What Is Post-Traumatic Growth (PTG)?

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Post-traumatic growth refers to positive changes in a person as a result of struggling with a major life crisis.

If you’ve been through something traumatic, it may have been so painful and awful that it can feel like nothing will ever be the same again.

It can be hard to imagine that something good could come from a traumatic experience. However, over time, you might find that it has changed you and helped you grow.

This article explores how post-traumatic growth occurs, the benefits it may offer, and some strategies that can help you achieve growth in the wake of a trauma.

The Post-Traumatic Growth Theory

The concept of post-traumatic growth was introduced by Richard Tedeschi, PhD, and Lawrence Calhoun, PhD in 1996.

Tedeschi and Calhoun published a paper titled “The post-traumatic growth inventory: Measuring the positive legacy of trauma,” in which they explained that someone who has experienced traumatic events may experience positive changes in the following aspects:

  • Personal strength
  • Appreciation of life
  • Relationships with others
  • New possibilities in life
  • Spiritual change

In their paper, Tedeschi and Calhoun note that people who have experienced traumatic events are more likely to report positive changes in themselves than people who haven’t lived through anything extraordinary.

A 2018 study found that approximately 53% of people who experience something traumatic are likely to achieve post-traumatic growth.

The authors of the 2018 study note that people who are below the age of 60 may be more likely to experience post-traumatic growth than those older than 60. Tedeschi and Calhoun found that women tended to report more benefits as a result of post-traumatic growth than men.

Benefits of Post-Traumatic Growth

According to the theory, these are some of the benefits you may experience in the aftermath of a traumatic experience:

  • Appreciation of life: Traumatic events often cause us to fear for our life, safety, and well-being. Afterward, it can be hard to look at the world the same way. You might find yourself noticing and appreciating things you had previously taken for granted. Your priorities may shift and you may find joy in the simple things in life.
  • Personal strength: After the trauma has passed, you may be surprised at how well you were able to handle it. This awareness of your courage, skills, knowledge, resilience, and growth potential can empower you and make you feel stronger. You may find yourself feeling more confident and better equipped to handle any future challenges that come your way.
  • Relationships with others: The support you give and receive during times of crises is invaluable and you may find that the experience has helped you forge strong bonds. Whether it’s with friends, family members, colleagues or someone you’ve just met, surviving a crisis together can bring you closer together.
  • New possibilities in life: In addition to changing you, trauma can also impact your environment in myriad ways. If your previous living situation, work, lifestyle, habits, roles, or strategies are no longer viable in your new reality, the experience may teach you how to adapt and innovate. It can give you the courage and the confidence to believe that you can do it.
  • Spiritual change: Traumatic events often force us to question our core beliefs and values. You may find yourself reflecting on the meaning of life and your purpose in it.

How Post-Traumatic Growth Occurs

According to the theory, these are the ways in which post-traumatic growth occurs:

  • Education: To achieve growth after a traumatic experience, you may find that you need to rethink your circumstances and challenge your beliefs and assumptions. This process can be confusing and frightening initially and you may find yourself repetitively thinking “What’s happening? What should I do now? What will the future look like?” However, you will eventually learn to develop new thought processes and learn new ways of coping.
  • Emotional regulation: You need to be in the right frame of mind to change, learn, grow, and adapt after a traumatic experience. That means learning to manage negative emotions such as anger, fear, bitterness, and guilt as well as putting failures and losses behind you. Exercise, meditation, breathing exercises, and relaxation techniques can help you manage negative emotions and focus on the present.
  • Disclosure: This step involves talking about the traumatic experience and the various ways it has affected you. Describing the experience to others and telling them what you’ve been struggling with—both in the past and in the present—can help you reflect on it and process it.
  • Service: In the aftermath of trauma, many people do better if they’re able to help others in their community. For instance, people may choose to help other victims who have had similar experiences, or work with organizations that are taking steps to prevent others from experiencing the same trauma. This could take various forms, such as donating money, volunteering time or expertise, or simply sharing one’s experiences and advice to improve awareness of the issue.
  • Narrative development: It can be helpful to think about how the traumatic experience has affected the trajectory of your life and brought you to the path you are on. Your story is authentic and harnessing its power can help you find meaning in your life and share it with others.

How to Achieve Post-Traumatic Growth

These are some steps that can help you achieve post-traumatic growth, according to Angeleena Francis, LMHC, executive director for AMFM Healthcare:

  • Process the trauma: Allow yourself to process the depth of the trauma. Don’t avoid your feelings or try to suppress them. This process can be painful but it’s necessary in order for you to accept the trauma and its effects on your life. Otherwise it will remain unresolved.
  • Reflect on your beliefs: Reflect upon how the traumatic experience has reinforced or challenged your belief systems. This can help you reevaluate your core beliefs and values and understand your priorities.
  • Seek help: Even though it may seem like no one will be able to understand what you’ve been through, there are in fact trained professionals who can help. Seek support from a licensed and experienced therapist who is trained in trauma-informed care.
  • Recognize your strengths: Allow yourself to recognize your strengths, abilities, courage, and resilience that have helped you endure the traumatic experience and survive it. Remind yourself that these qualities will help you adapt to your new reality and contend with any other challenges that come your way.
  • Give it time: Initially, it may be hard for you to see any positive aspects of a traumatic experience. It will take time for you to process the negative emotions you’re experiencing and see any benefits in yourself or your situation.

Angeleena May, LMHC

Post-traumatic growth is a process that takes a significant amount of time, energy, and internal motivation.

— Angeleena May, LMHC

A Word From Verywell

While post-traumatic growth is a possibility for people who have experienced trauma, the process is often painful and difficult. Rather than minimizing their trauma or maintaining a false-sense of positivity about their circumstances, it’s important for people to process the trauma in a healthy manner, in order to learn and grow from it.

In fact, May says that therapists must also introduce the concept of post-traumatic growth slowly, mindfully, and intentionally into therapeutic practices, once the person is able to identify a positive outcome, as introducing it preemptively may invalidate the individual's traumatic experiences.

5 Sources
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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  2. American Psychological Association. Growth after trauma.

  3. Tedeschi RG, Calhoun LG. The post-traumatic growth inventory: Measuring the positive legacy of trauma. J Trauma Stress. 1996;9(3):455-471. doi:10.1007/BF02103658

  4. Wu X, Kaminga AC, Dai W, et al. The prevalence of moderate-to-high posttraumatic growth: A systematic review and meta-analysis. J Affect Disord. 2019;243:408-415. doi:10.1016/j.jad.2018.09.023

  5. Harvard Business Review. Growth after trauma.

By Sanjana Gupta
Sanjana is a health writer and editor. Her work spans various health-related topics, including mental health, fitness, nutrition, and wellness.