The Difference Between Resilience and Post-Traumatic Growth

As stated in article one of this series on resiliency, according to the American Psychological Association, resiliency 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. As much as resilience involves “bouncing back” from these difficult experiences, it can also involve profound personal growth.”

In the first article, we discussed resiliency, who has it, how it is formed, and how we all can attain it. This article will focus on the differences between resilience and posttraumatic growth.

What is Post-traumatic Growth?

Although some people get resilience and posttraumatic growth confused, they are not the same animal. Resilience is the process of adapting in the face of tragedy, where posttraumatic growth refers to positive changes experienced as the result of adversity in life or a life-altering crisis.

For instance, a woman has been in an unhealthy personal relationship for ten years. She has endured much pain and suffering both emotionally and physically. The woman enters group therapy to understand why she remains in the toxic relationship and learns that she is not stuck but can leave anytime she wishes.

Finally, after several sessions with her therapy group, she decides to leave and does so. The woman finds that she can do whatever she wishes with her life outside her relationship and turns a horrendous experience into a learning one.

The woman was resilient in that she endured the process of adapting to what was happening to her by attending group therapy. Then she expressed posttraumatic growth when she actually did leave and thrived in her new environment.

Again, the difference between resilience and posttraumatic growth is that resilience speaks of the woman’s learning through group therapy sessions and how tough she is and must consider leaving her abusive relationship (adapting).

The posttraumatic growth happens during and after her ordeal when the woman left (positive change) and continues when she learns to thrive outside her former relationship (positive growth).

The Five Forms of Post-traumatic Growth

As we have seen, posttraumatic growth refers to the positive changes from experiencing life-altering crises. There are several forms posttraumatic growth can take in five general areas.

Developing a Sense of Opportunity. People who face major life crises often develop a sense that they will experience new growth opportunities. For instance, the woman in our scenario above sensed growth opportunities after emerging from her long, painful, and abusive relationship. Through learning in group therapy, she knew that there were opportunities out there to learn to live and grow.

Change in Relationship with others. Through group therapy, our woman experienced a sense of closeness with her group and an increased feeling of connection to them. She used her closeness with her group to launch her forward into trusting others outside her circle.

I Can Live Through Anything. Change in the woman’s sense of her own strength causes her to feel alive and vital again. In this state, the woman feels strong enough to finally leave her partner.

A Greater Appreciation. Our woman has learned and experienced a greater appreciation of life in general. She enjoys her life more and interacts with more people to connect with, making her feel good about herself.

A Change in Beliefs. Some people experience a deepening sense of their spiritual lives or simply experience a significant change in their belief system. Our lady may feel a deeper connection with her god of choice or, because of her traumatic experiences, decide to not worship a god but to enjoy nature. Either way, she cannot avoid dealing with her spiritual self.

Some Other Realities About Post-Traumatic Growth

Distress is typical when facing traumatic events. Many of us, when going through posttraumatic growth, face exceedingly difficult suffering. Although traumatic events are not a good thing, experiencing a life-crisis is inevitable. The difference between forming posttraumatic growth or not is how we respond to the stresses of life.

For some of us, these life-altering events do not allow the choice between suffering and growth.

Posttraumatic growth does not happen to everyone, but then again, not everyone experiences a life-changing crisis. Also, not everyone who faces trauma experiences growth.

In Closing

While resilience is the process of enduring during a personal life crisis, posttraumatic growth is the positive changes that occur during or after the crisis has passed.

Posttraumatic growth takes on several forms in five different areas. These changes involve different states of growth: developing a sense of opportunity, having a change in relationships with others, realizing that you can survive anything, better enjoyment of life in general, and having a change in a survivor’s belief system.

All five areas work together to make a person thrive after experiencing trauma.

“There is a moment in our healing journey when our denial crumbles; we realize our experience, and its continued effects on us won’t “just go away.” That’s our breakthrough moment. It’s the sun coming out to warm the seeds of hope so they can grow our personal garden of empowerment.”

References

Post-Traumatic Research Group, (2014). What is PTG? University of North Carolina, Charlotte. Retrieved from: https://ptgi.uncc.edu/what-is-ptg/

Tedeshi, R.G., & Calhoun, L.G. (2004). Posttraumatic Growth: Conceptual Foundations and Empirical Evidence. Philadelphia, PA: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

Tedeschi, R.G., & Calhoun, L.G. (1995). Trauma and Transformation: Growing in the Aftermath of Suffering. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

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