If you told most people that after a traumatic event, they could feel stronger, more open to new experiences, more appreciative of life, a deepened sense of spirituality and closer, more authentic relationships, they might tell you that it sounds unbelievable.
But according to the authors of The Posttraumatic Growth Workbook Richard Tedeschi and Brett Moore, what I am describing is indeed very real, and very relevant.
In the mind-nineties, Tedeschi and Lawrence Calhoun identified posttraumatic growth as “the positive psychological change that results from the attempt to find new meaning following a traumatic event.”
Since then, several others, such as Nassim Nicholas Taleb (Antifragile), Tim Harford, (Adapt), and Ryan Holiday (The Obstacle Is The Way) have written about the ways in which adversity, challenges, obstacles and trauma can make us stronger, more resourceful and more able to adapt in the face of challenges.
The Posttraumatic Workbook: Coming Through Trauma Stronger, Wiser, And More Resilient is designed to show us just how we can learn and use the powerful concepts of posttraumatic growth to our advantage.
Tedeschi and Moore begin by saying that struggling with life’s losses and tragedies can help humans develop in ways that would not have been possible without them. The concept of growth through adversity, they remind readers, is centuries old.
“From the ancient Greeks to today, tragedy has been a common theme in many great works of literature,” they write.
And the concept of posttraumatic growth is backed up with research. According to the authors, studies show that sixty percent of people who experience trauma also report posttraumatic growth. And posttraumatic growth doesn’t only exist in the absence of posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) either. In fact, it is many of the same challenges that create PTSD that also set the stage for posttraumatic growth. And while trauma can be debilitating, posttraumatic growth will not eliminate suffering.
According to the authors, psychological distress following trauma is not an abnormal reaction, but rather a normal reaction to an abnormal event. The symptoms of trauma can include anger, frustration, mood swings, racing thoughts, disorientation, impulsive behavior, fatigue and headaches. To help readers identify their symptoms, the authors present exercises such as describing the traumatic event in detail and labeling the emotional, physical, mental and behavioral symptoms. They also provide a comprehensive definition of PTSD complimented by several helpful exercises to identify the risk factors, maintenance factors and protective factors that influence it.
Of particular importance is the way trauma affects a person’s brain.
“Just as the city comes to a halt when its infrastructure is damaged, so it is with your brain in the aftermath of trauma: without it functioning the way it should, you come to a halt,” they write.
It is this halt, however, that incites the process of reflective thinking, which leads to a re-examination of the beliefs about the self, others, and the world – what is known as the assumptive world – and allows trauma survivors to constructively develop a new belief system in the aftermath of trauma. This new belief system – a rebuilding of the infrastructure – will make a person more resilient much as it would make a city more resilient to future disasters.
“Posttraumatic growth is the reconstruction of your belief system into a new system that did not even exist in any substantial form in the past,” write the authors.
While Tedeschi and Moore incorporate several helpful exercises to identify core beliefs and the ways in which they have been challenged, they also offer numerous exercises to identify the emotions that accompany a traumatic event, as well as specific exercises to take control of them. For example, in an exercise called imagery, they suggest finding a quiet place and creating a vision of a safe, comfortable and peaceful place as a way to temporarily leave the harsh reality that trauma often leaves in its wake. The authors also provide helpful exercises to become a neutral observer of some of the troublesome thoughts that can follow trauma. Readers are asked to evaluate and challenge the evidence for such thoughts, and eventually to create more realistic thoughts.
The work of facilitating and encouraging posttraumatic growth begins by first recognizing our strengths, such as those that we used to cope with the trauma, our family strengths, relationship strengths and positive coping mechanisms – and then building upon them. It’s important to note, however, that this work cannot take place without compassion and companionship. Of particular importance, write the authors, is an “expert companion.”
As expert companions walk with us along the path of posttraumatic growth, helping us sort out what to believe and offering guidance where it is needed, they also help us recognize some of posttraumatic growth’s most profound gifts – gratitude, an openness to new experiences, a more authentic sense of purpose, deepened relationships and a strength we’ve never known. Ultimately, as we look back and venture forward, we may find that the path never taken is the path we should have been on all along.
Filled with exercises, tips, and helpful guidance, The Posttraumatic Growth Workbook is a gift for anyone coping with trauma, ultimately helping them see that not only can they make it through trauma, but they can be stronger for it.
The Posttraumatic Growth Workbook: Coming Through Trauma Wiser, Stronger, And More Resilient
Richard G. Tedeschi, PhD and Bret A. Moore, PsyD, ABPP
New Harbinger Publications (2016)
Softcover, 166 Pages