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Trauma: Is It A Life Sentence?

Deep down inside we all tend to believe that nothing bad will ever happen to us. We assume that the world will continue to exist as it is now. We call this our "assumptive world". When we are faced with an unpredictable, traumatic event, suddenly our assumptive world is shattered. Life does not always go the way we expect it to go.

Trauma can be defined as "a stressor that is generally outside the range of usual human experience that would evoke significant symptoms of distress in most people." A later definition expanded to include the subjective experience or perception of the event.

The idea that trauma inevitably leads to a damaged, dysfunctional life has been turned upside down by some exciting and groundbreaking research that was conducted by psychologists Tedeschi and Calhoun in the mid 1990's at the University of North Carolina. These two researchers coined the phrase "Post Traumatic Growth" (PTG). After interviewing thousands of trauma survivors, they discovered that 30-70% of them reported at least some form of benefit following the difficult experience. Simply defined, post traumatic growth is "the experience of positive change that occurs as a result of the struggle with highly challenging life crises."

In his book "What Doesn't Kill Us", Stephen Joseph tells us that PTG emerges gradually over time. PTG is not the opposite of PTSD, but can happen simultaneously with PTSD. Growth happens as a result of the emotional struggle, not despite it. PTG can be seen as a PROCESS of change, not just the OUTCOME.

PTG is a way of creating new meaning for ourselves after a trauma experience. To paraphrase Viktor Frankl, "It's not what happens to us, but rather the meaning we make of what happens to us."

With the help of a good therapist and a flexible, optimistic attitude, your trauma does not have to define you for the rest of your life. You can cultivate a "growth mindset". This is the belief that change is possible and that change is an opportunity to grow. You can "re-author" your life and write a new hopeful and resilient ending.

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