Tools for Tough Times: P.T.G.

Today’s post comes from a digital event May 11, 2021, entitled, “Understanding the Post-Traumatic Growth Model,” with Jonathan Bundt. This event was hosted by a healthcare emergency management coalition in Minnesota, of which I am a partner.

The transformative power of human suffering has been a common understanding from antiquity to the present.  Judaism, Christianity, Buddhism, Islam and Bahai faiths, and ancient and modern philosophers, writers, and artists, have all embraced the idea that our suffering and even our trauma can be leveraged to transform us into stronger, more resilient, and capable people. 

But the choice to not waste sufferings, setbacks, and sorrows is up to us.  Viktor Frankl described the choice this way:  “When we are no longer able to change a situation, we are challenged to change ourselves.”  He further stated: “Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms – to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.”

Leveraging trauma and difficulties for growth and positive change – Post-Traumatic Growth (PTG) – refers to positive psychological changes we experience because of adversity, leading to a higher level of functioning. It has been described as a “life-changing psychological shift in thinking which contributes to meaningful personal change.” 

While the concept includes resiliency, PTG is built upon a longer-range perspective, patterns of thinking, and responding through difficulty that promote positive personal change.  Understanding how it fits into the “Trauma Continuum” is important.  That continuum is below:

  • Resilience – we all have a level of resilience at a given moment, greater at sometimes and less at others.  It is wise for us to be working on growing our capacity for resilience in the good times to help us be prepared for the rough times.
  • Traumatic Event – The moment when something traumatic to us occurs or begins.
  • Acute Stress Disorder – The physical, cognitive, and emotional impact of the traumatic event on us.
  • Post-traumatic Stress Disorder – the ongoing and disabling reaction to the traumatic events that change us but not for the better.  PTSD can be mild, moderate, or severe or may not develop at all.
  • Post-Traumatic Growth – The positive psychological change we experience as a result of adversity, which leads to a higher level of functioning.

Following are some tips for managing one’s stress responses to traumatic events, transitions, and demobilization that can help to build PTG.

  • Admit that you feel vulnerable.
  • Become proactive in the change process – don’t wait for trouble to build
  • Focus on positive emotions.
  • Recognize and learn from past successful transitions and events.
  • Practice self-care and engage in mindful activities to calm yourself.
  • Ask for help when you first realize you might need it.

Following are five positive responses to difficulty and trauma that can foster PTG:

  1. Relationships that are supportive
  2. Exploring new possibilities
  3. Personal strength
  4. Spiritual change
  5. Appreciation of life.

And the benefits?  Effective PTG tends to produce stronger relationships, awareness of opportunities, increased personal strength, spiritual enhancement, and greater appreciation for life.

A simple resource to assist you in understanding your readiness for PTG is the Post-Traumatic Growth Inventory, available at this link: Post Traumatic Growth Inventory

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