Broken But Stronger

The world breaks everyone, and afterward, some are strong at the broken places. - Ernest Hemingway

We all know about Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).  But do you know about Post Traumatic Growth (PTG)? If you’ve ever met a cancer survivor who says cancer was the best thing that ever happened to them, then you’re seeing the benefits of PTG.

Studies of Post Traumatic Growth have shown that 30% to 90% of people report some positive changes following trauma. This, however, is not implying traumatic loss is not loss. Suffering of this magnitude changes a person’s life forever. For some it changes it for the worst. But others seem more resilient and emerge, forever altered, and yet, with new found strength.

Pictured is Canadian athlete,Terry Fox, who lost his leg to cancer and then ran across Canada to earn money for people with cancer and cancer research. He is quoted as saying, “I remember promising myself that should I live, I would rise up to meet this challenge face to face and prove myself worthy of life.”

University of Connecticut psychologist and cancer survivor, Keith Bellizzi, did a study of surviving cancer patients’ thoughts about legacy. He says that, “All the survivors studied were more likely than those without cancer to forge a new life path reflecting their core values. Those reporting the most altered perspective ‘expressed an increased awareness of the fragility of life and the value of loved ones,’ he reports. ‘They also said they had learned not to worry about little annoyances.’"

And it’s not just values that change after trauma. Although it can be hard to quantify personal growth, one of the better known scales, the Post-traumatic Growth Inventory (PTGI) analyzes 21 factors relating to optimism and resilience after suffering great loss. They relate to: Seeing New Possibilities, Relating to Others, Gaining Personal Strength, Experiencing Spiritual Change, and Deepening the Appreciation of Life.

So what makes some experience PTG, while others do not? In this article, Traumatic Growth, What Makes the Difference? Author Diane Dreher, Ph.D, isolates the four characteristics of what she calls “Super Survivors.”

She says they:

  • See beyond superficial “positive thinking.”
  • Connect with their deepest values.
  • Believe in the power of their choices to control destiny
  • Combine goals and strategic problem-solving with a powerful sense of hope and possibility.

Is there a way to become one of the lucky resilient people? Factors like optimism and extroversion were found to contribute to experiencing PTG, but it seems therapy can also play an essential role. In this study psychologists looked at using mindful based stress reduction techniques and healing arts to help cultivate PTG in cancer patients. Mindful stress reduction techniques were found to be the most effective, but healing arts also helped patients enhance spirituality and reduce stress, depression, and anger (compared to control groups).

So if you are suffering a great loss or trauma, know there is hope.  Go to therapy. And believe in the power of choice to reshape your destiny.  

As Terry Fox said, “Don’t wait until you lose a leg or get some awful disease. Take the time to find out what kind of stuff you are made of. Start now.”

Human Unlimited
Human Unlimited