Post Traumatic Growth

Post-traumatic growth (PTG) is a theory that explains change and growth following a traumatic event. It was developed by psychologists Richard Tedeschi, PhD, and Lawrence Calhoun, PhD, in the mid-1990s. They state that people who endure psychological struggle following adversity can often see positive growth afterward. 

“People develop new understandings of themselves, the world they live in, how to relate to other people, the kind of future they might have and a better understanding of how to live life,” says Tedeschi. 

PTG is sometimes considered the same as resilience. Due to the fact that someone becomes more resilient as a result of their struggle with trauma, this can be seen as an example of PTG, except that PTG is somewhat different from resilience. Resiliency is a person’s ability to “bounce back.” 

Someone who is already resilient when trauma occurs won’t experience PTG because a resilient person isn’t devastated by an event and doesn’t have to seek a new belief system, explains Tedeschi. Less resilient people, on the other hand, may go through distress and confusion as they try to understand why this terrible thing happened to them and what it means for them. 

Psychologists use a variety of self-report scales to help determine if a person has achieved growth after a traumatic event. One that was developed by Tedeschi and Calhoun is the Post-Traumatic Growth Inventory (PTGI) (Journal of Traumatic Stress, 1996). It looks for positive responses in five areas:

1.      Appreciation of life.         

2.      Relationships with others.           

3.      New possibilities in life.  

4.      Personal strength.

5.      Spiritual change.

The scale is being revised to add new items that will expand the “spiritual change” domain, says Tedeschi. This is being done “to incorporate more existential themes that should resonate with those who are more secular” as well as reflect cross-cultural differences in perceptions of Spirituality.  

Another perspective of PTG is “Tragic Optimism” which can sometimes be used to focus on self-improvement or personal development.

Paul Wong, psychologist and professor emeritus at Trent University in Ontario, says that life isn’t easy–“It’s OK to be lonely, it’s OK to feel bad, it’s OK to feel anxious. Welcome to the Human Club.”

He has identified a five-stage process that expands on Viktor Frankl’s concept of tragic optimism and encourages people to be hopeful. These five elements are: (1) accepting the bleak reality of life, (2) recognizing that there is a value and meaning to life, (3) living for others, (4) having a faith in G-d and others, and (5) the courage to face the bleak realities that are part of life.

The third step, living for something or someone greater than yourself, or as he calls it altruism, can enhance our wellbeing, as well as, give us meaning in this life. This meaning in life is to take the negative that life gives us, as well as the good and to have the courage to move forward armed with it to repair the fractures that we see.

Loss and suffering are universal, everyone, everywhere will experience it, how we handle it becomes how we will frame our lives. After we have dealt with the loss or suffering, it is healthy to eventually move forward.  

John Walsh, who many of us know from the TV show America’s Most Wanted, are probably not aware of how, or why he began that show; his six-year-old son Adam was abducted and murdered. He serves on the board of directors for the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children and he is a lobbyist for victim’s rights. This is a case of true tragedy but shows how loss can motivate us to act.

Instead of letting these negative feelings overwhelm us – or ignoring them completely, as is par for the course in toxic positivity – embracing tragic optimism means making a daily effort to feel comfortable with loneliness or anxiety. In these moments, we may learn we enjoy solitude, that we highly value community or discover who we want to be on the other side of the tragedy.

Sources from:

Richard Tedeschi, PhD, and Lawrence Calhoun, PhD, Journal of Traumatic Stress, 1996

Wong, P. T. P. (2019, May 14). How do I overcome adversity? Dr. Paul T. P. Wong. Retrieved from

29 Responses

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