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Post-Traumatic Growth: Finding Meaning and Creativity in Adversity

Common Responses to Trauma

Emotions such as sadness, grief, anger, and anxiety are common responses to trauma.

Trying to "self-regulate" those emotions, or avoiding feared thoughts, feeling, and sensations, will make things worse and reinforce the belief that the world is not safe or void of opportunities and meaning. But acceptance and embracing psychological flexibility may enable you to face the world with exploration and openness.

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Post-Traumatic Growth: Finding Meaning and Creativity in Adversity

Post-Traumatic Growth: Finding Meaning and Creativity in Adversity

https://blogs.scientificamerican.com/beautiful-minds/post-traumatic-growth-finding-meaning-and-creativity-in-adversity/

blogs.scientificamerican.com

8

Key Ideas

Viktor Frankl

Viktor Frankl

"In some ways suffering ceases to be suffering at the moment it finds a meaning."

Moving forward

At this time in history, many people are wondering whether we will have a life again. Will we recover with dignity?

Science suggests that we will do more than recover: we will show immense capacity for resiliency and growth.

From Resilience to Growth

Resilience is the ability to maintain a relatively stable and healthy level of psychological and physical functioning during and after a very traumatic event.

Studies reveal that resilience is actually common and can be attained through multiple unexpected routes. Studies further show that the majority of trauma survivors do not develop PTSD, and most report unexpected growth from their experience.

Seven Areas of Growth

  • Greater appreciation of life
  • Greater appreciation and strengthening of close relationships
  • Increased compassion and altruism
  • The identification of new possibilities or a purpose in life
  • Greater awareness and utilization of personal strengths
  • Enhanced spiritual development
  • Creative growth

We prefer to avoid trauma

To be sure, most people who experience posttraumatic growth would prefer to side-step the trauma.

Trauma shakes up our world and forces us to take a second look at our goals and dreams. When we realize that we cannot change a situation, we position ourselves for growth and new opportunities.

Turn adversity into an advantage

When the foundational structure of the self is shaken, we are in the best position to pursue new opportunities is our lives.

  • It helps us to be curious about situations and increase the likelihood that we will find new meaning.
  • If we shed our natural defense mechanisms and approach the discomfort head-on, we are able to view everything as fodder for growth.
  • Rumination is a sign you work hard at making sense of the event, and in conjunction with social support and other outlets for expression, it will create new structures of meaning.

Common Responses to Trauma

Emotions such as sadness, grief, anger, and anxiety are common responses to trauma.

Trying to "self-regulate" those emotions, or avoiding feared thoughts, feeling, and sensations, will make things worse and reinforce the belief that the world is not safe or void of opportunities and meaning. But acceptance and embracing psychological flexibility may enable you to face the world with exploration and openness.

Creating from Trauma

Deliberate rumination leads to an increase in five domains of posttraumatic growth. Two of those domains - positive changes in relationships and increases in perceptions of new possibilities in one’s life—were associated with increased perceptions of creative growth.

Research supports the potential benefit of engaging in art therapy or expressive writing to help in the rebuilding process after trauma.

SIMILAR ARTICLES & IDEAS:

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)

PTSD is a mental health disorder that begins after a traumatic event. Events may include:

  • A natural disaster like a tornado
  • Military combat
  • Assau...
PTSD symptoms

Words, sounds, or situations that remind you of trauma can trigger your symptoms. Symptom categories:

  • Intrusion: Flashbacks, where you relive the event. Clear, unpleasant memories or nightmares about the incident and intense distress when you think about the event.
  • Avoidance: Avoiding people, places, or situations that remind you of the event.
  • Arousal and reactivity: Trouble concentrating, easily startled, feeling of being on edge, irritability, moments of anger.
  • Cognition and mood: Negative thoughts, feelings of guilt, worry, blame, trouble remembering parts of the event, reduced interest in activities you enjoyed.
PTSD treatment

If you're diagnosed with PTSD, you will likely be prescribed therapy, medication, or both.

  • Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) or "talk therapy" helps you to process the traumatic event.
  • Exposure therapy lets you re-experience elements of the trauma in a safe environment. It desensitizes you to the event and lessens your symptoms.
  • Antidepressants, anti-anxiety drug**s, and sleep aids** may help relieve symptoms of depression and anxiety.

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True happiness
True happiness

It isn’t about being happy all the time.

Striving for a happy life is one thing, but striving to be happy all the time is unrealistic.

Psychological flexibility

Being open to emotional experiences and being able to tolerate discomfort can allow us to move towards a more meaningful existence.

The way we respond to the circumstances of our lives has more influence on our happiness than the events themselves.

The 2 philosophical paths to happiness
  • Hedonistic: in order to live a happy life we must maximize pleasure and avoid pain. This view is often short-lived.

  • Eudaimonic approach: it takes the long view and argues that we should live authentically and for the greater good. We should pursue meaning and potential through kindness, justice, honesty, and courage.

