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Can trauma help us grow?

It is usually believed that trauma affects mostly those in the military. However, in reality trauma happens all the time, everywhere and to everyone, including everyday Indians. According to rough estimates, the prevalence of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in India is nearly 33 percent.

Social scientists, who study how trauma affects people, have determined that there are risk and resilience factors that predispose or protect people from the effects of trauma. There are also different types of trauma — childhood, sudden, ongoing, physical trauma, emotional trauma, and so on. All of these factors determine how individuals respond and whether or not their subsequent behavior will be healthy and adaptive or unhealthy and adaptive.

After trauma, some people experience distress while others grow stronger from the experience. Many, if not all, experience both. Distress often shifts to growth over time under certain supportive conditions, such as abstinence from substances, and adequate social support.

Trauma can have a positive side too

Post-traumatic stress disorder is disproportionately perceived as negative and affecting mostly military members. A research group at Drexel University in Atlanta illustrated how this is done — mainly by focusing on the traumatic events that occur and the negative consequences that sometimes follow. The Drexel team also pointed out how “the narrow focus could inhibit awareness about PTSD resilience and recovery and constrain discourse … that can lead to better outcomes.”

The positive side of being a trauma survivor is that, like scar tissue, trauma can result in stronger defenses to future stress and trauma. When a physical wound heals, the scar tissue that grows is stronger than the injured tissue and offers additional protection against future injury. In a similar fashion, mental scars can also provide growth and protection from future injury.

An example of growth from psychosis

A recent review explored patient outcomes after their first episode of psychosis. The first episode of psychosis can be very traumatic and result in great suffering. However, the authors discovered that post-traumatic growth also occurs, as patients reported positive outcomes resulting from the episode. For example, some patients were inspired to develop positive traits and make healthy lifestyle changes. Others developed stronger connections with others, appreciated life more and experienced positive spiritual effects.

The gifts of surviving trauma

Lawrence G. Calhoun, Ph.D., and Richard G. Tedeschi, Ph.D., leaders in post-traumatic growth research and education at the University of North Carolina department of psychology, describe five ways in which traumatic events can help people grow. These include:

  • Opening up of new opportunities and possibilities
  • Relationships may become closer
  • A sense of mastery over adversity develops, increasing inner strength
  • Feelings of gratitude and appreciation for life in general grow stronger
  • Spirituality and religious beliefs grow deeper

Despite this approach, some experts believe that not everyone can grow from trauma.

When it’s too much to bear

Sometimes the thoughts and feelings that result from traumatic experiences can be overwhelming and affect a person’s ability to function. Other times, substance, food or other unhealthy activities that initially soothed trauma symptoms go on to become dangerous habits. New treatments are available that can truly make a difference for trauma survivors and their families. Conventional therapies, too, can help bridge the gap between distress and growth.

Athena Behavioral Health is the leader in the mental health treatment landscape. Our experienced doctors offer comprehensive treatment programs comprising novel, conventional and holistic therapies tailored for each individual patient. Our programs provide trauma-informed care and specialized treatment to foster healthy adaptation to life events. Our ongoing continuing care program provides the support patients need to remain free from symptoms and enjoy lasting recovery. To find out more about our specialized PTSD treatment programs, WhatsApp us at 9289086193.