Medically reviewed by Kristin Hall, FNP
Written by Our Editorial Team
Last updated 8/21/2022
You’ve probably heard of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), the mental health condition that can occur after experiencing a traumatic event. With PTSD, people experience flashbacks, panic attacks and anxiety. This condition can have a huge impact on your quality of life.
On the flip side, trauma can also inspire positive change. When this happens, it’s called post traumatic growth.
But what exactly is this kind of growth? And is there anything you can do to ensure you grow from trauma rather than be paralyzed by it?
Post traumatic growth involves noticing positive changes after a crisis or traumatic event. The idea behind it is that difficult experiences may give some people a new appreciation of life and inspire self-improvement.
The theory of post traumatic growth syndrome was developed in the 1990s by Richard Tedeschi, Ph.D., and Lawrence Calhoun, Ph.D.
When it comes to post traumatic growth, it’s not quite as straightforward to diagnose as a depressive disorder or anxiety. But there is a five-factor model that is sometimes used to qualify whether or not someone has experienced it.
If you are navigating post traumatic growth, you may notice positive responses in these five areas:
Appreciation of life
New life possibilities
How common is it to experience post traumatic growth? According to research, it may be fairly common.
Research suggests that around 50 percent of people who have survived trauma experience post traumatic growth.
Another study looked at 3,157 veterans and found that 50 percent of all veterans and 72 percent who experienced PTSD said they had at least moderate post traumatic growth in relation to the worst traumatic events they experienced.
Interestingly, research suggests that a decent number of people who suffer from an acquired brain injury (like from a stroke or hemorrhage) may experience post traumatic growth. However, more research is required to understand more specifically how this works and why post traumatic growth manifests in these situations.
In general, it’s tough to put an exact number on how many people experience personal growth after trauma.
Some people are more likely than others to process negative emotions and find a sense of meaning after trauma. For example, women are said to be more likely to do this.
It’s also believed that certain personality traits like extraversion and openness to experiences make someone more likely to notice high levels of growth after trauma.
This is thought to be because people with these traits are more likely to not sit by passively after trauma occurs—rather, they’ll seek out change or connection with others afterwards.
Other things that can factor in include age (young kids may not be developed enough) and genetics.
A 2014 study looked at survivors of Hurricane Katrina and found that variants in the RGS2 gene may be linked to post traumatic growth.
The human capacity for growth is incredible. Case in point: When some people face challenging life circumstances or trauma (like surviving a natural disaster, military combat or violence) they develop a new appreciation for life and go through something called post traumatic growth.
This is defined by developing a larger sense of meaning or the development of growth after experiencing crisis.
While there is no formal diagnosis, it’s measured against a five-factor model. Basically, if you notice growth in your spiritual side, personal relationships, strength, new possibilities and have a new appreciation for life, you may be experiencing post traumatic growth.
Regardless of how you respond to trauma, it’s always good to schedule a check-in with a mental health professional after a crisis. This way, they can monitor what’s going on, keep an eye on the possibility of post traumatic stress disorder and prescribe medication (such as sertraline) or recommend therapy.
A mental health provider will also be able to check in with you about post traumatic growth and may even be able to guide you in making the most of it.