Building yourself back up after trauma

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Trauma comes in many different forms and can have serious negative consequences on your life. It can cause suffering and change the course of one’s life entirely. In some cases, one can come out stronger for the trauma one’s endured. Although trauma is not actively sought out, it is likely to occur at least once in a person’s lifetime. A concept known as post-traumatic growth looks at how overcoming terrible events can lead to a positive outcome that allows individuals to come out stronger.اضافة اعلان

Trauma is often defined as a distressing event or experience that results in emotional, physical, or psychological harm. There are many different origins of trauma. What is considered a traumatic event or experience can differ between people, the results are nearly universal. It is common to experience intrusive thoughts and memories of the event, become hypervigilant or on-edge, and have a general sense of feeling unsafe. These feelings and thoughts are considered normal and can last from a few days to a few weeks, gradually decreasing in severity. However, in some cases, these feelings can be intense and occur for an extended period of time. This is known as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and can be extremely difficult to live and cope with. PTSD is a complex condition and caused by a variety of factors, but those who become apathetic, avoid certain situations or people, or develop unhealthy coping behaviors are at higher risk of developing it. If not managed correctly, it can increase the risk of developing other mental disorders such as depression, anxiety, use of drugs or alcohol, eating disorders, and even suicidal thoughts.

What is post-traumatic growth?
Although trauma is almost always associated with negative effects, some people ultimately come out stronger. This phenomenon is called post-traumatic growth (PTG) and is defined as a positive psychological state that follows a traumatic event. The term post-traumatic growth was coined by psychologists Richard G. Tedeschi and Lawrence Calhoun in the mid-1990s. During the course of their investigation, they noticed that those who undergo PTG end up exceeding in life with a greater appreciation and develop greater resilience. There are many theories as to why people experience PTG. The most accepted theory is known as The Outcome Theory. This theory asserts that there are two different types of coping: homeostatic coping and transformational coping. Homeostatic coping is taking steps to return one’s life to normal. In this type of coping, nothing is gained or lost. With transformational coping, however, cognitive changes in one’s personalities take place. The change can be positive or negative, however. Negative transformational coping ultimately results in the individual succumbing to stress and potentially developing anxiety and depression. On the other hand, those that undergo positive transformational coping end up developing positive changes as a result of PTG.

Fortunately, this phenomenon is quite prevalent and considered a healthy indicator for recovery and coping. Some studies suggest that roughly 90 percent of trauma victims experience at least one aspect of PTG. Additionally, Tedeschi and Lawrence noticed two important traits that make it more likely for someone to experience PTG. The first trait is openness to experience, which is a person’s willingness to experiment and try new things. This trait is crucial because in order to undergo growth you must be willing to explore new thoughts and ideas. The second trait is extroversion which is the outgoing personality trait. This is likely due to the fact that extroverts are more likely to communicate and seek out others and, in doing so, be exposed to new ideas. These traits are more closely seen in the demographic that represents those who have undergone PTG. Those in late adolescents and early adulthood are more likely to experience PTG and this is likely due to their world view still evolving. Similarly, women are more likely to experience PTG compared to men (albeit only slightly more likely).

Furthermore, PTG is divided into five areas and a person can undergo positive transformation in one or more of the areas. The first area is embracing new opportunities both professionally and personally. The second area is improved personal relationships as well as finding greater joy from said relationship. The next area of PTG is having a greater appreciation of life and overall gratitude. The fourth area is a greater sense of spiritual or religious connection. The last area of PTG is improved emotional strength and resilience.

Since its inception, PTG has been investigated in a variety of different applications. As of yet, PTG is simply a theory and still trying to find its footing in a clinical setting. Another psychologist, Martin Seligman, has devoted a large portion of his career to positive development following a traumatic event. Based on his analysis, adults who undergo PTG have significantly higher levels of physical and psychological functioning. Additionally, these individuals show greater resilience and develop improved coping strategies that allow them to find better solutions during future stressful events. This ultimately acts as a mental shield which can help prevent future instances of grief and stress and afford them improved life satisfaction and quality of life. Furthermore, many interventions have been designed based on PTG principles. The two most popular interventions are known as written emotional disclosure and cognitive-behavioral stress management. Studies based on the cognitive-behavioral stress management intervention found that there were beneficial effects on PTG, quality of life, and emotional well-being.

Although PTG is a relatively new concept, there are certain ways to help improve your recovery and potentially develop PTG. One of the first steps is to reflect. In the written emotional disclosure intervention, individuals are asked to write down positive thoughts and feelings about their trauma. Although it can be very difficult, this simple action forces the individual to take time and reflect on their situation.

Another important step is fostering a sense of community. More often than not, there are other people out there who have experienced similar trauma to your own. By seeking out groups that have shared similar experiences, you can foster a community which can offer you invaluable support. The last, and probably most important step, is seeking mental health support. This can first come in the form of friends, family, and loved ones but only up until a certain point. If you or someone you love starts of experience a loss of interest, avoidance, or unhealthy coping behaviors then it is advised you seek a mental health professional. The Maria Den Braven Center, located at the 2nd Circle in Amman, is staffed with qualified psychiatrists and clinical psychologists, some of whom specialize in PTSD as well as other anxiety disorders which may be related to trauma.

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