Attitudes Toward Trauma Can Spur PTSD or Posttraumatic Growth

Posttraumatic stress often is associated with a significant life trauma, such as childhood sexual abuse, domestic violence, death, or other events that cause intense emotional distress. Individuals who develop PTSD as a result of such trauma may have symptoms of anxiety, sadness, fear, and low self-esteem that they carry for years and even decades after the event. Many individuals unconsciously perpetuate their symptoms by engaging in rumination. Spontaneous thoughts relating to the trauma can occur at any time and can serve to exacerbate symptoms associated with PTSD.

Existing research on PTSD shows that the way in which a person identifies with his or her trauma predicts the severity of their symptoms. People who see themselves as victims tend to have persistent negative outcomes, while those who see themselves as being “victorious” over such an adverse event may develop a stronger sense of self and realize post-traumatic growth (PTG). Understanding how an individual identifies his or her sense of self with the trauma, known as centrality, could help clinicians treating people with PTSD. To get a clearer picture of how centrality relates to PTSD and PTG, Jessica M. Groleau of the Department of Psychology at the University of North Carolina recently assessed 187 college students who had experienced a traumatic life event in the previous two years.

Groleau examined levels of centrality, symptom severity, rumination, and the participants’ assumptive world view, how they viewed themselves and their environments and relationships in relation to the trauma. She found that centrality was indeed a contributor to PTSD, but contributed to PTG as well. Specifically, Groleau found that symptoms of PTG and PTSD acted in unique ways, which suggests that centrality can affect the development and maintenance of PTSD and PTG simultaneously. “The same cognitive disruption that can produce posttraumatic distress can set in motion the processes that can lead to the experience of growth,” Groleau said. The perceptions that individuals have of a specific event, as well the reciprocity between symptoms and centrality, were two contributing factors that were not examined in the current research. However, the results clearly show that centrality can be a double-edged sword.

Groleau, J. M., Calhoun, L. G., Cann, A., Tedeschi, R. G. (2012). The role of centrality of events in posttraumatic distress and posttraumatic growth. Psychological Trauma: Theory, Research, Practice, and Policy. Advance online publication. doi: 10.1037/a0028809

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  • Sully

    September 4th, 2012 at 11:00 AM

    There are always constants in many of our lives, and for someone who has always viewed himself as a victim, this is the sort of mindset that he is always going to remain in.
    I don’t know, I really hate that whole mentality that I am a victim and there is nothing that I can do to change things. Yes you can, but you have to stop feeling sorry for yourself. If you don’t then you could wimd up with a horrible disorder like PTSD that could really be the end of a hope for a happy life for you.

  • Marleen

    September 4th, 2012 at 11:34 AM

    A very large part of this would have to be how does this person feel like they have contributed to this happeneing and how much can they contribute to oversoming that challenge?
    Do they feel like they lack that control or do they feel like they can beat thins thing?
    It’s all about taking back your life and realizing that you do have a say so about the things that you allow to harm you and what you don’t.

  • dan

    September 4th, 2012 at 2:17 PM

    it all comes down to what you choose to do isn’t it?life will throw a lemon to you what you choose and decide to do with it is up to you and no one else! while it is not easy to remain positive and focused in tough times those that can do that will go on to not only get rid of the problem on hand but will also learn from it!


    September 4th, 2012 at 3:52 PM

    There r so many stories of people to prove this!Many suffer traumatic events in life but some ppl make use of the experience to change for the better and then go on to win laurels despite all the odds.That is the human spirit and if we mind we can achieve the same,even if traumatic events come in the way, we can conquer them all!

  • matt

    September 5th, 2012 at 1:51 AM

    as someone who has gone through a childhood trauma, I can tell the people who comment about “just moving on” how difficult that concept can be. I felt as though I was in a constant state of “stuck”. It was a normal state for mind adjusted to the trauma as a child and I stayed on edge for years. Once I was able to turn the switch off, with the aid of good doctors and safe care, was I able to finally start live life with the switch turned off. It was most difficult for me to take back my life, and turn a lemon into lemon aid because my mind didn’t trust this, my mind, was stuck in a child like protection. Eventually the mind did break free of this by shear exhaustion, and then, only then can we see that there are options and hope. THe best case is compassion, listening, and informed medical help.

  • charlene

    September 5th, 2012 at 4:03 AM

    I love it when I see those people who even in the face of tragedy discover that they are stronger than they may have thought. They use this as a springboard for improving their lives instead of choosing to get mired in the unhappiness.

  • lewis m

    September 6th, 2012 at 1:12 AM

    I always speak on these terms to all those people who think all is fate and they have no control over their lives (I know, that’s just an excuse for thier shortcomings).. What happens to you does not play as big a role as how you react to it. That is the truth of life and you better be a fighter to turn things around, no excuses..!

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