These 5 Domains of Posttraumatic Growth Can Help You Thrive

Silhouette of a man on a dune at sunset Have you ever heard that the Chinese word for crisis combines two characters meaning danger and opportunity? This captures the essence of posttraumatic growth—that in traumatic experiences, as upsetting as they are, we can find opportunities for meaning and personal growth.

Posttraumatic growth is not about returning to or recreating the life you had before trauma; rather, it describes the perspective shifts and choices for positive change that often come in the aftermath of significant trauma. Being steeped in the field of resilience myself, the field of posttraumatic growth overlaps and explores not only what helps people get through life’s difficulties, but what helps them thrive as a result of challenge.

Trauma can be simply described as an experience that overwhelms our capacity to cope, so it is no surprise that much of trauma work involves calling in supports that increase one’s capacity to cope with the stress of the trauma. Whether or not we have these aspects of life in place prior to trauma, they can help us to recover, make meaning, and create positive experiences that, while not changing the traumatic situation, give a sense of meaning and purpose to life as it continues on.

Here are five aspects of posttraumatic growth to reflect on:

1. Personal Strength

What helps you to feel strong and to access resources within yourself? How do you cope with pain, both emotional and physical? There are many ways of dealing with sensations and emotions that feel uncomfortable, and many of us seek out behaviors that have drawbacks—using substances, overworking, or distracting from the pain rather than moving through it. What can you do to help you connect to yourself in a healthy way and process uncomfortable emotions?

Many find strength in sports, exercise, creative endeavors (music, art, theater), or in connecting with and helping others. Take some time to reflect on what could serve you best in this way.

2. New Possibilities

With trauma often comes an organic shift in perspective. Perhaps things that used to be meaningful no longer carry your interest, while other topics feel suddenly more compelling. Take a moment to reflect on what you may want to leave behind and what is pulling your attention moving forward.

Often with trauma, people experience a shift and reprioritization of values; if this has happened for you, what new possibilities exist? How can you shift how you spend your time and energy to reflect these changes?

3. Relating to Others

Social supports are a huge way that we move through difficulty. Trauma may be what leads us to reach out for professional help, or to confide in a friend. We may also have a deeper sense of compassion for others who are suffering, leading us to relate to the world in an entirely new way.

Take a moment to look at your relationships—with family, friends, your community, and society at large. Where do you feel connected, seen, and supported? These are places that can be helpful and healing. If you do not feel you have people who support you, now is a wonderful time to reach out.

Trauma brings us face to face with our mortality and, as such, can lead us to appreciate and even treasure moments of peace or connection we may have taken for granted.

4. Appreciation of Life

I think Hamilton Jordan describes this best in his book No Such Thing as a Bad Day (2000): “After my first cancer, even the smallest joys in life took on new meaning—watching a beautiful sunset, a hug from my child, a laugh with Dorothy. That feeling has not diminished with time. After my second and third cancers, the simple joys of life are everywhere and are boundless, as I cherish my family and friends and contemplate the rest of my life, a life I certainly do not take for granted.”

Trauma brings us face to face with our mortality and, as such, can lead us to appreciate and even treasure moments of peace or connection we may have taken for granted.

5. Spiritual Change

Many trauma survivors report a shift in relating to the spiritual world.

The diagnostic (DSM) definition of trauma explains that many traumatic experiences involve exposure to death or threatened death, which brings to the forefront questions of mortality, afterlife, and spiritual meaning. We may find ourselves asking, “Why did this happen to me?” or “What has become of the person who passed?” These questions and the answers we seek are deeply personal and have significant implications for how we understand ourselves and the world. Allow time for these reflections in the aftermath of trauma.

As Ernest Hemingway so eloquently pointed out, “The world breaks everyone and afterward many are strong in the broken places.” Posttraumatic growth points to those places that become strong through exposure and experience. It may not be a painless process, but seeking opportunities for growth can help create a deeper sense of love, connection, and meaning in our lives.