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The 'assumption of healthy normality'

There is an assumption that emotional pain and suffering is a deviation from a default happy baseline. However, it's incorrect. Psychological pain is everywhere. 

Resea...

Acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT)

The goal of ACT is not necessarily to reduce one's problematic thoughts and emotions. It is to help people effectively function while they are distressed and to promote more flexible and value-driven behaviors.
In other words, the primary goal is to promote 'valued living.'

Valued living

Valued living is going about your daily life in the service of values you find important. Engaging in these actions creates a sense of meaning and purpose.

The symptoms of psychological suffering are problematic when they are linked to behaviors that draw us away from valued living.

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Understanding Stress
  • Dealing with Stress is imperative as it is unavoidable in modern life.
  • Our work, family and our finances create daily stress and other external factors (like politics and terrorism) co...
Your Perception About Stress

With stress, the mind and the body are intrinsically linked. You can view stress as something that is wreaking havoc on your body (and it can) or as something that is giving you the strength and energy to overcome adversity.

Exposure to Stress

Regular exposure to stress in small quantities can prepare us to handle a big stressful event in our lives. Prepare yourself for stress by self-education about the stressful event, by doing some physically stressful activities like completing a marathon, or something you dread, like giving a speech.

Repeated exposure to mildly stressful conditions can alter your body’s biological response to stress, making you manage stress in a better way.

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Frank Niles

[Resilience] is the ability to get back in the game after you’ve had some sort of failure. And indeed, we can le..."

Frank Niles
Prepare For The Worst

It starts with your mind-set. Accept that change is inevitable and realize that you can choose how you react.

When possible, lay the groundwork for recovery before you need to: Keep your skills up to date to stay in demand in the market, have a financial reserve in case of job loss or illness, etc. 

Be Emotionally Self-Aware

Strong emotions are more likely to dictate your behavior.

Become familiar with what triggers your stress. Practice “active internal coping mechanisms” such as reframing, humor, optimism, and meaningful social interactions.

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The silver lining of tragedies

In our culture, there's this idea that going through a disaster can be good for you and make you stronger.

After experiencing loss or trauma, people usually report feeling a greater apprec...

Post-traumatic growth

The narrative of growth from adversity might sound convincing, but it's difficult to collect reliable data on people before and after they've experienced trauma.

Studies found that people are not very good at accurately remembering what they were like before a traumatic event. When they think they have experienced growth, it might just be a coping mechanism. Those who reported personal growth after a tragedy were more likely to continue to experience symptoms of post-traumatic stress.

People can grow from adversity

It can be problematic to embrace the idea that personal growth and resilience are typical outcomes of adversity.

Not everyone is stronger after a traumatic event. However, the support of family, friends, and communities in the wake of a traumatic event, plays a significant role in growing from it.

The paradox of resilience

To overcome adversity, you must rescue yourself first. Your mindset, not the event, defines if you will be ‘rescued’ or not.

Resilience is less about who you are and more about how you thi...

Resilience Principles
  • Challenge: Resilient people turn difficulty into a challenge. They don't fight against reality, they confront it. 
  • Commitment: Having something to fight for gives you extra motivation. 
  • Self-Control: Free will is the realization that you own your actions and control your reactions. 
Build a First Responder Mindset
  • Reframe your thoughts about reality: You can’t control reality, but you can manage how you adapt to it.
  • Prepare for the worst: You can’t train to deal with every possible situation, but you can prepare your mind to adapt to unexpected ones.
  • Create alternative paths: Creativity plays a critical role in overcoming adversity.
  • Leverage the power of relationships: Rescuing yourself from adversity starts with you but strong relationships are critical for bouncing back.
  • Mind your spirit: Religious and spiritual support bring us comfort during adversity.
Defining resilience

Resilience is the process of adapting well in the face of adversity, trauma, tragedy, threats or even significant sources of risk -  American Psychological Association.

It's th...

Learning to be resilient

Resilience can be learned. It is like a muscle - you can’t exercise it unless you have a stressful event to react to.

So the more you get knocked down and get back up, the stronger and more fearless you become.

Develop an effective network

Having an effective network can help buffer you from potentially adverse career events. 

This means nurturing your existing network and establishing new connections over time. Remember to focus on building relationships, not contacts.

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Untreated trauma and its negative effects

All individual who has ever dealt with trauma knows that healing can take a lot of time if it eventually happens. Untreated trauma seems to leave scars on our brain, altering the way we perceive...

Trauma changes our brain

After having experienced trauma, our brain can not function properly anymore, at least for a while. 

Among the negative effects that trauma leads to there is the risk of developing physical illnesses or the so-called Post-traumatic stress disorder.

Post-traumatic stress disorder

When dealing with PTSD, the three parts of our brain, which are responsible for processing stress, suffer changes: the hippocampus, the amygdala function and the prefrontal/ anterior cingulate function.

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