Most of us are familiar with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and how it rewires the brain and disrupts someone’s life to believe the world is no longer safe anywhere and never will be again.
The symptoms of PTSD are as varied as those who suffer from it. Some have highly sensitive reactivity and flashbacks, while others may experience this and also have emotional numbing and feeling estranged or separated from others.
One event or layers of trauma can accumulate and erode a sense of well-being if left untreated or misunderstood. Perhaps there has been no better example of post-traumatic stress for everyone on the planet than the year 2020.
With layers of traumas from the pandemic to injustices, fires, and natural disasters—few were spared from the aftermath of what felt like an apocalyptic year. Even those who pretended to be oblivious and avoided the warnings or were irritated by the events may not realize these are also symptoms of acute stress that can develop into PTSD.
Post-traumatic emotions or physiologic reactivity is not a one-size-fits-all manifestation, nor is their treatment modality. Trauma is not a competition. No one feels the same trauma in the same way, but there is hope and help for the debilitating aftereffects.
Education is a great place to start unraveling the tangled web of emotional and physical negativity. Positively processing what has happened in the past can lead you to a better future. For some, this may take a great deal of time, but it is worth the effort, so trauma doesn’t have to define you, but it can refine you in unexpected ways.
Paradoxically, trauma is one of the ugliest and disempowering yet most beautiful and powerful of teachers. There is much to be gained in spite of the loss.
Few have heard of Post Traumatic Growth (PTG), but there is such a thing. Flashbacks, triggers, anxiety, hypervigilance, and all of the other constellation of symptoms of PSTD are there to keep us safe, but we can play it so safe we do ourselves harm by avoiding and mistrusting.
Embracing the reactivity momentarily to find out what is truly being expressed can help us to recognize and neutralize unwelcome symptoms. It is said, “you have to feel it to heal it,” and this is what PTG is all about.
There are several exemplary books on the subject that can help you to work away from trauma and on to a better life, no longer tethered or anchored to the past. It really should be called PAST traumatic stress because the symptoms usually occur long after the events and can worsen over time, but it doesn’t have to be this way.
As a therapist, I assist others in finding growth after trauma, and it can be arduous if there is resistance. Still, it can also be rewarding once the resistance gives way to exploring how this may have made you a better or wiser person in some way.
People who have been through similar severe traumas sometimes have more compassion for one another as there is camaraderie and support in the survival experiences.
Table of Contents
- 1. The Posttraumatic Growth Workbook: Coming Through Trauma Wiser, Stronger, and More Resilient
- 2. The Pocket Guide to the Polyvagal Theory: The Transformative Power of Feeling Safe
- 3. Upside: The New Science of Post-Traumatic Growth
- 4. Posttraumatic Growth: Theory, Research, and Applications
- 5. The Post-Traumatic Growth Guidebook: Practical Mind-Body Tools to Heal Trauma, Foster Resilience and Awaken Your Potential
One of the most popular researchers and authors on the subject of PTG is Richard Tedeschi, PhD, and he joined with another leader in the field, Bret A. Moore, to write “The Posttraumatic Growth Workbook.”
It is more than a book to be read and absorbed; it is a hands-on, customized workbook to help the student move past the past in a step-by-step guide.
As a therapist or trauma survivor, I can’t emphasize enough how important physical reactivity is as a key component to keeping you stuck in fight/flight/frozen or panic mode. The vagus nerve is a parasympathetic system to our autonomic nervous system. Vagus means to wander in Latin, and this nerve system is huge and comes out of our brain stem, through our face, into our throat, and is attached to all of our vital organs.
The same thing that takes your breath away when you see the Grand Canyon is the same reaction you get when you feel like you are suffocating when having a panic attack. Fear and excitement do the same thing to our bodies. The difference is the former is related to a positive emotion and the latter a negative one.
Growing out of fearful responses to reframing them into exciting ways to achieve or find a broader purpose is possible.
There is much neuroscience to PTSD and PTG, and Stephen Porges, PhD, is a pioneer in the field and has written many scientific groundbreaking articles in his career. For those of us who need a simple guide without having to be a neuroscientist, Dr. Porges wrote “The Pocket Guide to The Polyvagal Theory; The Transformative Power of Feeling Safe.”
“Upside: The New Science of Post Traumatic Growth” by Jim Rendon is another PTG work from a journalist who has the first-hand experience with trauma and offers a guide of encouragement to those looking at how to grow upward from their trauma instead of hiding in the shadows of them.
For those who are more inclined to like the clinical approach, the gold standard work, “Post Traumatic Growth: Theory, Research and Applications” is a comprehensive book.
Richard Tedeschi, PhD and Lawrence Calhoun, PhD are recognized for the term PTG and joined with authors Jane Shakespeare-Finch, PhD and Kanako Taku, PhD to bring about an experiential and empirical research-driven understanding to the subject of PTG and how to help others to achieve it.
5. The Post-Traumatic Growth Guidebook: Practical Mind-Body Tools to Heal Trauma, Foster Resilience and Awaken Your Potential
by Arielle Schwartz
Arielle Schwartz also offers a unique holistic resource titled, “The Post-Traumatic Growth Guidebook: Practical Mind-Body Tools to Heal Trauma, Foster Resilience, and Awaken Your Potential.”
Everyone has potential in spite of the pain. The root word of potential is “potent,” and you can become more powerful if you have help, and all of these books will help you heal. Pain is also there to teach us something.
PTG is to the mind as breaking a bone is to the body. The pain forces us to rest the brokenness to heal back to wholeness, and it takes time. However, at the point of the break, the bone becomes stronger and more resilient and protected. We can do this with our post-traumatic stress, too.
No longer does anyone have to live in bondage to the past. PTG is coming out of survival mode into revival mode, and these books are a good place to start.