Why the Idea of Post-Traumatic Growth May Be Trickier Than We Think

Why the Idea of Post-Traumatic Growth May Be Trickier Than We Think

Post-traumatic growth is a term that has been thrown around TED talks, books, and academic research centers. It is one of those ideas upon which entire empires are built. PTSD was the old way of talking about post-traumatic stress, now there is a new term on the block: post-traumatic growth.

What it Means

The basic idea behind post-traumatic growth focuses on how a person responds to traumatic events that happen in their lives. It may mean avoiding reminders of it, having intrusive memories, or anxieties around the event. These symptoms may become debilitating. At some unspecified time later, people grow from the trauma and they grow from the experience. Even if people become wiser and better people as a result, it does not mean the trauma is fully gone.

Perceived Versus Actual Growth

It is very difficult to separate out the perception people are better with the actuality of being better. Almost no studies separate perceived versus actual growth for a reason. It is difficult to know how someone is doing prior to trauma. The experience of trauma is individualized for each person. When a person is asked whether they grew from trauma, they may say they are better able to cope but, in theory, they may be struggling.  The perception of growth is linked to more distress sometimes than not. Someone may perceive they are better off, but that does not mean they are, nor are they healed.

The Positive Illusion Syndrome

One explanation why people may perceive growth when they have not experienced it is that they are trying to cope with the event. Post-traumatic growth is not, in this case, growth at all. It is a motivated ‘positive illusion,’ whose purpose is to protect people from the possibility that harm has been done. One study done found when an event threatens a person’s sense of self, they are more likely to believe the event made them better in some way. People who perceive growth tend to do worse than those who do not. The symptoms may continue to grow over time and even get worse. Perceived growth portends, in this case, worse functioning rather than better.

Benefits of Adversity

PTSD is nothing to take lightly. It is a serious mental health condition that requires complex treatment and support. People can absolutely learn and grow from adversity, but trauma impacts the brain, body, and spirit. It takes a holistic approach to try and heal the wounds in the best way possible. Before people can understand how they distinguish between perceptions of change and actual change, they conflate the two and thus cheat themselves of healing. Finding ways to move forward rather than looking for growth can be helpful including psychotherapeutic techniques that involve healing the brain trauma, spiritual struggle, and other emotional challenges of addiction and mental health that often accompany trauma after the fact.

The Palmetto Center is based on a Therapeutic Community model. We help people learn how to live free of addiction. We support people with PTSD, mental health, and addiction that need support. Our community support provides structure while trained counselors offer life skills training and therapeutic techniques to help you move past addiction. Our program provides special focus for professionals including chiropractors, nurses, doctors, lawyers, and more who need help with addiction recovery. Call us to find out more: 866-848-3001.