Depression is debilitating. Heartbreaking. Hard to get over. Well, just depressing. For depressed people, the news is not good.

But wait…It’s not the truth either.

And there is an entire field of study that shows that the things that often lead to depression — trauma, setbacks, stress, adversity — can have just the opposite effect, meaning they don’t lead to depression. Instead they lead to growth.

It’s called post-traumatic growth.

And studies on post-traumatic growth show that after major life traumas more people show post-traumatic growth than PTSD (Morris, Finch, Scott, 2007).

So just what is post-traumatic growth, you ask?

Post-traumatic growth can be defined as the positive psychological change that results from the attempt to find new meaning and resolve after a traumatic event (Tedeshi, 2004). This means that events that shake our very foundation can cause us to get stronger in specific and measurable ways.

According to Richard Tedeshi and Lawrence Calhoun, authors of, The Handbook of Post-Traumatic Growth: Research and Practice, “The struggle to find new meaning in the aftermath of the trauma is crucial to positive psychological growth, as well as the acceptance that personal distress and growth can co-exist, and often do, while these new meanings are crafted” (Tedeshi &Calhoun, 2004).

The idea is that struggling to find new meaning after trauma leads to growth.

And what are these events that can lead to post-traumatic growth?

Well, what constitutes trauma is very unique to the individual, but a basic definition is:

“anything that either causes a person to fear for his/her life, or the life of anyone else, or anything that causes a person to become emotionally overwhelmed.”

For example, a divorce might not necessarily cause a person to fear for his/her life, but may result in feeling overwhelmed in such a way that makes it hard to go to work, get up in the morning, keep a routine, etc.

What happens in situations like this is that individuals tend to show dramatic advances in growth. And it’s not that they simply put on rose colored glasses — this would be what those in the field of post-traumatic growth call “illusory growth.” Illusory growth is characterized by growth that cannot be substantiated — or a person who simply insists that “everything is great” when the reality looks quite a bit different.

Instead, post-traumatic growth is characterized by five specific domains that all tend to be linked by one common thread.

The one characteristic feature of post-traumatic growth is what is known as “dialectical thinking.” Dialectical thinking is the ability to see something from multiple perspectives, identifying both positive and negative aspects.

It’s the ability to say, “Yes I am feeling very depressed, but on the other hand, I am reaching out more, and feeling more supported,” or, “I am feeling really vulnerable, but I also recognize that I have made it through some very tough experiences, and I do feel stronger.”

What dialectical thinking enables us to do is find the positives in every situation, and to use those positives to push forward. The idea is that when you are able to see that nothing is “all bad” you are also able to find strengths that you might not have noticed before. You are able to identify opportunities you didn’t know existed — or might not have existed previous the trauma. You are able to reach out to others, deepening relationships in a way not possible before the trauma. Perhaps you also feel a deeper spiritual connection as part of getting through what you didn’t think you could. And you might also feel a profound gratitude as you realize that you endured tremendous circumstances, and survived.

What I have just described are the five domains of post-traumatic growth. These are:

  • A greater appreciation for life
  • An openness to new possibilities
  • A greater sense of personal strength
  • A deepening of relationships
  • A deepening of spirituality.

Post-traumatic growth, in many ways, defies everything we have been told about trauma — that it’s debilitating, that it is something that you cannot recover from, that you will be made worse by it.

Instead, what post-traumatic growth shows is that recovering from trauma is not about putting the shattered world back together just as it was. Instead, post-traumatic growth is about rebuilding the shattered world in a way that is better.

And this is something every depressed person should know.

 

For more information on post-traumatic growth, visit www.leverageadversity.net or www.clairedorotik-nana.com

 

References: Tedeshi, R. G., & Calhoun, L. G. (2004). Post-traumatic growth: Conceptual foundations and empirical evidence. Psychological Inquiry, 15, 1