Post Traumatic Growth

July 16, 2016

We often hear the term Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), a mental health condition triggered by a traumatic event. PTSD is commonly used in context of military personnel returning from active duty, but it applies to anyone who has faced traumatic events such as sexual or physical assault, an acute or chronic health condition, natural disasters, the unexpected death of a loved one, or an accident.

Families of victims can also develop PTSD, as can emergency personnel and rescue workers. Symptoms may include flashbacks, nightmares, and severe anxiety, as well as uncontrollable thoughts about the event.

Most people who experience a traumatic event will have reactions that may include shock, anger, nervousness, fear, and even guilt. These reactions are common and for most people, go away over time. For a person with PTSD, however, feelings of intense fear, helplessness, or horror continue and may even increase, becoming so strong that they keep the person from living a normal life. Some people with dystonia experience PTSD.

A term we hear far less about, if at all, is called Post Traumatic Growth (PTG). PTG refers to people who become stronger and create a more meaningful life in the wake of tragedy or trauma. They don’t just bounce back, which is resilience; they bounce higher than they ever did before.

This concept is not new. For centuries people believed that suffering and distress can yield positive changes. It wasn’t until 1995 that the term Post Traumatic Growth was coined by Richard Tedeschi, Ph.D., and Lawrence Calhoun, Ph.D., psychologists at the University of North Carolina, Charlotte.

PTG is characterized by people changing their views of themselves, such as an increased sense of strength; “If I lived through that, I can face anything.” They tend to show more gratitude and have greater acceptance of their vulnerabilities and limitations, and also develop a sense that new opportunities have emerged from their struggle. Relationships are enhanced; people come to value their friends and family more, feel an increased sense of compassion for others and a longing for more intimate relationships.

They can also experience an increased sense of connection to others who suffer, which is evident in the support groups many of us belong to where we find great empathy and compassion. They gain a greater appreciation for life in general, finding a fresh, positive outlook each day; they re-evaluate what really matters in life, become less materialistic, and are better able to live in the present. Another common feature is a change or deepening in spiritual beliefs.

I was never diagnosed with PTSD, but I lived through periods of intense fear, anger, desperation, and hopelessness after experiencing a dramatic shift in my life due to dystonia. Having worked through a lot of these emotions over the years, I have seen a significant amount of growth.

I appreciate many things I once took for granted. I realize how fragile life is and how it should be honored by treating ourselves and others with love and respect. I have a much deeper appreciation for people who struggle with life challenges. I have come to better understand the meaning of loss which has increased my ability to live in gratitude. I have also found greater meaning to my life and feel a deeper spiritual connection.

Dystonia and any other life challenge can truly be a source of growth for all of us in ways we probably never imagined, and research has shown that in the face of great challenges, significant human and spiritual growth can occur. In order for it to take place, it is crucial that we are open to the possibilities that lie within our “misfortune.” We must abandon hatred and anger, for it will only worsen the pain we feel, preventing us from any kind of growth. Every experience is an opportunity to learn and reach a higher level of being.

Tom Seaman is a Certified Professional Life Coach in the area of health and wellness, and author of the book, Diagnosis Dystonia: Navigating the Journey, a comprehensive resource for anyone suffering with any life challenge. He is also a motivational speaker, chronic pain and dystonia awareness advocate, health blogger, and volunteers for the Dystonia Medical Research Foundation (DMRF) as a support group leader, for WEGO Health as a patient expert panelist, and is a member and writer for Chronic Illness Bloggers Network. To learn more about Tom’s coaching practice and get a copy of his book, visit www.tomseamancoaching.com. Follow him on Twitter @Dystoniabook1 and Instagram.

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