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Post-traumatic Growth (Part 1)

Posted Jan 02 2014 12:26pm

team chatter 2

Nope.

That isn’t a typo. You have probably read articles or news stories about post-traumatic STRESS (or PTSD), but did you know that post-traumatic growth is a related and now often studied psychological topic? There is even a new field called psychotraumatology. Try saying that 5 times really fast…

At Hearing Elmo, I do my best to present topics related to invisible illness, disability, or chronic conditions. Guest writers are encouraged to have some connection to one of those topics.

*SIDE NOTE* Hearing Elmo welcomes guest writers any time! Email me for more information at denise.portis@gmail.com with “Hearing Elmo” in the subject line.

Chloe after 2013 re-certification

As you know, Fidos For Freedom, Inc. (FFF), is a big part of my life. My service dog, Chloe, comes from FFF but I also stay connected through weekly trainings and volunteering for various jobs each year. The people there have become “family” to me and I have learned so much about the disability community through my connections at this wonderful organization. Something I have observed, is that even if you’ve taken the step to train and be matched with a service dog to mitigate your disability or illness – something that can take “guts” as it can make the invisible, very visible – not everyone responds to “bad things” the same way. Many times it is simply because the person has not adjusted yet.

As my dissertation looms in my very near future, I am already thinkin’ about…

What am I gonna do? (No worries. I *can* use a scholarly voice when the environment calls for it <big grin>)

But back to my original topic! How do people come out on the other side of something traumatic, and find that they’ve grown? Do they have something in common or is the outcome as individual as the process? How do you survive and be BETTER and not BITTER?

These questions are on my mind. A LOT.

I receive hundreds of emails from readers each year and try to respond to each personally. I’m always tickled that a common question seems to be, “How do you have your ‘stuff’ all together so well? I’m floundering here!” I am always quick to respond with an honest evaluation about my own life “after disability”. Folks are surprised. I don’t try to sugar-coat how I’m doing in my own life. I deal with the same things you do:

Depression

Anxiety

Suicidal ideation

Pessimism

The trick is not to stay there. Sometimes it can be worked through on your own. Sometimes it cannot. Sometimes we need help. So how do some people come out on the other side of something traumatic – better? How do people grow in spite of experiencing something devastating?

This is going to be a “two-fer” post. Meaning: I can’t address everything I want to cover in one post (smile). For this first part I want to cover what kinds of things can cause PTG (post-traumatic growth), and clearly define what it is. Next week we’ll look at some other related issues.

Traumatic experiences.

Kinda anti-climatic, huh?

But for OUR population – those who live with disability, invisible illness, or chronic health conditions – what is a traumatic experience? It can include:

disability

invisible illness

chronic physical or mental health conditions

devastating diagnosis

sexual abuse

violence and victimization

divorce or loss of an intimate relationship

death of a loved one

war

poverty

Basically – anything that can cause stress. Not the run-of-the-mill kind of stress. You know the kinds of stress like, a “bad hair day”, my cat threw-up in my favorite shoes, I locked myself out of the house, or I ate bad sushi. We’re talkin’ the kind of stress that produces trauma. It may be specific to YOU. For example, I have met people who have heard me speak on various topics and have come up and shared that they “don’t get why hearing loss would be a reason to develop depression“. They have hearing loss and they have coped just fine. Variables, my friends… variables. Personality, background, resilience, support, worldview, gender, economics – the list goes on an on. You may respond to a life event completely different than someone else. That’s OK. This is why you hear me encourage folks to reach out and SHARE. Your experiences may help another. You won’t know if you don’t talk about it.

PTG is actually something that came from a branch of Psychology called – Positive Psychology. There are  scales and inventories available to see where you rate in PTG. I first started reading about it back when my cochlear implant was first activated. “Hearing again” was a tough journey. I stumbled across the term coined by Drs. Calhoun and Tedeschi. According to them,

What is posttraumatic growth? It is positive change experienced as a result of the struggle with a major life crisis or a traumatic event” (Posttraumatic Growth Research Group, 2014, para. 1).

Their research centers around 5 changes that occur in an individual, post-trauma. These include:

1. New opportunities

2. Change in relationships

3. Increased sense of one’s own strength

4. Greater appreciation for life in general

5. Spiritual or religious domain (Posttraumatic Growth Research Group, 2014)

Have you been diagnosed with a super scary, perhaps life-changing diagnosis?

Have you acquired a disability?

Were you injured, permanently changing the way you live life?

Have you experienced something that left scars (physical, mental, emotional)?

You can experience growth. It may not happen overnight. It may mean that you experience tremendous loss, fear, and grief at first. You may blow it. A LOT. However, I don’t know about you, but I experience a sense of hope knowing that something good can “come of this”.

Comment here or send me a confidential email. I’d like to know how you’ve experienced GROWTH. There is no prerequisite measure. Maybe it wasn’t a lot of growth. Maybe you experienced “three steps forward – two steps back” throughout the process. I’d love to hear from you!

Denise Portis

Posttraumatic Growth Research Group. (2014). What is PTG? Retrieved January 2, 2014, from


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