Learning from adversity is an age-old endeavor, largely taught in religious contexts. However, while we are exhorted to do so, we are often given little more guidance than being told to “have faith.”

However handling crisis—and even traumatic experience—is not all sheer luck or a mysterious endeavor. There are principles at play and we can minimize well-meaning but wasted and even problematic best efforts. Science is also now turning its attention to efforts to measure and weigh this component of life experience under the banner of “post traumatic growth” (PTG).

This work is being pursued at North Carolina University and has a department that is establishing baselines for our understanding of PTG and is seen to take place in 5 general areas:

  • Sometimes people who must face major life crises develop a sense that new opportunities have emerged from the struggle, opening up possibilities that were not present before.
  • A second area is a change in relationships with others. Some people experience closer relationships with some specific people, and they can also experience an increased sense of connection to others who suffer.
  • A third area of possible change is an increased sense of one’s own strength – “if I lived through that, I can face anything”.
  • A fourth aspect of posttraumatic growth experienced by some people is a greater appreciation for life in general.
  • The fifth area involves the spiritual or religious domain. Some individuals experience a deepening of their spiritual lives, however, this deepening can also involve a significant change in one’s belief system.

Some Clarifications From the University of North Carolina’s PTG Department:

Most of us, when we face very difficult losses or great suffering, will have a variety of highly distressing psychological reactions. Just because individuals experience growth does not mean that they will not suffer. Distress is typical when we face traumatic events.

We most definitely are not implying that traumatic events are good – they are not. But for many of us, life crises are inevitable and we are not given the choice between suffering and growth on the one hand, and no suffering and no change, on the other.

Posttraumatic growth is not universal. It is not uncommon, but neither does everybody who faces a traumatic event experience growth.

Our hope is that you never face a major loss or crisis, but most of us eventually do, and perhaps you may also experience an encounter with posttraumatic growth.