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Traumatic experiences can paradoxically lead to positive psychological changes for some. The changes can be increased personal strength, better relationships with other people, or new priorities in life.

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This is written by Gjertrud Sofie Hafstad at the National Knowledge Center on Violence and Traumatic Stress and Johan Siqveland from Akershus University Hospital in Norway, in an article on the webiste to the Norwegian Psychological Association.

They write further: 

The idea that traumatic experiences can provide a breeding ground for growth and personal development is not new, and many will recognize the way of thinking from existential literature or from crisis psychology. However, the field has only been more systematically explored during the last 10-15 years.

Traumatic experiences does not need to weaken you

In their article, they point out that there is much that is vaguely related to this concept. Among other things, it is not at all obvious that people grow through pain. For many, traumatic experiences become the way into great mental difficulties - rather than being a source of growth. 

At the same time, it can easily be undercommunicated that very difficult events in life also make someone stronger.

The psychologists summarize:

Openness to the fact that traumatic events can provide fertile ground for personal growth can be useful in clinical work. Within positive psychology, there has been a concern that promoting the person's strengths in addition to working with symptom reduction, gives the person a better starting point for adapting to negative life events.


Changing through pain

Recently, a completely new textbook has been published on the topic of post-traumatic growth, namely the book To change through pain (Norwegian: "Å endres gjennom smerte"). The publisher writes about this:

We all encounter difficulties and painful experiences that in various ways lead to maturation or stagnation. If there was a Richter scale for existential challenges, each of us would notice seismic tremors every now and then, like a tremor in the earth's crust. But some suddenly and unexpectedly experience such a powerful earthquake that everyday life is ruined.   

They further say that putting together a life and a future after a painful and life-changing experience can be demanding and at times seem hopeless. They add:

But in the work of regaining a foothold and recapturing a hope for the future, one can also discover new resources in oneself. Many experience that the relationships with other people become closer and more rewarding. The awareness that life is fragile can increase the ability to be present in one's own life. Having experienced pain and been shaken by life's injustices and paradoxes can also open a source of deeper joy and gratitude.

This is called post-traumatic growth.  



The term post-traumatic growth is a concept that may not fit very well into the classic psychiatry - that focuses on disease and ill health. 

However, post-traumatic growth might be a relevant term in the study of both "positive psychology" and "salutogenesis". The latter is an approach to human health that examines the factors contributing to the promotion and maintenance of physical and mental well-being rather than disease with particular emphasis on the coping mechanisms of individuals which help preserve health despite stressful conditions.


Seven people tell their story

In the abovementioned book, seven people talk about their existential earthquake and the reconstruction afterwards. In addition, psychologists Gertrud Sofie Hafstad and Johan Siqveland describe how post-traumatic growth can manifest itself.  

The publisher writes:

Changing through pain - stories about post-traumatic growth is a book that provides new insight into opportunities for change, maturation and growth after life-altering events. It addresses people in crisis and their social networks as well as volunteers and health and other professionals who meet this group by virtue of their work.  

Their hope is that the book can inspire people to reorient themselves in life after experiencing significant losses.

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