© Copyright 2015 GoodTherapy.org. All rights reserved. Permission to publish granted by Lisa Danylchuk, MEd, LMFT, E-RYT, therapist in Oakland, California

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by GoodTherapy.org. Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

  • 14 comments
  • Leave a Comment
  • Reenie

    Reenie

    June 11th, 2015 at 1:07 PM

    I do get it that this is an opportunity for growth and for change but there will be those who are so wounded by the trauma that they will not find a way to that part. They are forever trapped in the pain and the suffering and do not see how it is at all possible to grow past and through all of that pain.

  • Tate

    Tate

    June 11th, 2015 at 5:11 PM

    I wholeheartedly agree that when you witness the pain that someone is going through it can give you such a brighter perspective and outlook on your own life.
    It can help you to appreciate those things which you have not even thought to appreciate before.

  • marc

    marc

    June 12th, 2015 at 7:56 AM

    This can definitely be used as a time for reflection, and a time to see yourself as being in charge, not dominated and forced by this trauma to be less than who you really are.

  • Lisa

    Lisa

    June 13th, 2015 at 12:31 AM

    I feel like Renee does. I am so traumatized I don’t see ever getting to the point my PTSD will heal and I will be able to get through it.

  • W E. Buckley

    W E. Buckley

    June 21st, 2015 at 9:28 AM

    They “can’t see” how they can grow or get past….” I dont think anybody can, not while in a place of pain, so dont try. What I mean is, dont try to see past a day, an hour, Hell, a moment. You don’t have to do anything but acknowledge that u made it past the event. The bonus is you made it thru the next day, and the next up to today. You just have to recognize how extraordinary that is! I can’t honestly see a day when I won’t be triggered by a smell, sound or something that reminds me of the cowardly, twisted person who created this fear in me, who altered my soul. It’s taken time but now, I also see how I survived that must piss him off. So every day I get stronger, to me, feels like a reminder to him how he failed, how no matter what he tried, he didnt get what he wanted. I will never be broken. So every day,I seem to think of him and the “event(s)” less. Some days I’ll realize not at all. He took so much of me already, I’ll be damned if him or what happened will get another second of my life.

  • Wells

    Wells

    June 14th, 2015 at 5:43 AM

    As far as the point about relating to others, group sessions with other people who know exactly what you have been through and who have experienced some of the very same things can be a very cathartic and healing experience for some people. It is not that friends and family may not understand what is going on with you but it can be nice to have someone to reach out to who has been through the exact same thing and who has felt those same emotions and feelings and this can be a very important part of the healing process for you.

  • steffy

    steffy

    June 15th, 2015 at 9:26 AM

    I wish that somewhere there would be more mention made of the fact that even though all of this is possible, for most of us it will take much time and healing before we can get to that point where we feel that we can learn from all of this and find something valuable from the experience.

    I don’t believe that most of us are hard wired too see anything at all like that overnight.

  • W E. Buckley

    W E. Buckley

    June 20th, 2015 at 11:39 PM

    I agree we aren’t “hard wired” to immediately jump up & start looking 4 some silver lining. But we are hard wired to survive, period. If Im gonna survive, it better be for a good reeason if I No thay part of her still lives so if I just keep trying to find something good out of any part of my experience, then I accept I’ll nvr be The same person I was before. I will prove to my daughter that I can overcome anything. I am stronger than what tried to break me down, therefore she is too! “Always look for the best, because no matter what it is, whatever you seek the most, eventually, you must find. No one says there’s anything wrong with how long it takes anyone to get thru, or past thier trama,or how, that u can let it break you or just to keep trying. And chose to NEVER BE BROKEN. BRUISED, TWISTED MAYBE, BUT BROKEN? NO.

  • Lisa

    Lisa

    June 16th, 2015 at 2:59 PM

    Reenie, Lisa and Steffy, indeed trauma is awful and its wake can be long-lasting. These categories came from studies of people who did experience some post-traumatic growth, and they came to these perspectives sometimes over very long periods of time. Hopefully, their experience can offer you some hope to continue to move through the challenges and negative impacts of trauma. I wish you all much love and support in your healing process.

