By Laura Nalin, MA, P-LPC, CADC
When a person experiences a traumatic event of any kind, it can sometimes feel like there won’t be any way out to the other side. Feelings of worthlessness may sink in, along with a number of symptoms such as hypervigilance, difficulty sleeping, irritability, self-destructive behavior as well as feelings of guilt and shame.
It’s important to keep in mind that the healing process of trauma is not unlike grief. What this looks like:
Denial - e.g. “How could this have happened?” or “there’s no way it happened.”
Anger - e.g. “I’m so angry this happened.”
Bargaining - e.g. “Maybe it wouldn’t have happened had I done something,” or “Maybe it wasn’t actually that bad.”
Depression - e.g. “I’m so sad that this happened. Nobody understands me.”
Acceptance - e.g. “This happened, I will work toward moving through this.”
When we talk about trauma in society, we often remind people that similarly to grief, it never really goes away. While this is true, and triggers can evoke really challenging emotions throughout the course of one’s lifetime, we also need to focus on the resiliency within those who have been impacted by trauma.
In the early stages of healing, the feelings of guilt, shame, depressive symptoms, and overwhelm may be too much for an individual, which is where the importance of ensuring the therapeutic relationship is as person-centered and strengths-based as possible. Over time, as individuals process and move through their feelings, the hope is that they eventually begin to recognize their inherent strengths - not only within the incident(s), but in their life experience that followed.
This is where the concept of Post-Traumatic Growth comes in. During the mid-90s, psychologists Richard Tedeschi, PhD, and Lawrence Calhoun, PhD conceptualized this theory as a way to highlight the resiliency and possible positive growth that can be made within individuals who have experienced trauma. Similarly to the five stages mentioned above, Post-Traumatic Growth also has five stages. I’m sure you’re familiar with the term “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.” While that phrase may be trite and can seem initially invalidating, there is some truth to it.
Here are the five stages of the Post-Traumatic Growth theory:
1. Personal strength - e.g. “I am able to handle anything life throws at me. I am proud of myself for overcoming everything I have. I have gained a stronger sense of self, and little by little, I am able to make sense of my story. I feel like I have regained purpose in life.”
2. Closer relationships - e.g. “I have a stronger sense of belonging in this world and feel unity with my support system. There are people around me who want what’s best for me and have helped me move through avoiding these difficult feelings and I am better off as a result.”
3. Greater appreciation for life - e.g. “I am able to regain control of my life, and I realize that as a result I have a connection with gratitude, love, and am learning to trust others and myself more each day.”
4. New possibilities - e.g. “I am able to accomplish goals that I may not have been able to before. I am more understanding of my friends, family, and the world around me. I am able to reprioritize my goals and values, and am open to the idea that everything will be okay little by little each day.”
5. Spiritual development - e.g. “After surviving my hardest days, I am able to trust in a power higher than myself and find some sanity as a result.” *this does not apply to everyone, as spirituality is multifaceted
Interestingly enough, there has been research that has shown an increased link between creativity and healing through trauma, too. Click here for ideas on ways to creatively process trauma. If you find yourself wanting to work through challenging emotions, we at Bella Valore Psychotherapy would love to walk alongside you on your healing journey. We all deserve the benefits of Post-Traumatic Growth and working with a licensed professional can help guide you along the process.