[Post-traumatic growth] we can develop positive psychological changes as a result of adversity
Given the universality of suffering and devastation for individuals and groups of people, how can we account for phenomena such as individual renewal and the rebirth of nations? Historically, in psychology and psychiatry, we have focused almost exclusively on the course of disease and on the maladaptive behavior observed in those who have experienced traumatic events such as losses, abusive childhoods, and other frightening experiences. Most depressive and anxiety disorders, and many personality disorders have been attributed in great part to experiences of fear, discouragement, and damage in the face of adversity.
Although there is still much to be learned about recoveries from trauma, we seek to explore the experiences of people who not only bounce back from trauma, but use it as a springboard to further individual development or growth, and the development of more humane social behaviors and social organization. Posttraumatic growth (PTG) is both a process and an outcome. We see it as developing out of a cognitive process that is initiated to cope with traumatic events that extract an extreme cognitive and emotional toll. These events that initiate PTG have the quality of "seismic events" on a psychological level. Consider that earthquakes produce a significant threat to existing structures, and leave little but the poorly functioning rubble of a community in their wake. The remains of old structures must be removed so that new, stronger structures can be built. But a period of confusion and mourning precedes this rebuilding, and there may be worry that it is no use, the task is too great, and aftershocks or future disasters will wipe out all constructive efforts. But eventually, weaknesses of the previous ways of constructing the community are discerned, and changes proposed. New emergency plans may be established based on the experience of surviving an earthquake. And, in the wake of the disaster, the community may reflect later on not only what has been lost, but also the care that members of the community showed, the superior nature of what has been rebuilt, and what has been learned.
Psychologically, similar processes are taking place in many individuals coping with traumas. These traumas call into question the basic assumptions about one's future and how to move toward that future, and therefore produce massive anxiety and psychic pain that is difficult to manage. Inherent in these traumatic experiences are losses such as the loss of loved ones, of cherished roles or capabilities, or of fundamental, accepted ways of understanding life. In the face of these losses and the confusion they cause. some people rebuild a way of life that they experience as superior to their old one in important ways. For them, the devastation of loss provides an opportunity to build a new, superior life structure almost from scratch. They establish new psychological constructs that incorporate the possibility of such traumas, and better ways to cope with them. They appreciate their newly found strength and the strength of their neighbors and their community. And because of their efforts, individuals may value both what they now have, and the process of creating it although the process involved loss and distress. Groups and societies may go through a similar transformation, producing new norms for behavior and better ways to care for individuals within the group.
There has been no single term for the phenomenon of interest here that has been used consistently in the literature. So PTG has been variously referred to as "positive psychological changes", "perceived benefits" or "construing benefits", "stress-related growth", and "thriving". Taylor has described similar outcomes in people experiencing trauma as "positive illusions". Janoff-Bulman does not provide any specific term for the changes of interest here, but provides a useful theory to explain how the changes occur through the shattering and rebuilding of assumptive worlds. There has been some attention paid to the coping mechanism variously called "positive reinterpretation" and "drawing strength from adversity" as well.
We are suggesting that the term posttraumatic growth is the best descriptor for this phenomenon because this term makes clear that persons experiencing this phenomenon have developed beyond their previous level of adaptation, psychological functioning, or life awareness, that is, they have grown. Second, we are interested in how this growth happens in the aftermath of events that are undesirable in the extreme. "Thriving" could apply to healthy living in any circumstance, and "stress-related growth" may not make clear that the events that are of interest are highly stressful. "Perceived benefits" or "positive illusions" imply that the benefits may not be real or valid. We also want to emphasize that PTG seems to have more impact on people's lives, and involves such fundamental changes or insights about living that it dots not appear to be merely another coping mechanism. Therefore, we are treating PTG as a significant beneficial change in cognitive and emotional life that may have behavioral implications as well. The significance of these changes can be so great, that this growth may be truly transformative. Furthermore, it maybe useful to see posttraumatic growth as the antithesis of posttraumatic stress disorder, emphasizing that growth outcomes are reported even in the aftermath of the most traumatic circumstances, and even though distress coexists with this growth.
Happiness consists in frequent repetition of pleasure.
Yet, certainly, the wise learn many things from their enemies; for caution preserves all things. From a friend you could not learn this, but your foe immediately obliges you to learn it. For example, the states have learned from enemies, and not from friends, to build lofty walls, and to possess ships of war. And this lesson preserves children, house, and possessions.