Post-Traumatic Stress or Post-Traumatic Growth?
A good friend and colleague recently experienced a sudden and traumatic professional change. Last year she was recruited by the owners of a company to lead a new initiative. The new career direction was an answer to her prayers to work with leaders and an organization that aligned with her deep sense of purpose. After a long and thoughtful reflection, she said yes to the owners and moved to a large urban city to work at the corporate office. She was energized by the unlimited possibilities with this new company and the influence she would have to lead the initiative.
Once there she connected well with others and tirelessly worked to implement the dream. Like all large change efforts, the work was intense with plenty of successes and setbacks. A year later with little warning one of the owners along with the company’s director of human resources, appeared at her opened office door.
She described the scene as though she was on a movie set. “I immediately knew something was up,” she later shared with Donna, “but I didn’t know what.” The owner told her, “We’ve decided to go a new direction, so we no longer need your services. We’re grateful for your work here. Thank you.”
That was it. Her vision and enthusiasm for a new possibility were gone. In one short conversation, her dream was thwarted.
As she reported this experience to Donna, she said she was taking time to reflect on the learning. “I am looking at this situation not as PTSD (Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder), although I feel traumatized, but rather PTG, Post-Traumatic Growth. While I am feeling like a Victim to the owners and this situation, I do not want to hold it that way for very long. I’m asking myself what I can learn. How can I grow from this situation?”
You most likely have heard of PTSD, a mental health condition that arises in response to traumatic events such as physical abuse, the aftermath of war, or loss of loved ones. Symptoms include severe anxiety, disturbing thoughts, depression, and nightmares to name a few. It can be a very serious disorder that requires a wide range of medical support. If this description sounds familiar to you, please seek the help and support you need from properly trained professionals.
You may not have heard of PTG which is a theory about how people grow following a traumatizing event. The idea is that people who endure trauma can also experience growth afterward. In some cases, the trauma creates a pivotal turning point that changes their life for good.
The researchers who first noticed the phenomena found that progress does not occur as a direct result of the trauma, but rather it is the individual’s struggle to make sense of the experience that is crucial to determining whether they view it as a learning experience.
Many people have reported trauma from the global pandemic, yet a large percentage of people have discovered hidden talents and new hobbies, a new appreciation for life, deeper and more positive relationships, a desire to be in service to others, spiritual change, and started thousands of new charitable organizations.
This begs an obvious question about why some people grow from trauma while others may not. The researchers say that having a strong support system and positive social connections are very important. Maybe most important, they report, is knowing that there is always a personal choice about how a situation is viewed.
The good friend continued to reflect. “When I’m in the middle of the drama/trauma it is sometimes really hard to remember that I always have a choice about how I respond. I do not know yet what the learning will be. However, I am dedicated to living as a Creator and not as a Victim, and trust that I will learn and grow.”