  • Lisa

    Lisa

    June 16th, 2015 at 3:01 PM

    Tate, Marc and Wells, thank you for sharing your experiences of finding appreciation, reflection, and connection with those who have endured similar hardships. I’m glad you were access these healing opportunities.

  • teea

    teea

    September 2nd, 2015 at 7:21 AM

    I think, from my own and others experience of extreme injury and near death trauma, it is all true. It’s complicated. Survivors of trauma are more likely than others to suicide, use or overuse drugs and alcohol, suffer psychologically and physically. And yet at the same time, the same person can gain strength, grow in new directions, expand their horizons, follow new pathways. Kind of like two steps forward(or sideways) then one step back.
    A psychologist told me she was surprised and impressed by my resilience. She said, from her experience with clients, most who had been through I have in my life would have suicided or become housebound/not able to cope or live a full life.
    I’ve suffered and still do but somehow continue to grow, to work, create, enjoy. I have dark dark moments but no matter how dark I have a pact with myself to live.
    Other than that I don’t know why I am (in her eyes) resilient.
    Maybe it’s my acute awareness that I am alive, that life is not a dream, we can’t rewind and replay it…life is short and I want to enjoy at least some of mine and I’m determined do what I can not let it pass hidden in a room or on drugs or in a mental fog!

  • teea

    teea

    September 2nd, 2015 at 7:30 AM

    I would like to add, I still don’t appreciate the trauma/s. I do still wish they didn’t happen and it took years of life experiences such as deaths of friends and positive experiences like gaining degrees and having babies..5hese things helped me see the trauma exoeriences, though painful and life changing, as important but not all defining of me ir my life. It takes time abd tbe willingness to give yourself times to quietly reflect, not run from, the experiences. To feel and cry and miss the old you then resolve to carry on with life as you deserve it.
    Best wishes to everyone!

  • Deb

    Deb

    September 3rd, 2015 at 5:06 AM

    I believe that with enough time people do find ways to transform suffering into a deeper, wiser, stronger, a more compassionate sense of self. Sometimes it takes many years, but it doesn’t begin we create a safe place for ourself in the world, either by getting out of the situation, or changing the way we think, feel and act in the situation. Either way it changes you forever. The truth is why would we want to stay the naive person, the victim, or the stuck person forever? It is natural to grow out of the way we view ourselves after trauma into a person who has a more insightful, empowered, realistic relationship to suffering and pain. It doesn’t begin until we stop thinking that it was unfair, that it should never have happened, or that we have had our life ruined. Horrible things happen to us, it is a part of the story of who we are, transmutation the horror into acceptance, wisdom, and emotional courage, changes who we are and how we experience and process suffering forever. That makes it possible to say that we would never have become this more amazing whole version of ourself without having the experience of overcoming traumatic experiences.

  • Bellis

    Bellis

    May 29th, 2016 at 1:23 PM

    Well, there’s the pollyanna schmaltz of the kind embodied in this article. Or there’s the ennui, and the acceptance that suicidal ideation will always be with you. There’s the profound ethical problem that so many other people don’t seem to have, of how imposing this grim human existence on someone that never asked for it in the first place could ever be justified. There’s the inability to care, because, really, nothing is all that important any more. The simple can’t-be-bothered-ness that makes enthusiasm and drive strangers at your table. This is “perspective” apparently, but the non-traumatised world just doesn’t get it, and doesn’t get people who do. You live with it, often because killing yourself is too hard, but you’re not such a sanctimonious, irritating clown as to think that this constitutes “healing” or “closure” or any of the other stock-in-trade nonsense terms of the army of profiteering self-help authors.

Leave a Comment

By commenting you acknowledge acceptance of GoodTherapy.org's Terms and Conditions of Use.

* Indicates required field.

GoodTherapy uses cookies to personalize content and ads to provide better services for our users and to analyze our traffic. By continuing to use this site you consent to our cookies.