Can There Be Growth After Trauma?
Searching on Google Scholar or PubMed will yield thousands of academic articles showing a multitude of negative mental and physical health outcomes that can occur over the lifetime of a victim of brief or ongoing trauma (1). Searching for “effects of trauma” on PubMed yields more than 270,000 results! But with our steady focus on the negative, are we missing an important aspect of the human experience?
What we don’t often research are the many stories of recovery and growth from trauma (2)(5). Accounts of a deeper and more meaningful life after a traumatizing event or abuse are actually quite common (3). It is beneficial to include these stories in our narrative as they offer hope that trauma does not have to linger inside of you for the rest of your life.
Understanding the Whole Picture
“The wound is the place where the light enters you”– Rumi
There are uplifting stories of recovery and empowerment after an abusive childhood or traumatic experience. But some stories, and quotes such as the one above, can be just as damaging as holding the view that trauma can only hurt us. Simply having a traumatic experience will not lead to growth and empowerment. What you do afterward can have a big impact on your experience (6).
In order to grow from trauma, most people need help. Support and healing are necessary to move towards a place of well-being and a higher level of functioning. Many people who report experiencing growth after traumatic experiences have worked in therapeutic settings, struggling to heal, find meaning, and learn new life skills. In many cases, the result includes wider perspectives, richer understandings, more resilience, and greater coping skills.
Growth After Trauma
Research conducted by Dr. Richard Tedesch and Dr. Lawrence Calhoun found many examples of growth after trauma, including improved relationships, a greater appreciation for life, new possibilities in a changed life, heightened sense of personal strength, and spiritual development. Survivors of trauma had reported the experience of personal losses leading to valuable gains (4).
The recurring themes of survivor stories included feelings of greater vulnerability and, at the same time, feeling that the experience of trauma had endowed trauma survivors with an understanding of their own capacity to survive. In this way, trauma can develop and enhance capacity for resilience, and deepen appreciation for our own resilience.
Post-traumatic growth occurs as a result of experience, not intellect. Growth from trauma is based on reconstructing thought patterns, recognizing paradoxes, and developing a revised life narrative. In order to do this, we often need to find a therapist who can facilitate the experience of growth and the building of resilience in ourselves.
What Therapists and Clients Need to Know
In our desire to reach people who have suffered from trauma and encourage them to get help, we too often focus on potential negative outcomes. In this process, we run the risk of spotlighting disability and illness while ignoring resilience and growth. By shifting some attention towards more positive outcomes, we can help empower growth and healing, even from the worst of circumstances.
- Center for Substance Abuse Treatment. (2014). Trauma-informed care in behavioral health services.
- Stroia, E. The Transformative Powers of pain: Healing from abuse. Retrieved May 19 from Tiny Budda.
- Tedeschi, R. G., & Calhoun, L. (2004). Posttraumatic growth: A new perspective on psychotraumatology. Psychiatric Times, 21(4), 58-60.
- Tedeschi, R. G., & Calhoun, L. G. (2004). ” Posttraumatic growth: Conceptual foundations and empirical evidence”. Psychological inquiry, 15(1), 1-18.
- Lang’at, J. C. (2018). Posttraumatic Growth: The Lived Experience of Recurrent and Multiple Trauma Survivors of Kenya’s Skirmishes, 2007 Post-election Violence, and 2009 National Level Oil Tanker Fire Explosion (Doctoral dissertation, Duquesne University).
- Riccio, G., Hernandez, A. E., & Perrella, R. (2018). Resilience: a structuring force. Mediterranean Journal of Clinical Psychology, 6(3).