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Flowers in the Ashes: Post-Traumatic Growth and Changing Through Experience

by Jan 3, 2024

In life, we have experiences that level our foundation, make us question ourselves, and prompt us to reevaluate everything we know about the world.

Trauma redefines our core being. But you should know that, ultimately, we’re the ones who define how.

The Idea of Post-Traumatic Growth

When trauma occurs, what makes it “traumatic” is how deeply it changes our view of something, of human interaction, the potential for cruelty or violence, or how quickly something can be lost. The extent of trauma is how severely it challenges our perceptions.

But there’s more to it.

Post Traumatic Growth (PTG) is a field of psychological study that examines positive changes in individuals following traumatic events.

Through conducting interviews, researchers find out how people adapt to their traumas, how they work through them, and what they manage to derive from their experiences.

They classify growth in five ways:

  1. Changes in How They Relate to Other People

Some trauma survivors use their experiences to gain a deeper understanding of others. They may become more empathic to other’s suffering or develop a desire to help people who’ve experienced what they’ve experienced.

  1. Recognition of New Opportunities, Priorities, or Pathways in Life

This is common among those who’ve had brushes with death. People redefine what they believe to be important in life and start living more authentically.

  1. Greater Appreciation for the Value of One’s Own Life and Life in General

Going through trauma and emerging can prompt an individual to develop gratitude for all that is. They become thankful for just being able to wake up in the morning.

  1. Recognition of One’s Own Strength

Sometimes, facing a challenge that takes you to the brink can forge a kind of alchemical gold. You discover what you’re capable of, and you come to respect yourself as your own hero.

  1. Spiritual or Existential Development

Trauma can bring us close to death, whether literally or through suffering, which makes us question if we want to go on living. This intimacy with death can bring people toward religious revelations or an understanding of the totality of existence. In turn, this leads people toward belief in higher powers or the spiritual nature of human beings.

Naturally, any growth you experience through dealing with personal traumas will look different from others. Your path is your own.

Some Basic Truths About Trauma

For what then matters is to bear witness to the uniquely human potential at its best, which is to transform a personal tragedy into a triumph, to turn one’s predicament into a human achievement.” — Viktor Frankl.

Because trauma and growth are such complex subjects, we’ll make some distinctions so you can better understand yourself and what you may be experiencing.

Trauma can occur in a single devastating moment, or it can occur in small moments over the long term. Both can have immense impacts and lead to immense pain.

Often, when a trauma happens to an individual, it is not the traumatic event itself that causes the damage; it is what happens to them as a result. It is the loss of faith, the blows to the nervous system, the unconscious effect it has on how they see themselves and others, and the neuroses that follow. Those are the real effects of trauma.

This means that great suffering can stem from relatively “small” incidents. This is especially true for children, who are the most susceptible to trauma in their developing psyche.

Any negative event can be used as fuel for personal growth, and trauma is no different. The idea is to try to find meaning in the narrative of your life. You’re writing a story with each action you make, and choosing to face your traumas could be your greatest victory.

Growth does not occur the instant trauma does. Growth occurs in how you analyze, approach, and integrate the reality of your traumas. Growth comes from understanding how trauma came to affect you and doing the necessary work to heal it.

Ways to Grow From Trauma (Growth Therapy)

Let’s look at some examples of using trauma as a means to grow.

Growth Through Therapy:

Trauma lingers long after the initial event has passed. If you make the bold decision to explore it, then you can start to move beyond it.

Trauma therapy may prompt you to relive and face your pain, which is often exactly what’s required to heal. This is a journey some spend their whole lives avoiding, but you can choose otherwise and find out how far you’re willing to go for your life.

Growth Through Being What You Needed at the Time:

Sometimes, we wish someone would save us from the trauma that still haunts us. When you can’t find anyone to save you, you can grow by becoming the person you always needed: The reliable caregiver, the brave person, the wise person, the kind person.

If you set out to become what you need, you can become an example.

Growth Through Being an Example of What’s Possible:

If you choose to face your trauma and never let it stop you, you can become an example of what a person can endure. 

Going on to live a great life after experiencing terrible events or harm proves to others in similar situations that they can break free, too.

Exponential Growth

We forget: In life, it doesn’t matter what happens to you or where you came from. It matters what you do with what happens and what you’ve been given.” — Ryan Holiday.

Ideally, people could face adversity on their own terms. They would get to choose the mountains they climb. But life often gives us otherwise.

If you’ve been through something difficult, and you adapted to it, learned from it, and emerged on the other side as a better person, would you go back in time and prevent it from happening?

People usually say no because they know those events helped make them who they are. They would never wish those things on others, but they see them as defining moments for themselves. 

It’s terrible when traumatic events happen, but with the right eyes, you can see those events as opportunities for becoming better.