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Post traumatic growth: What it is and why it’s so important in 2021

Post traumatic growth is a critical concept in 2021.

Globally we're living through distressing times, making the idea of post traumatic growth seem unlikely for many. But as challenging as it is to see the light at the end of the tunnel when we're facing adversity, humankind is a resilient species.  

Since the beginning of time, we've lived through countless local and global crises, and despite suffering, loss and sorrow, we've prevailed. Not only did we as a species survive, but we also evolved and improved our quality of life through innovation.

Humans survived two ice ages, the plague, the 1918 influenza pandemic and much more, so we'll get through these trying times. Here's a look at what we're currently facing -

  • 60-75% of North Americans experience trauma at some point in life. [1]
  • 1 in 11 people in North America will be diagnosed with PTSD in their lifetime. [2]
  • 67% of Covid-19 health care respondents report physical symptoms of distress such as headaches and anxiety. [3]
  • Close to 2.5 million people have died of Covid-19 as of mid-February 2021. [4]
  • The global economy shed 255 million jobs in 2020 due to Covid-19. [5]
  • 1.6 billion people in the informal-economy have lost their income. [6]
  • 80 million jobs could be lost by 2030 due to climate change. [7]

What is post traumatic growth?

Before we can answer that, we must understand the meaning of trauma. In short, trauma is a response to a deeply troubling event that overwhelms our ability to cope. It causes feelings of powerlessness, strips us of our sense of self and diminishes our ability to process a full range of experiences and emotions. 

Trauma is caused by grief, violent incidents, accidents and injury, disease diagnosis, job loss, income/food insecurity, natural disaster and similar life events. These happenings can cause a significant life crisis since what made us feel safe and secure gets wholly up-ended.

Post traumatic growth definition is positive and lasting change experienced due to the struggle with a traumatic event or life crisis. Alternately, it can also get defined as finding meaning and creativity in adversity.

It's not a new concept

Although the term "post-traumatic growth" was adopted in the mid-1990s by psychologists Lawrence Calhoun (PhD) and Richard Tedeschi (PhD), the concept exists in ancient spiritual philosophies.   

Modern medical science is just trying to understand why so many people adapt to change for the better after dealing with major life challenges. While studies are still very much underway and little is proven, what has become apparent is that –

  • Not everyone experiences it, although it's not uncommon
  • Certain personality traits lean towards post traumatic growth
  • Resilience and post traumatic growth isn't the same thing
  • There are seven measures of attainment
  • It won't insulate us from suffering in future traumatic events

Unpacking post-traumatic growth

When people experience it, they develop a new understanding of the world they live in and how to live. Their attitude towards life, other people and their future becomes irrevocably changed. Also, what they might previously have accepted as boundaries, facts and truths in life shift radically. Above all, they become happier and more aligned with reality, releasing resistance to life on life's terms.

It's essential to understand, though, that trauma itself doesn't bring about growth. Instead, it's the struggle in the aftermath that's crucial in determining development.

Why it's not resilience

While we all gain a degree of resilience as we move through life, some are resilient before suffering trauma. Resilience is the ability to bounce back from challenges and continue much as before after suffering. 

On the other hand, post traumatic growth happens when someone less resilient experiences psychological suffering that ultimately leads to personal growth. The process doesn't happen overnight, though. They first must be willing to go through a lot of confusion and distress. Understanding their situation, facing the issues and questioning their current view of what is and should be is a crucial precursor. 

Therefore, where a resilient person processes trauma and then recovers, a less resistant personality might initially disintegrate, suffering anxiety, depression and self-doubt. However, through introspection and curiosity, they can turn adversity into advantage as they explore their thoughts and feelings around events.

The 7 measures of growth

  •  Gratitude for life at every level
  • Appreciation and strengthening of interpersonal relationships
  • Heightened compassion and selflessness
  • Identification of a purpose in life and new possibilities
  • Awareness and utilization of personal strengths
  • Deepened spiritual development
  • Creative growth

Personality traits

Researchers have also identified personality traits that enhance post traumatic growth –

  • Low on experiential avoidance
  • High on agreeableness
  • High on openness
  • High on conscientiousness
  • High on extraversion

Post traumatic growth in business

Whether you're an employee, CEO or entrepreneur in a start-up, we can't deny the impact of the global economic situation on mental health. Dealing with the trauma of dwindling profits, job losses and supply chain interruptions has burdened millions of people in unfathomable ways.

How do you come back or maintain momentum in the face of such unprecedented adversity in modern times, let alone grow your career or business?

6 elements of development

While there are personality traits that make finding post traumatic growth easier, no personality is static. Despite assessment service providers like Myers Briggs pushing the notion that we cannot change instinctive behaviors, recent scientific research tells us otherwise.

With the right information and some coaching to suit your personality, you can learn how to adapt your behavior. F4S is an online coaching platform that does just that by giving detailed info backed by science and quick access to a life coach.

How can businesses approach development?

Emotional regulation

Before we can develop, our minds must be calm, stable and open to learning. Negative emotions such as anger, anxiety and guilt need to get managed and put into perspective. Identifying triggers for these emotions will help control them. 

Rather than focusing on failures, losses and uncertainties, consider past successes and figure out the best possible options. 

If you manage a team, do some positive brainstorming to come up with ideas and build morale. Work on individual strengths and those of your business. Release what's lost because if it's gone and can't be recovered. On the other hand, find some new skills and opportunities that haven't been utilized before.

Education

Only if we understand what trauma is can we develop. 

The current pandemic has not only brought death and suffering; it's also shaken our perceived safety-net to the core. The unimaginable became a reality, and that can leave people feeling insecure for years to come. 

By educating ourselves on why we feel the way we do rather than ignoring our feelings and emotions, we gain self-knowledge and empathy for ourselves and others.

Disclosure

Ongoing honest disclosure is essential to build trust and build yourself and your team. 

Where previously work and home life were kept apart, we can't do that now. Not only are people working from home, which often means imposing work on home life, but adversity is a very personal struggle. 

Set up talk therapy groups where staff can discuss how they feel right now, their long and short-term views, and what they're struggling with. Be willing to partake openly and honestly so that people understand your troubles too, and know you know theirs.

Narrative

After disclosure, we need to build an authentic narrative about the trauma and how we envision our future. From a business perspective, consider how your organization's course will be reshaped, what opportunities and threats this presents, and how you can embrace or overcome them. 

Bringing employees into this narrative gives them some sense of control rather than feeling powerless. Stay focused on positive outcomes despite challenges by encouraging acceptance of what's gone and crafting a more meaningful way ahead.  

Appreciation for life

As a leader, it's vital that you also become a colleague to your staff to encourage openness. 

Everyone will benefit, and there should be no hesitation to discuss sensitive topics like a looming recession, unpredictable volatility and altered structures at work and home. Share your hopes and fears and get to understand the people around you. 

When we allow ourselves to be vulnerable in a safe space, we not only realize that others share similar struggles, but we bond and form stronger teams. In this way, we get to appreciate each other and what we have in hand. Once we can see what we've got, rather than focusing on what can get lost, we learn to appreciate life.    

Service

It's no coincidence that in times of trauma, people often pull together and work for others' greater good. For those who do, it brings a sense of value and purpose because instead of focusing on the pain and loss, they can contribute towards something positive. 

Figure out how you and your organization can support each other and your broader community. Service brings a sense of purpose where otherwise continuing can, for many, seem pointless. 

Schedule a free demo to learn how F4S can help facilitate post-traumatic growth through personalized wellness coaching.

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