As a psychotherapist, I've met plenty of clients who experienced debilitating symptoms after a traumatic event. Whether they'd endured a horrific act of violence, or they'd survived a tragic accident, they suffered symptoms ranging from nightmares to mood instability.
I've also encountered plenty of people whose lives were actually better following a traumatic experience. Many of them report feeling happier, healthier and more hopeful after a major crisis.
This positive change experienced by survivors is called posttraumatic growth. Studies estimate that about half to two-thirds of survivors of a catastrophic event report experiencing growth as a result of their trauma.
That's not to imply that they didn't suffer after a traumatic event, because just like everyone else they too experience a great deal of distress. But, their major life crisis puts them on a path to a better, more fulfilling life.
Two pioneers in the area of posttraumatic growth, Richard Tedeschi, Ph.D. and Lawrence Calhoun, Ph.D., identified how people grow from trauma. Here are five things you could gain from adversity:
1. You could gain a new appreciation of life.
A near death experience or a major loss can serve as a good reminder that life is valuable and time is precious. Surviving something horrific may give you a better appreciation of the 'little' things in life, like looking at a colorful flower or hearing a child laugh.
2. You may build mental strength.
Surviving a stressful life experience could teach you that you're mentally stronger than you once thought. Enduring tough times provides an opportunity to draw on inner strength you never knew existed. Overwhelming hardship may serve as a reminder that everyone is vulnerable to tragedy, but you're emotionally equipped to cope with whatever life throws your way.
3. You may experience better relationships.
Enduring a tragic experience may strain some of your relationships. But, hardships can also help you grow closer to others. A crisis can serve as an opportunity to see who is really there for you during life's toughest challenges. You may experience a deeper sense of connection with those who matter to you the most.
4. You could recognize new possibilities.
Tragedy can also open your eyes to a new found purpose in life. A person who survives an act of domestic violence may become an advocate for other victims. Or, someone who loses a family member to a disease may devote their time to raising money for research. Adversity may help you discover opportunities you never knew existed.
5. You may undergo a spiritual change.
A reminder of your mortality may cause you think differently about your spiritual beliefs. Your faith may be strengthened or you may experience a better understanding of spiritual matters. Regardless of your beliefs, a life-altering event may help you find new meaning in life.
Thriving Vs. Surviving
There's a good chance you'll experience some type of trauma during your life--studies estimate 75 percent of people will endure a tragic event at one time or another. But the good news is, a life crisis won't necessarily make your life worse.
There are several factors that influence growth following a traumatic event. Modifying your core beliefs, learning skills to reduce psychological distress, and thinking about yourself as a survivor are just a few of the ways a trained professional can help you experience positive change following a life altering event.