PTG is more common? Is it because PTG doesn’t result in numerous pharmacological and other profits?
2. How can we learn about, develop a mindset, and cultivate skills that will help us recover and grow from the suffering of trauma that is likely inevitable in each of our lives. How can we help those who are truly suffering from trauma recover in this way without invalidating their experience, pain, and suffering? The US military has invested heavily and broadly in this exact training through what they call Master Resiliency Training. Given that late teens and early 20’s are the time periods where individuals are most open to this kind of growth from trauma what implications should this have for higher education?
3. How do experiences of oppression on micro, meso, and macro scales lead to PTSD and PTG? Do the systemic dynamics of oppression make PTSD more likely and undermine PTG? Is how we teach about oppression contributing to PTSD and undermining PTG? Are there developmental benefits to experiencing and overcoming the obstacles of oppression?
4. My research on college men had several examples of this PTG. One participant who had been repeatedly raped by a male peer described enormous trauma from this victimization but also incredible strength and resiliency as a result of his healing and recovery. Essentially, he felt that one of the most emasculating things possible had happened to him and he was still there and still a man. This left him pretty un-phased by superficial emasculating comments and criticism that had a greater effect on other men.
What do you think? Have you experienced PTG? What would help you recover from trauma? What would make it harder?