No life is free from challenges, stress or hardship such as losing a loved one, home or job. And when such events hit, they have the potential to change the course of someone’s future forever. But not necessarily always for the worse. Adversity can be a positive, it can recalibrate a person’s perspective for the better, and even enable them to thrive.

According to Martin Seligman, Director of the Penn Positive Psychology Center, the human reaction to hardship is bell-shaped. On the left hand side, you have the people who fall apart and often spiral into depression. In the middle, you have the majority of people, who are resilient, and as such, after they go through a tough time, they often bounce back to their set-point (where they were initially) a few months later. And then there are those on the far right hand side, who go through a devastating experience but after a year or so they’re stronger than they ever were before.

In a study of people, who had lost a loved one, 70 to 80% reported finding some benefit from their experience (Tennen & Affleck, 1999). In another study, 2/3 of breast cancer survivors reported that their lives were better after developing the disease as it encouraged them to reprioritise what was important e.g. spending time with family over work, devoting more time to significant relationships and spending less time on things like housework (Taylor, Lichtman & Wood, 1984).

I am better off healed than I ever was unbroken

Beth Moore

Post Traumatic Growth (PTG) is the term that refers to a positive personality change or transformation following traumatic life events. It was first coined in the 1990s by Richard Tedeschi and Lawrence Calhoun, from the University of Carolina, and is becoming more popular as Positive Psychology and resilience have been gaining momentum in today’s society.

According to Seligman, who has researched PTG extensively including in the US Army, whilst grief may still be there, PTG allows people to look forward in life, to see a silver lining, instead of being stuck in their past. PTG culminates as a shift in mindset and is not impacted by the personality types or traits of an individual.

The transformation that can occur following PTG includes:

  • Renewed belief in the ability to endure and prevail
  • Improved relationships
  • Greater sense of compassion for others who suffer
  • Deeper, more sophisticated and more satisfying philosophy of life. (Tedeschi & Calhoun, 2004)

That which does not kill me, makes me stronger

Friedrich Nietzsche (or Kanye West)

There is nothing good about tragedy and loss, but PTG can offer encouraging news to those facing hardships and crises – not only can you and your loved ones survive, but you and they may thrive in the future.

Yet it goes without saying that it takes effort and perseverance to overcome any trauma. Although it’s not your fault, your healing is ultimately your responsibility.

For more information on PTG you can watch this video featuring Sonja Lyubomirsky, a renowned psychologist, professor, and author, who also researches in this space.