Updated: Nov 9, 2020
The matter of personal growth following adversity or trauma, namely the concept of posttraumatic growth (PTG) is relatively unknown and under researched within the psychological arena. However, the persistent occurrence of the idea of meaning derived from threatening circumstances and suffering is ingrained in human narratives and philosophy.
Why after adversity some people remain highly dysfunctional whereas others go on to develop personal power and ability to move on with their lives?
The empowering experience derived from struggle with trauma and anxiety has a long and complex history and is a theme found in ancient literature, philosophy as well as in religious texts and motifs. Perhaps, the clearest suggestion of PTG in written text that most will be able to recognise comes from Nietzche's popular phrase: "That which does not kill us makes us stronger".
There are numerous debates regarding the accuracy of his statement. Many believe the contrary view that what does not kill you makes you weaker and that a history of hardship is not a life asset and that people have developed ways to try to ease their suffering, one of which is bestowing upon its transformative powers. Others believe that those who go through tough experiences are presented with a chance to develop an ability to cope with difficult situations in the future and that simply because a misfortunate has happened to someone does not mean that they are condemned to be damaged from then on.
Among the most expressive defenders of the idea of positive changes following adversity was the Austrian neurologist and psychiatrist Viktor Frankl. His book “Man’s Search for Meaning” chronicles his experiences as a Holocaust survivor, the loss of his family and his struggle to survive. Frankl developed logotherapy and taught about the two-sided face of suffering – while there might be nothing inherently good in misfortune, it might be possible to extract something good out of that misfortune.
“The way in which a man accepts his fate and all the suffering it entails, the way in which he takes up his cross, gives him ample opportunity- even under the most difficult circumstances – to add a deeper meaning to his life”. Victor Frankl
Psychological Therapy is a PTG and a Personal Empowering Resource
The concept of humans’ persistent strive towards inner richness of potential and well-being is one of the principal notions in the history of psychology. It shows us that individual differences and characteristics in the way people cope with their personal trauma, as well as their social context can determine positive or negative outcomes. Effective psychological therapy can support and encourage this cognitive processing which can in turn lead to personal empowerment and growth.
Frankl, V. E. (1984). Man's search for meaning: An introduction to logotherapy. New York: Simon & Schuster.