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  • Kate Hoyland

Change and growth

Updated: Apr 21, 2020

Sometimes times of crisis can lead to new understanding and a sense of meaning and purpose.

Theories of post-traumatic growth point to ways in which we might find new meaning and an enriched life after adversity.

For those in the middle of difficult life circumstances or trauma, it can be hard to imagine that the resulting suffering will ever end. At such times, life can feel simply a matter of endurance, and doing what we can to live and survive.

We might have certain reactions to horrific or tragic events in our lives, such as troubling and upsetting thoughts, feelings and intrusive images. We might make attempts to avoid the distress caused by these, which might in themselves throw up other sets of problems (for example, using alcohol or drugs to numb ourselves, or avoiding people or certain places).

Distress can be also be felt and held in our bodies, for example in the form of tension, sleeplessness or illness.

All this can feel like a vicious cycle, which seems impossible to escape.

However, theories of post traumatic growth indicate that it is possible, after facing trauma, to find new meaning in life, a greater trust in oneself, and richer ways of living.

How is this possible?

Distressing circumstances can mean our previous assumptions about the world are shattered, and can lead to us questioning our previously held values and ideas about ourselves.

The psychologist Carl Rogers conceived of anxiety as resulting from a breakdown and disorganisation of the self-structure, in which significant experiences are denied and distorted. In trauma, aspects of ourselves and our lives are significantly threatened, and it can be very hard to integrate, accept and come to terms with this.

The process of reintegrating ourselves can involve re-evaluating our previous value systems, perhaps rejecting things which came from outside us, and gaining more trust in ourselves.

Rogers’ theory indicates that parts of our lives and ourselves which have broken down, can be rebuilt in ways which accord better with our own internal value systems and potential for growth.

This isn’t necessarily an easy or automatic process, and at times it might feel unbearably hard.

However, in the right circumstances, change and growth after trauma and adversity can be possible, with life taking on new and rich directions.

Reference: Rogers, CR (1959) A theory of therapy, personality, and interpersonal relationships, as developed in the client centred framework. In S Koch (ed), Psychology: A study of a science, Vol.3; Formulation of the person and the social context

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