For those of you worrying about your too-high ACE scores (see related post regarding the new book Childhood Disrupted) and level of past trauma, maybe “what doesn’t kill you” can actually make you stronger after all. Posttraumatic growth is what it’s called.
The Posttraumatic Growth Research Group at University of North Carolina, where this term was coined, defines it as follows: “positive change experienced as a result of the struggle with a major life crisis or a traumatic event.”
Per their website, five areas in which posttraumatic growth may occur:
- “Sometimes people who must face major life crises develop a sense that new opportunities have emerged from the struggle, opening up possibilities that were not present before.”
- An increase in certain kinds of interpersonal connectivity.
- “An increased sense of one’s own strength.”
- “A greater appreciation for life in general.”
- A possible deepening of spirituality accompanied by a possible change in beliefs.
Psychologist Stephen Joseph, PhD, published the well-reviewed What Doesn’t Kill Us: The New Psychology of Posttraumatic Growth in 2011. As reviewed by Nature: “Tsunamis, assault, near-death accidents: such experiences are popularly imagined to scar victims ‘for life’ and leave them in thrall to post-traumatic stress disorder. After two decades of research, positive psychologist Stephen Joseph argues that, for many, these traumas can become an ‘engine for transformation’.”
John Harvey, Professor Emeritus of Psychology, University of Iowa: “The book is replete with powerful story-lines of people who persevered in the face of great pain and loss: From Michael J. Fox to Viktor Frankl we learn how survivors lived Nietzsche’s dictum of what doesn’t kill you can make you stronger. Joseph gives voice to the non-famous and famous alike as he tells stories of survival and thriving, both in personal and global crises.”
And now there’s another book on the subject, this one by journalist Jim Rendon. Upside: The New Science of Post-Traumatic Growth, addresses how, “with the right circumstances and proper support, survivors can actually emerge from their trauma stronger, more focused, and with a new and clear vision for the future. In fact, as many as two-thirds of trauma survivors report positive changes—far more than suffer from PTSD.”
As Rendon wrote a few years ago in the New York Times, “The way we cope with trauma is far more complex than once thought, and the way it molds us is similarly complex. We bend, we break, we repair and rebuild, and often we grow, changing for the better in ways we never would have if we had not suffered.”
Kirkus Reviews: “…Rendon’s research has convinced him—and likely will convince readers—that a return to the old normalcy is rarely achievable. It may not even be desirable. ‘[Trauma] is transformative’—not always for the good, but more often than one might think.”
Concluding that “Upside is a true gift to the field of trauma recovery,” Linda Graham, MFT, sums up Rendon’s contribution: “The key elements of healing and thriving, not in spite of but because of trauma – creating a coherent narrative, reaching out for help and helping others, expressing the pain, focusing on the positive, bonding with those who share similar experiences, resourcing through religious faith, creativity, physical activity and therapy – can all lead to experiences of meaning and fulfillment unimaginable before the trauma.”
Selected Reviews of Upside
Gail Sheehy, author: “No one gets out of life without some trauma. Jim Rendon delves behind the tragic face to find out why so many of us post-traumatic survivors emerge stronger, in search of more meaningful ways to live. Rendon’s original psychological reporting and poignant writing points us to the passage to hope and inspires us to help others.”
Henry Emmons, MD: “None of us wants it, but severe stress may not be as bad as we think. Upside provides authentic hope, grounded in science and enlivened by real-life stories, that it is possible to emerge from a traumatic experience not diminished, but somehow enlarged by it. This book offers scientific evidence,personal understanding, and practical tools to transform trauma into an occasion for growth.”
Kirkus Reviews: “Rendon examines how to train optimism, how to find absorption and nurture creativity in new experiences, how camaraderie and support lead to gratitude and commitment, and how ‘when you decide to struggle, you say I am going to elect to be challenged. You are enlivened’.”