It is believed that every stressful or disturbing incident/ accident leaves a mark behind. The effects are not solely physical but also emotional and psychological. The medical term for this is “Post Traumatic Stress Disorder”. These upsetting feelings and anxieties don’t go away, with symptoms which can be both physical (fatigue, racing heartbeat, aches, nightmares and insomnia) and emotional (denial, confusion, anger, guilt, shame withdrawal, helplessness or depression).
While every individual has a completely different approach to coping with the recollections of an unwanted event, we have a tendency to overlook one important aspect. While many people succumb to these disasters, others are are able to thrive from it.
Jean Rhodes & Mary Waters, both professors of psychology, and principal investigator of the Resilience in Survivors of Katrina (RISK) project, were able to collect data both before and after the Katrina disaster, thus providing valuable information on how, amidst the tragedy, people were still able to find hope and optimism.
The post-traumatic growth inventory
The post-traumatic growth inventory, as published in The Journal of Traumatic Stress, 1996, gives us an evaluation tool by which growth of an individual, after a traumatic event, can be evaluated using their response in the following five areas:
1: Relationships with others
2: New possibilities in life
3: Personal strength
4: Spiritual change
5: Appreciation of life
The responses of individuals may vary depending on various financial, social, economic and personal factors.
The studies on Post Traumatic Growth or (PTG) are relatively new and we continue to see new developments with time. There could be instances where people might see the positive side, only to feel later doomed with loss and helplessness, or the other way around.
The following video narrates the journey of Kay Wilson, who has known a prolonged and distressing situation that the majority of us can never imagine; yet she uses this event to create a new beginning for her life. Her story is one that will inspire all to discover what it really means to live life to the full and how, against all odds, it is possible to find hope in the darkest of places.
“Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.”― Viktor E. Frankl, “Man’s Search for Meaning”
Resilience is an important factor in determining how different people look at their circumstances. Being resilient should not be mistaken with having a superpower where no adversity will have an effect. “Resilience is the process of adapting well in the face of adversity, trauma, tragedy, threats or significant sources of stress — such as family and relationship problems, serious health problems or workplace and financial stressors. It means ‘bouncing back’ from difficult experiences.”
Resilience is an ongoing process, and everyone incorporates a capability to develop it. The capacity to remain calm during crises and carrying on with daily activities may sound difficult but not unthinkable. Some people emerge from adversities much stronger.
A story published in the NYTimes, in 2012 , takes us through the journey of a soldier, injured in a bomb blast diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder. He contemplated suicide at one point, later finding solace by building resilience.
“This whole experience has helped me to be more open, more flexible. I am branching out to activities that I was once uncomfortable with.”
Traditionally, the results of trauma were always evaluated as PTSD, with no other outcomes foreseen. But with the recent surge in research in this field, it has turned out that there is no absolute predictable outcome of trauma. People may drift from one zone to other and the journey of recovery and rising again is different for different people.
However, dealing with trauma is a very sensitive and intimate experience and there is no right or wrong way of addressing it. Where some individuals develop full blown PTSD related to these experiences, some may also experience post-traumatic growth. Each ought to be equally accepted, and a person should be given time and space to heal and recover. This broader understanding of how individuals deal with a traumatic circumstance provides clinicians with a wider collection of resources to help patients survive, cope and even blossom when it comes to trauma and suffering.