Turning PTSD into growth, gratitude, and resilience.
We have all probably heard of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). According to the Mayo Clinic, PTSD is:
A mental health condition that’s triggered by a terrifying event — either experiencing it or witnessing it. Symptoms may include flashbacks, nightmares and severe anxiety, as well as uncontrollable thoughts about the event.
And I wouldn’t be surprised to find that the numbers of reported cases for PTSD have been climbing since covid-19 began.
But I am also hopeful that Post-Traumatic Growth will climb too.
Post-Traumatic Growth (PTG) is defined as the “positive psychological change that is experienced as a result of the struggle with highly challenging life circumstances.” While this concept has been around since Richard Tedeschi and Lawrence Calhoun coined the term in the mid-90s, I was introduced to it recently through a Deliciously Ella podcast with Adam Grant on Creating a Successful Mindset. While listening to this podcast, I was so struck by simplicity of the concept and was surprised that I never came across it while studying psychology.
While I would not call covid-19 an individually traumatic event in my life, I feel that there is a collective trauma that we, as humans, all now share. Every single one of us has been impacted by covid-19 in some way. And I, personally, intend to grow from my experiences having lived through this time.
According to the Post-Traumatic Growth Inventory (PTGI), there are seven areas of growth have been reported to spring from adversity:
- 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
I can definitely relate to many of these areas. Having not seen my family in almost two years, I have a greater appreciation for them and for the family I have built here in Sweden. I’ve felt a drive toward more creative pursuits, as I discussed here. I’ve reexamined my work, daily habits, friendships, and hobbies now that I have again been reminded of the fragility of life. I tried to find simple pleasure in nature and remain positive, or at least somewhat balanced, through gratitude. I’ve prioritized what is meaningful in my life – such as my health, relationships, and mental development – and done more to scheduled my activities around these areas.
I’m no psychologist, but I see growth as a mindset. While I have no control over covid-19, I can choose to learn and grown from this time. I can choose to have gratitude for the things I do have, rather than anger or frustration for the things I lack. I can choose to be resilient in the face change.
I am not what happened to me, I am what I choose to become.– Carl Jung
Interested in some facts about PTG? Here are a few things researchers Tedeschi and Calhoun believe make people more likely to experience PTG:
- From the Big 5 Personality Traits, or OCEAN, Openness to experience and Extraversion come out as top traits here. According to Tedeschi and Calhoun, “That’s because people who are more open are more likely to reconsider their belief systems, and extroverts are more likely to be more active in response to trauma and seek out connections with others.”
- Curious how I scored on the Big 5? Find my 2018 results here.
- Tedeschi goes on to say, “Age also can be a factor, with children under 8 less likely to have the cognitive capacity to experience PTG, while those in late adolescence and early adulthood—who may already be trying to determine their world view—are more open to the type of change that such growth reflects.”