Friday, November 22, 2013

Post-Traumatic Growth

A couple of months ago I was watching a series of TED Talks on Netflix. One featured a game designer named Jane McGonigal. I almost turned it off, as I’m not a gamer and didn’t think I would agree with her premise that gaming can increase your quality of life. I’m glad I didn’t.

McGonigal shared a story of feeling depressed and suicidal as she was healing from a severe head injury. In an effort to get through her ordeal, she decided to turn it into a game, whereby she would collect points or ‘power-ups’ for doing simple things like getting out of bed and walking around the block. She invited others in her online community to play as well, and a number of people who were also undergoing some sort of trauma, such as a life-threatening illness, decided to join in.

She shared that this experience seemed to help those playing and that many reported dramatic improvements in their mood and outlook. She said there was some science behind this phenomenon, that it actually had a name: post traumatic growth.

Some people, she said, get stronger and happier after a traumatic event. At this point she had my full attention.

She went on to list the five things that people who have experienced post-traumatic growth say:
  1. My priorities have changed. I’m not afraid to do what make me happy
  2. I feel closer to my friends and family
  3. I understand myself better. I know who I really am now.
  4. I have a new sense of meaning and purpose in my life.
  5. I’m better able to focus on my goals and dreams.
In short, she said that post traumatic growth enabled a person to live a life with fewer regrets.

I was quite stunned as I listened to her describe all this. You see, not three days earlier, I had put up my post entitled Why I Don’t Regret Any of It, in which I listed all the gifts I had gained as a result of undergoing trauma. And the list I put up mirrored the list above, in some cases almost verbatim.

Just…wow.

Since then I have scoured the internet looking for more information on post-traumatic growth. There is not a lot of research on the subject, but what I found was fascinating.

There is so much emphasis and focus on post-traumatic stress. Indeed, it exists and is debilitating. I know that from my own experience and that of several of my friends. But I love the promise of potential inherent in the concept of post-traumatic growth. It suggests that trauma can be like a tsunami which rolls in and decimates the life we have built, but, when the wave subsides, leaves behind some unexpectedly beautiful gifts. And as we stand blinking on the shoreline, taking in the altered landscape, we need only look down at our feet and collect the gifts left in its wake.

I find this tremendously exciting.

I've included a link to McGonigal’s talk, if you'd like to watch it yourself. I’m still skeptical that gaming will help us achieve these benefits, but that’s my bias. You can chalk that up to my age.






I’m curious whether anyone else has heard of post-traumatic growth. Or, for that matter, experienced it.







13 comments:

  1. Kirrily from Sunny Side UpNovember 22, 2013 at 10:40 PM

    Wow. The tsunami metaphor really resonates right now. Right behind (beside?) you on this one, Kristin! I've certainly experienced it although, after experiencing another bout of PTS I'm discovering coming out of it just how different it is to experience without the added pall of grief. Interesting, strange and something I'm consciously embracing fully this time. Willingly. Because I know, ultimately, I'm very privileged to receive these growth experiences.

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    1. Growth experiences...I love that. That's exactly what they are. I love that you are embracing that (and I'm not at all surprised). Tragedy, for all its pain, can be a springboard into transformation.

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  2. That's an interesting perspective. I would never have had the courage to change my life the way I have and take the risks I have if it hadn't been for my traumatic experiences. Once you've reached as low as you can go, nothing is insurmountable.

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    1. Yes, when your worst fears come true, there's not much left to fear, is there? That deliverance from the fear of failure is empowering.

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  3. There's a lot of truth to the saying, what doesn't destroy you makes you stronger...

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    1. Steve, just last night I downloaded a book on post-traumatic growth. The title is, "What doesn't kill you", based on the same Nietzche quote!

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  4. Post-traumatic growth. I really like the term, it encapsulates beautifully what I've experienced myself.
    Like the image of a phoenix burning to ashes - a rather traumatic experience I would think - only to be reborn again: more vibrant still, stronger, truer. Thank you so much for sharing this.

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    1. I love the image of the phoenix. Even though 'phoenix rising' has become somewhat of a hackneyed phrase, I still find the imagery itself to be incredibly powerful. I'm glad you've had that experience as well.

