There is the old saying, "What doesn't kill you makes you stronger." Most people do not believe this as they go through a divorce, survive a terrible illness, watch a family member go through incarceration, have a close relative die, or go through anything that people find to be traumatic. They feel emotionally fragile and weak. Are there really any benefits to what they are going through when at the time for them it feels like they are suffering for no reason?
There is a such thing as post traumatic growth. It is seen when people who face a major struggle see new opportunities arise out of a struggle, experience closer relationships with people or experience a huge connection to the suffering, and/ or just have a larger sense of gratitude for life in general.
The term post traumatic growth was coined in the 1990's by two pioneering scholars: Richard Tedeschi and Lawrence Calhoun. When studies were done of people who experienced negative events despite all the distress and suffering thirty to seventy percent eventually report some kind of positive change. The reason people are focusing on post traumatic growth is because it alters the way we view trauma and how it is treated. It leads people to believe that trauma not only has great destructive effects but may give rise to growth in other areas as well.
"experience of individuals whose development at least in some areas has surpassed what was present before the struggle with crises occurred. The individual has not only survived, but has experienced changes that are viewed as important, and that go beyond the status quo"--Tedeschi and Calhoun, 2004
Everyone has a right to have a present and a future that are not completely dominated and dictated by the past."---Karen Saakvitine
Dr. Linda Laubenstein
How does any of this apply to real life? A perfect example is Dr. Linda Laubenstein who was a Manhatten physician who in the early 1980's treated what became known as the AID's epidemic. She contracted polio as a child and had three operations that left her a paraplegic at only five years old. At the time the HIV virus was discovered, no one wanted to treat those people for fear of the disease. She not only was a huge pioneer in treating people with the disease she was a huge advocate for people with HIV. She helped found "Multitasking" which is a non profit organization that sold office services to businesses that employed people with HIV as many of them had a hard time finding work. It is my belief as it is the belief of many that she drew from her past experiences of also living with a disease that was stigmatized, polio. It was because of her experiences with polio that she connected with these people and advocated for them.
Dr. Linda Laubenstein
Post Traumatic Growth in Fiction
Another example is the character in the fiction novel "Anne of Green Gables". Anne is portrayed as being an emotionally and psychologically disturbed young girl who is an orphan who was adopted into a home during what appears to be the 1800's. Despite the fact that she had a very hard upbringing up to the point in which she is adopted, she draws from having traumatic prior experiences and uses the knowledge she has to help other people in her community. For instance, when the younger sister of her friend comes down with whooping cough or croup, she knows exactly how to treat the disease as she had seen it before.
Anne of Green Gables
Not all individuals who experience trauma experience any kind of post traumatic growth. Even those that do are sometimes still vulnerable and fragile because of the trauma. The point in studying this phenomenon is to try to maintain hope that people who are going through trauma or who survived trauma can experience positive life changes as an outcome and not just negative ones.