Benefit finding is the term used to describe Post Traumatic Growth; positive changes that come about in one’s life after experiencing a major life crisis or traumatic event. The concept that trauma can lead to positive change is a common theme but the term posttraumatic growth was coined by psychologists Richard Tedeschi and Lawrence Calhoun as recently as the mid-1990s. Tedeschi says:
Most people still think that if you suffered trauma, you’re going to be damaged, we’re talking about something beyond that, where people actually transform into something different from who they were before.
They learned, through a study, that negative experiences can spur positive change, including a recognition of personal strength, the exploration of new possibilities, improved relationships, a greater appreciation for life, and spiritual growth. We see this in people who have endured war, natural disasters, bereavement, job loss and economic stress, serious illnesses and injury.
Worldwide, more than 70 percent of people report exposure to at least one traumatic event in their lives—from the death of a loved one to a life-threatening injury—according to a 2016 study. Nearly a third report at least four events. And while much needed attention has gone into understanding post-traumatic stress disorder and related psychological injuries, some research suggests that positive outcomes are also common after difficult experiences.
Posttraumatic growth often happens naturally, a study suggests that at least 50% of trauma survivors end up experiencing post-traumatic growth without psychotherapy or other formal intervention. For those who still experience the increased sensitivity and distress of PTSD, growth can be facilitated by a therapist in five ways: through education, emotional regulation, disclosure, narrative development, and service. We'll explore this further.
We all experiencing a collective traumatic event with the Covid-19 pandemic sweeping through the world in the last year and a half. We all know someone who got seriously ill, lost their life, lost a loved one or lost a source of income. Our lives were up-ended in unexpected ways with our interactions and routines changing. We all experienced trauma, some may have experienced more dramatic changes that others, but we all experienced change and uncertainty. Trauma is simply the fear and anxiety that is caused by a loss of control and the subsequent feelings of helplessness. In some parts of the world, a sense of normalcy may have returned but in others, there is still no clear end to the uncertainty.
A survey in the UK at the height of their experience with the pandemic highlighted the positive changes to emerge for citizens. Though everyone was disoriented from the unprecedented changes, many reported positive experiences in how their families related; growth in family bonds, greater appreciation of others, learning new skills as well as greater mindfulness for the environment. Locally, we saw that indomitable Kenyan spirit at play as people converted their cars to grocery shops. The number of business registered rose by 58% with registrations of up to 326 a day!
Human beings are resilient. We are born into a seemingly unconscious natural environment and we learn to adapt. So how do you adapt after a painful, traumatic experience? A simple step by step guide would look like this:
1. Acknowledge that the experience is difficult and be extra kind to yourself. Take time to consider best-case scenarios and remind yourself of times when you rallied in difficult times.
2. Educate yourself on your new reality. What does it mean to be a new mum when I was not prepared? What does it mean to be a freelancer as opposed to being an employee? What do people who have experienced abuse, like me, have to say about their experiences?
3. Talk about your experience with a trusted person; a friend, therapist or partner. Disclosure helps you process your experience and turn debilitating thoughts into useful reflections.
4. Develop a narrative of your experience, look for meaning and see how the following chapters of your life may unfold now that this twist in the plot has happened.
5. Finally, engage in some sort of service to those who may have suffered as you have. It may be as simple as sharing your experience and how you have grown with someone who’s suffering you empathize with.
Ultimately friends, as we end June - PTSD Awareness month- it is important to recognize the possibility for growth and transformation that our most difficult experiences offer. We are capable in ways we may not have become aware of yet. We are Kenyans, we move regardless!