What is Post Traumatic Growth?

Estimated watch time: 8 mins 


Trauma can be an opportunity to grow and thrive. There’s a term called post-traumatic growth in psychology that speaks to this. There are five ways to measure post-traumatic growth, including relationships and personal strength.

This video guides you through the different components of post-traumatic growth, provides exercises to take your own growth inventory and a gratitude activity.

Video Materials:


Understanding Post-Traumatic Growth

In this lesson, we’re going to review the concept of post-traumatic growth.

Now that we’ve experienced a trauma, let’s look at ways that we can actually find growth and to prosper after such difficult experiences.

“In the depths of winter, I finally learned that within me there lay an invincible summer.” – Albert Camus. I offer this quote in part to help illustrate just what we can find in ourselves once we have experienced a traumatic event.

Trauma can be devastating. It can be scary. It is definitely intense. However, there is more beyond that one event. There is life past that trauma, and this lesson is focusing mainly on how we can find that growth.

Let’s talk about what post-traumatic growth is. Post-traumatic growth is considered positive psychological changes that develop following the experience of trauma. So that’s essentially where we grow after we face adversity. That’s how we transform ourselves in a positive way after experiencing something that’s difficult and traumatic.

Within the field of psychology on the topic of post-traumatic growth. There have been five different realms in which we measure post-traumatic growth. Appreciation for life, relationships with others, new possibilities in life, personal strength, and spiritual change. We’ll go over each of these briefly.

Appreciation for life……So when we are experiencing a traumatic event, basically what that means is that we’ve been exposed to a situation in which our immediate safety or the immediate safety of someone else that we care for deeply has come under threat. When we’re faced with these dire circumstances or when we deal with these losses that can come from trauma, what can happen is that we actually become more appreciative of the life around us. We can see the things around us that we may have taken for granted in the past.

  • You may go for a walk and notice how blue the sky is when you may previously not have looked up.
  • You may put your phone down and spend more time speaking with other people that you care about. When we lose things, sometimes that helps us appreciate things more.

Relationships with others……. In previous lessons we discussed how trauma can be not only an event that happens to us, but it also can be us learning that someone we hold dear has experienced a trauma that was life threatening or may have resulted in severe injury.

If we can be traumatized by having something threaten or destroy the safety of those we hold dear, then it stands to reason that we could also be reconciled in our trauma by our social supports. As I stated before, humans are social creatures. The connections we make with others can help us move past or grow from difficult situations. When we experience trauma, we may afterwards find that we feel more closely connected with those important to us and that we value our time with them more.

New possibilities…..So when we’ve had our safety compromised, we may find that we rethink our priorities and life goals. The things that we thought were more important at the time before the trauma are now no longer as important. Maybe it’s a relationship that doesn’t serve us. Maybe it’s not spending money in the moment and instead saving it up. Now, maybe we are more likely to do something we’ve been meaning to do for a long time. Knowing that we’ve survived as difficult an experience as a trauma, maybe this provides us with the courage to try things we had previously been too scared to try.

Or it takes away some of the importance of what we thought was important, say, having a beautiful house and instead taking those resources and allocating them to something that feels more meaningful to us. Going out on a trip with somebody that we care for, doing that hobby that we’ve never done.

Personal strength…..One of the things that often becomes a complicated part of the post-traumatic stress experience is that we start identifying ourselves as victims. Why didn’t we stop something from happening? How did this happen to me? It can be easy for us to forget that we are not just victims of this experience. We’ve actually survived the experience and we have moved past that and gone onto better and better things.

When you cultivate this trait of post-traumatic growth, you may understand that though coming out of a traumatic experience is difficult, the trauma does not ultimately control you. You may realize that you’re stronger than you had previously believed and you may realize that you have skills to survive that maybe you had not noticed before.

And I provide this quote, because I think it really catches some of those aspects of personal strength after trauma.

“I survived because the fire inside me burned brighter than the fire around me.”

It’s a nice way to think about how we’ve come out on the other end.

Spiritual change…..Let’s look at this quote from Victor Frankl. “In some ways, suffering ceases to be suffering at the moment it finds meaning.” This quote, I think, is a good illustration of the general principles behind the post-traumatic growth trade of spiritual change.

Just as we’re open to new possibilities, we may re-evaluate our priorities in life and seek more meaningful ways to live our lives after a trauma. And as we talked about before, we may come to value quality connections with others more following a trauma, we may connect to our understanding of a higher power and or the world around us in a more meaningful way after a trauma.

Now that we’ve reviewed all of those aspects that we’ve been measuring for post-traumatic growth, let’s talk about how you have grown.

When you look at the difficult experiences you’ve been through, how would you say you’ve grown from them?

These are some things that I want you to take into consideration as you evaluate these things about yourself. We said this before, but trauma is experienced on a very personal level. Your recovery and your growth is going to be a very personal path that you follow. No two people will face the same trauma in the exact same way. So when you evaluate these aspects of growth in your own life, don’t think that you have to be doing great in all of these areas for you to be where you need to be.

Additionally, effective growth takes time. So you may not see immediate benefits after your time. And this is appropriate. Good growth in this sense, is growth that we don’t rush in to, but rather cultivate mindfully.

And if you find that you’re struggling to identify where you’ve grown, there are ways that you can cultivate that lens. I’m going to do two things in supplement to this lesson. I have provided a post traumatic growth inventory for you to take and for you to score for your own reference.

Additionally, I’m going to provide an activity for gratitude. Practicing gratitude is one of the most basic and frequently evidence based interventions to use to help us identify the positive from negative situations and to feel better about facing the difficulties that we’ve faced.

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