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  5. Ahh, I feel almost high after reading this. High with relief and reassurance, and also though, a realisation that I knew this. I've known this all along I just haven't had words for it. Like, obviously transformation follows trauma. Obviously. It just - in my eyes - kinda makes sense. It's just a hard truth to swallow when all you want is for the shit to never have happened in the first freakin' place. But when everything you've ever known - your foundations on which you built your life, your coping mechanisms, your definition of love, your beliefs and theories about the world, life, relationships - gets stripped away, it only makes sense that this would then get built back up and you come back stronger and more kick ass, because the trauma - particularly severe and intense trauma - means you kinda have to. Theres no other way, because what you knew before isn't relevant or true anymore. Of course, you don't have to...you could just snort whiskey and eat donuts, but eventually I feel like as human beings our instinct is survival, and whiskey and donuts only take us so far. We then have to find a new way of living because after severe trauma, the old way of living just doesn't seem doable. And isn't. For me anyway. I try it sometimes. I dabble with a day or afternoon or minute of being how I was and who i was and I realise it SO isn't for me. It doesn't work anymore. I want and deserve love, and the way I was living want love. It was survival and it was Pain. The pain (a different kinda pain - healing pain) of the unknown, the pain of this journey of building myself up, is worth the uncertainties and total terror of where I'm headed and who Im becoming, because in the moments I get glimpses into who and how I am, and glimpses at the foundations that I've been slowly building this last year and a half, I realise I completely love myself and all that comes with me. It is totally the road I need and want to go down

    I motherfucking HATE that I have so much trauma, and I'm not fucking saying its okay - because it isn't - but the quote I'm carrying with me a lot at the moment, is the one 'we acquire the strength we've overcome'...and in that case, I'm motherfucking badass. Trauma isn't okay, but the transformation and the growth that comes with it is beautiful. I feel totally in a place of anger at all that's happened, and overwhelm too, but if I allow myself to know I deserve the growth that comes from this, then I feel complete gratitude too. I feel like its a journey of knowing we deserve this.
    I love that I found this piece and have this phrase to hold onto now. Thank you.
    Wrote a post about this - ish - the other day, called 'The New You'. Check it out, I think you'll like. Big love to you. X

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    1. I'm glad you also found something of merit in this. You know, I started reading a book this morning on post-traumatic growth. In the introduction, the author tells the story of a pastor who lost his 15-year old son. The man talks about how he has become a better pastor as a result of his loss, better able to connect with others and extend compassion. He adds, however, that if he could, he would trade all of it back to have his son again. He acknowledges the growth, but at the same time the loss is still there, and still very painful. It sounds something like what you're articulating above. Hugs to you. x

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    2. Ah, yes - that is exactly what I'm meaning and beautifully - and heartbreakingly - put. I think for so long I always yabbered on about how I was grateful for all that I'd been through because it made me who I am/was and it made me have all this knowledge and understanding that I wouldn't have had, had I not been through it all. But now, as I am healing and really looking at the stuff and allowing myself to have the feelings I never got a chance to have, I'm like FUCK THAT. This shit should NOT happen. It just should not. Kids should not go through what I went through. Adults should not go through what I went through. Yes it's beautiful, fucking stunning in fact, what's come out of it, but the other day I remember writing that I would not want to take it all away but I would want to take chunks of it away so it feels more manageable and less overwhelming...that would do just nicely. Trauma brings such beautiful transformation and an ability to cultivate compassion in a way that I truly believe you cannot know unless you've been there, but there's a fucking limit. And I feel like, sometimes, I've reached mine. But I also see that beneath that is a strength that I got through that, so I can get through this. And it wouldn't have all happened if I couldn't handle the healing. Which I can, and I will. I just sometimes forget that by looking at our history of what we've overcome, is a big old fat testament to our strength...something we use to 'do' the healing process :)
      Big love to you. Again. x

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  6. That post dear K, is such a great one to read & note. What a good term " post stress growth" I'm so pleased it resonated & more for you via Ted. I dip in & out of TedTalks & find something I learn in each. I'm going to share this post too, k. My life was a stress filled one via a number of life changing negative events & over the 10 years since, I now marvel at my human capacity to recover & in fact, thankful for what's been given to me now as a result. Great reading here again, happy thanksgiving! Denyse xx

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    1. Hi Denyse, amazing how many of us can identify with this. I'm glad you've found something of lasting value in your own experiences. Thanks, too, for the Thanksgiving wishes. Looking forward to it. Just a few days away!

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