This post was prompted by a recent conversation with a friend (who has experienced complicated loss.) She told me that she did a lot of reading about grief and trauma as a part of her healing process, but that most of her reading material did not address the concept of positive growth after loss and trauma. She also felt that these readings did not promote enough of a sense of hope. She researched post-traumatic growth, and found that concept to be extremely helpful and encouraging. It seems fitting to write about post-traumatic growth here.
Post-traumatic growth is a theory, which explains that growth and positive change may sometimes occur after a traumatic experience. Obviously this does not negate the difficulty of a traumatic experience, or its many negative effects. The thinking is that despite (and in addition) to the negative effects of a traumatic experience, we sometimes also grow in positive ways from the tough challenges which we face in our lives.
Researchers have created a post-traumatic growth inventory, to help assess for it. They look for positive responses in these five potential areas:
1. Appreciation of life.
2. Relationship with others.
3. New possibilities in life.
4. Personal Strength.
5. Spiritual Change.
(Source: Richard Tedeschi, PhD, and Lawrence Calhoun, PhD, Journal of Traumatic Stress, 1996)
In my work with bereaved patients (some facing complex losses) I have definitely seen signs of post-traumatic growth.
Some have described feeling stronger. Perhaps their loss has given them a new perspective on life and on what is important, and they have heightened confidence in their ability to cope with adverse situations and pain.
Many have a new sense of purpose, and/or more gratitude for what they have. Perhaps they have changed careers or life paths, seeking meaning or fulfillment in new ways. This has often translated into a heightened focus upon helping others.
Some speak of their ability to prioritize and value relationships now more than ever. Sometimes they have become closer with certain family members or friends after the loss. Certain patients have described feeling more empathy for others after their loss experiences.
As for spiritual change, I have certainly witnessed bereaved patients whose faith has deepened after a loss, or who have experienced some type of spiritual awakening.
Of course these outcomes do not happen for everyone, but it is interesting and hopefully empowering to think that sometimes some positive changes can come from our most painful life experiences.
Please feel free to comment or share below.