It’s high summer in Boston. Tourists wander, water bottles in hand, silently glancing at fitbits, observable proof that Boston is indeed a “walkable” city. Chalk drawn hopscotch decorates the sidewalks in bright blues, greens, and pinks. Jimmy, the icecream man, is parked by a large park where tourists and locals wander. His business is understandably booming. And my favorite café barely has room for me to settle with my computer and thoughts. I squeeze in and find my way, happy for the busy chaos after a couple of years of masked misery.
I’ve been thinking a lot about post traumatic growth, the specific growth that can occur after deep trauma. PTG or Post Traumatic Growth theory was developed in the mid 90s by two psychologists (Richard Tedeschi and Lawrence Calhoun). They wanted to be able to explain how people can move beyond deep trauma with a deeper appreciation for life and a strength and resolve to help others.
The literature is careful to distinguish between PTG and resilience. Resilience is described more as the quality or characteristic of being able to bounce back and resume life. When someone has experienced an event that affects their core beliefs, they sometimes can’t bounce back. Their entire world has been rocked to the core by what often seems like meaningless violence or trauma.
In an old article called “The Post Traumatic Growth Theory: Measuring the Positive Legacy of Trauma,” the authors talk about being able to measure growth after trauma through a 21 question-inventory. The inventory looks at positive responses to questions that address appreciation for life, relationships with others, new possibilities that have emerged, personal strength, and spiritual change.
“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,” Richard Tedeschi.Tweet
Until very recently I never knew there was a theory or an inventory that identified PTG. What I do know is that I have watched some of my refugee, immigrant, and TCK friends live out this reality. I’ve watched them move from bitterness to using appropriate anger for positive change. I’ve observed them taking deep pain and loss and using it to empathize and work with others. I’ve benefitted from their joy and strength, the color they add to the world.
How are some people able to do this, while others remain in a place of post traumatic stress? I don’t think it’s always about the level of trauma, although complex trauma has many, many layers. Yet, even with complex trauma there are examples of people who are able to move forward. One important factor seems to be not being pushed into growth or a positive response. People need time to come to this on their own. For the caregiver or friend, this is difficult. We want to see any small signs that a person is coming out of their pain or darkness. We see every little movement as hopeful and then fall into our own traps of believing nothing will ever change for the person. But experts and counselors working with trauma victims are careful to stress not to push someone into discovering positive growth until they are ready. Healing occurs in stages and the stages are not linear.
I want to look at this in more depth, but I feel this is an area where TCKs can benefit. To know that childhood or adult trauma can be transformed, leading them into personal and professional growth is hopeful and encouraging. This is not rocket science, but when we are in the middle of the hard pieces of life, it feels that way.
So why look at this? I’m not a trauma expert, I am not a counselor. I look at this because in the past few years I have walked with more and more people who have experienced profound pain in life. In addition, I’ve had my own realization of profound pain. My practical theology and belief in a God who is good has led me to believe without doubt that God does not waste pain; that pain, when given to God, is a transformative gift. It doesn’t make pain and trauma easier, but it does make it less senseless.
If you want to take a look at the inventory to take it or have it for reference, click here.