Emboldened Survivor: Gaining Strength through Struggle (Post-traumatic Growth)
By Dr. Ronald L. Rubenzer, EdD, MA, MPH, MSE, FAIS
*This is an article from the Spring 2023 issue of Combat Stress
It is better to light a candle than to curse the darkness.1
With that in mind, this article will focus on positive outcomes possible after traumatic events. The scientific term for personal improvement after trauma is Post-traumatic Growth (PTG).
Relatively little is known about Post-traumatic Growth (PTG). Many PTG studies focus on veterans’ “lived experience” of a positive outcome after intervention for PTSD.2
More specifically, Post-traumatic Growth (PTG) is a theory that explains positive transformation experiences following trauma. In the mid 1990’s Tedeschi & Calhoun discovered that people who endure struggle following adversity can often see positive growth afterward.3
The need for mental health intervention for PTSD victims
An analysis of 26 studies revealed that only about 50% of people studied reported a moderate to high PTG after experiencing a traumatic event.4 This meta-study shines a spotlight on the need for therapeutic intervention for nearly half of people experiencing a traumatic event.
Six additional reasons to actively mitigate PTSD:
- Left untreated PTSD can dampen quality of life and impair one’s ability to experience happiness and pleasure (i.e., anhedonia)
- Unmanaged PTSD can interfere with restorative sleep
- Most sadly, unrelieved PTSD can lead to self-destructive behaviors and the ability to interact meaningfully with others
- Hair thinning. One of the most visible outcomes of unabated stress is temporary hair loss (Telogen effluvium)
- Immune system functions are suppressed resulting in more illnesses and/or slow recovery from illnesses
- Emotional Contagion – caretakers/partners/coworkers etc. will “mirror” PTSD symptoms, making life difficult for significant others living/working with the PTSD afflicted
Post-traumatic Growth – do-it-yourself approaches
If you are a do-it-yourself type problem solver, you would benefit by exploring the 2016 Posttraumatic Growth Workbook by Tedeschi and Moore.5 However, a better approach to treating PTSD is face-to-face therapy with a qualified mental health professional.
The first step: Know yourself. The Posttraumatic Growth Inventory.6
In 1996 Tedeschi and Calhoun developed the Posttraumatic Growth Inventory (PTGI) to assess post-trauma growth and self-improvement a person undergoes.
According to the PTGI, the pillars of personal growth after trauma include: looking at new possibilities, improved relationships, spiritual growth and appreciation for life.
The reader is encouraged to measure one’s personal development relative to these hallmarks of post-trauma recovery. Seeking professional help will accelerate post-traumatic assessment and growth.
Second step: – Interventions:
In general: Carve out 15 minutes of quality time to develop a peaceful mind.
The world-renowned Norman Vincent Peale revealed that an “effective technique in developing a peaceful mind is the daily practice of silence.”7
Dr. Peale lays out how to practice silence. “Go alone into the quietest place available to you and sit or lie down for fifteen minutes and practice the art of silence.” He specifically suggests that you throw your mind into “neutral,” thinking as little as possible. Do no reading, talking or writing. Imagine your mind as calm as the surface of a lake with no ripples.
Practice the ABCD’s of stress management.
The ABCD’s of stress management are focusing on healthy – Attitudes, Breathing, Choices & Diet.
Attitude is more important than facts according to Karl Menninger.8
Pulitzer Prize winner Maya Angelou asserts that “Nothing can dim the light that shines from within.”9,10
Optimism is an optimal attitude whenever realistically possible, and it will bring about a more positive outcome. Well-practiced positive affirmations can create calm.
Practice the attitudes of gratitude and hope. Start your morning with a “thank you” to set the right tone for the day.
Let bygones be bygones.
Be realistic in your journey to PTG (i.e., be patient in your progress). Be fair to yourself in terms of your growth toward PTG. Remember, Rome was not built in a day. Striving for progress rather than perfection will bring about better results on your road to recovery.
There is no easier, cheaper or more effective way to manage negative emotions than proper breathing.11
Counting to 10: Simply breathe in slowly and deeply as possible, through your nose, to the count of five (count silently to yourself 1,2,3,4,5) and exhale slowly through your mouth (counting 6,7,8,9,10.) Repeat a few times.
Choices: Choose to “walk” (rather than ride) when feasible. Exercise is the miracle drug without the drug. Stroll in natural surroundings (i.e., enjoy “eco-therapy”).
Diet: Stay hydrated. Drink 8 glasses of water a day. Dehydration by itself can cause anxiety. Also, limit your caffeine intake – excess caffeine can make one feel edgy.
In summary, with help, you’re struggling “wisely” with difficulty can evolve into Post-traumatic Growth (PTG), resulting in overall improved relationships, and appreciation for life.
- Chinese proverb used by Adlai E.Stevenson, US ambassador to the United Nations to praise Eleanor Roosevelt after her death in 1962.
- Tedeschi, R. G., & Calhoun, L. G. (2004). Target Article: “Posttraumatic Growth: Conceptual Foundations and Empirical Evidence”. Psychological Inquiry, 15(1), 1–18.
- Wu X, Kaminga AC, Dai W, Deng J, Wang Z, Pan X, Liu A. The prevalence of moderate-to-high posttraumatic growth: A systematic review and meta-analysis. J Affect Disord. 2019 Jan 15;243:408-415. doi: 10.1016/j.jad.2018.09.023. Epub 2018 Sep 12. PMID: 30268956.
- Tedeschi R. G., and Moore, B. A..2016 The Posttraumatic Growth Workbook: Coming Through Trauma Wiser, Stronger, and More Resilient. Oakland CA: New Harbinger Publications, Inc.
- Tedeschi, R. G., and L. G. Calhoun. 1996, The Posttraumatic Growth Inventory: Measuring the Positive Legacy of Trauma.” Journal of Traumatic Stress 9 (3): 455-71
- Peale, N. V. and Ismaik, H. A., 2022 The Power of Positive Thinking: Interfaith 21st Century Edition. Cardiff California: Waterside Productions. 28.
- https://www.stress.org/for a brighter-day-choose-to-be-positive/ (4/14/2018)
- Angelou, M. 2014 Rainbow in the cloud: The Wisdom and Spirit of Maya Angelou. New York: Random House. 69.
- Tedeschi R. G., and Moore, B. A., 2016. The Posttraumatic Growth Workbook: Coming Through Trauma Wiser, Stronger, and More Resilient. 2016. Oakland CA: New Harbinger Publications, Inc. 53.