Posttraumatic Growth sounds like an oxymoron; growth after trauma. But talking with some childhood cancer survivors I realized I know a lot of people exhibiting this phenomenon.
Essentially, it’s the idea that individuals can be changed in radically good ways by their struggle with trauma. This does not diminish the impact of the battle, it just offers hope for the other side. This may seem impossible in the midst of the heartache but I can assure you I have seen lives that prove this true. When the battle’s over what remains?
I’ve talked to several young adults who walk on eggshells because their cancer might return, or are disfigured or disabled by surgeries to remove tumors when they were four or six or eight. Yet they go to college and build Habitat houses and have careers and mentor little kids with cancer. They just keep finding amazing things to do. Exhibiting personal growth in the aftermath of trauma.
This does not diminish the impact of the battle, it just offers hope for the other side.
I have friends like that. One lost her baby just days before his full-term delivery. She lay on the table as the doctor told her this unimaginable news and in an almost incomprehensible way the song “It Is Well With My Soul” played in her head. She went on to raise three other great kids, teach years of women’s classes, and start a thriving home design business.
Another had a husband who came in on a normal day from a youth soccer game and had a stroke, leaving her to raise six children on her own. She juggled all the school schedules, sports, and tender love lives, and put five (so far) through college and a few through marriages, and in the midst of it all kept a family business running, started a new one, and became a doting grandmother.
I too have experienced Posttraumatic Growth. And it’s not without its own traumas, which I guess makes it that much more amazing that it even happens at all. My daughter and I lost an amazing husband and father to suicide, a split-second nightmare that could easily have never ended, and become our own nightmare. Since then there were her sweet teen years, a rich college experience for her, and new friends and jobs for me, beautiful weddings (for both of us) and, we anticipate, all sorts of not-yet-discovered ways we can grow.
The University of North Carolina at Charlotte (UNCC) has a website devoted to research and theory on the processes underlying Posttraumatic Growth, and researchers there identify 5 general areas where PTG occurs:
1. A sense that new opportunity has emerged from the struggle, opening up possibilities that were not present before.
2. Closer relationships with other individuals, and/or an increased sense of connection to others who suffer.
3. An increased sense of one’s own strength—“if I lived through that, I can face anything.”
4. A greater appreciation for life in general.
5. A deepening of your spiritual life.
Those are possibilities offered to all of us, whether we’ve been through trauma or not.
We are all born with an inner desire for exploration, adventure, relationships, courage, success, gratitude, and depth of soul. Life on this earth will provide trauma to each of us at some point (and most of us at several points), even if it’s simply the appropriately timed passing of parents. The grief that arises from trauma is real and personal and takes a toll and looks different for everyone. But at some point, for each person, there is an arising, and so many new things to behold. Even if you form just one new personal relationship, be proud of yourself—you are displaying growth in the aftermath of trauma.
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