The Positive Side of Trauma

African woman happy and excited celebrating victory expressing big success, power, energy and positive emotions.

With all the many negative ways trauma can impact children and adults, it can be comforting to learn that there is some good research saying that there are some positive outcomes for those who have experienced significant trauma. The term that is being used is Post-Traumatic Growth or PTG.  

Apparently there can be a positive change a person experiences as a result of the struggle they have had with a life crisis or traumatic event. 

In an April 23, 2021 interview with Dr. Bruce Perry, Oprah invites him to share what he wants readers to come away with from the new book he and Oprah wrote called What Happened to You: Conversations on Trauma, Resilience, and Healing. He describes what he calls Post-Traumatic Wisdom which incorporates many of the findings from the research on Traumatic Growth including how our traumatic past provides us with insights into the pain others may be feeling and how, as a result, we are better able to be empathetic because we too have suffered the pain of severe trauma.  He and Oprah stress that both healing from trauma and growth are possible at any point in life.  So good to hear!!

According to an article published online people who have survived trauma gain “…a new appreciation for life, a newfound sense of personal strength and a new focus on helping others.”  

The article continues that “Post-traumatic growth (PTG)…was developed by psychologists Richard Tedeschi, PhD, and Lawrence Calhoun, PhD, in the mid-1990s, and holds that people who endure psychological struggle following adversity can often see positive growth afterward. People develop new understandings of themselves, the world they live in, how to relate to other people, the kind of future they might have and a better understanding of how to live life.”   

The experts say that posttraumatic growth occurs in five areas: 

       •    Appreciation of life 

  • Relationships with others 
  • New possibilities in life 
  • Personal strength 
  • Spiritual change 
Happy redhead woman relaxing with arms outstretched at beach with eyes closed feeling free at sea.

In this era of having survived -and continuing to survive – the trauma of the pandemic, it’s refreshing to know there can be some positive outcomes to our experiences. We also have the opportunity to nurture these in our children and family members by:  

  • Encouraging them to treasure the relationships that have helped sustain them over this past year. 
  • Helping them notice all the ways they have survived can give them new possibilities for their lives, new ways to function, find meaningful activities, have the time to do things like read, journal, listen to podcasts, talk with friends through social media. 
  • Seeing themselves as personally strong, as survivors of not just physical struggles but also the many emotional ones attached to the isolation this pandemic has caused. 
  • Encouraging them to appreciate the spiritual components of their lives. For some this is gaining a greater awareness of God and how He works in our lives regardless of earthly issues. For others it might be more about a sense of some type of Higher Power, however that is perceived. For some it’s a flection and  deep appreciation for nature and the beauty of the world contained in the incredible perfection and complexity of nature. 

Sometimes there are gifts when there is adversity in our lives. We certainly don’t wish for the adversity to happen but it is nice that it isn’t just the pain, suffering and loss associated with adversity but can have the additional benefits of posttraumatic growth. To me it is much like the image of the little plant managing to somehow push through cement or concrete in order to find light and experience growth. 

Hope letter concept design on the white background.

Maybe we’re not all going to run outside and celebrate that we’ve been through a pandemic! However, we can celebrate the positive sides of the traumas we have experienced. 

Invitation for Reflection 

  1. If you have experienced significant trauma in your lifetime, what are some of the side effects for you? 
  1. In what ways has experiencing the pandemic been traumatizing for you? 
  1. To what extent have you experienced some of the characteristics of traumatic growth? 
  1. How have these characteristics impacted your life? 
  1. How might you nurture others who have experienced significant trauma, encouraging them to also experience traumatic growth?   

Diane Wagenhals, Director, Lakeside Global Insitute