Do We Actually Grow From Adversity?


Published:

In our culture, there’s this idea that enduring a tragedy can be good for your personal growth. You’ll have a newfound appreciation for life. You’ll be grateful for your friends and family. You’ll learn from the experience. You’ll become more resilient.

This theme appears in media coverage, time and again, in the wake of natural disasters and terrorist attacks.

But what does the science say?

Is there actually value in pain and suffering? Was philosopher Frederich Nietzsche onto something when he said, “That which does not kill us, makes us stronger”?

A Powerful Narrative

As psychologists, we’ve been studying this question for the better part of the last decade.

We’re not the first to grapple with these questions. Psychologists Richard Tedeschi and Lawrence Calhoun have written about how, after experiencing loss or trauma, people reported feeling a greater appreciation for life, closer to their friends and family, stronger, more spiritual and more inspired. They dubbed this phenomenon “post-traumatic growth.”

The appeal of this finding is obvious. It shows there’s a silver lining to tragedy. It’s also consistent with the biblical theme of redemption, which says that all pain and suffering will ultimately lead to freedom.

The findings also help us make sense of our own lives. Psychologists have demonstrated that we like to narrate our lives in terms of the challenges we’ve confronted and the setbacks we’ve overcome. We like to believe good things can emerge from a bad turn of events because it’s often a key element of the stories we tell about our own lives.

How Can You Predict A Traumatic Event?

The cultural narrative of “growth from adversity” might sound compelling.

But our own examination of the existing research on the topic identified some red flags.

For one, it’s difficult to collect data on people before and after they’ve experienced trauma. For example, there’s no way of knowing who’s going to lose their home in a hurricane.

For this reason, most research on post-traumatic growth has asked people to estimate how much they’ve changed as a result of their trauma. While this might seem like a sensible way to assess personal growth – you might ask this question of a friend or even yourself – there are significant problems with this approach.

Studies have found that people aren’t very good at accurately remembering what they were like before a traumatic event. Or participants will say they’ve grown from the event when, in fact, they’re still struggling. Their reports of growth don’t always match what their friends and family think and may not reflect actual changes in their behaviors.

Telling others that you’ve grown might actually be a way to cope with the pain you’re still experiencing. Western culture permits little time to grieve; eventually, the expectation is that people are supposed to “get over it and move on.”

That pressure may even be embedded in the test itself; the questions typically used by trauma researchers tend to ask only about positive changes – whether the person has a newfound appreciation for their life, has pursued new goals or has become more religious. An expectation of recovery and self-improvement is baked into this line of questioning. In other cases, people may simply report that they’ve become stronger because they’re in denial about the actual pain that they are experiencing.

Yet the best-designed studies examining growth have found that how much people believed they had changed following a traumatic experience was not associated with how much they actually changed over time.

In fact, those who reported that they had experienced the most personal growth in the wake of a tragedy were more likely to be still experiencing symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder and depression.

The Jury’s Still Out

In many ways, it’s problematic to embrace the idea that personal growth and resilience are typical outcomes of adversity.

Think about what it communicates: Suffering is good in the long run, and people who have experienced trauma are stronger than those who haven’t.

But moving on from a tragedy isn’t easy. Sometimes, the trauma of certain tragedies, such as the death of a child or a spouse, never fully goes away.

And then there are those who are open about the fact that they’re struggling after a loss months, even years later. If “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger” were true, these people might be viewed as “weak,” or seen as having something “wrong” with them.

Here’s what we do know from the best science that’s been done: People can indeed grow from adversity. They can become stronger, improve the quality of their relationships and increase their self-esteem. But it probably doesn’t happen nearly as often as most people and some researchers believe.

What’s more, not everyone will grow in the same way and at the same speed. People will continue to need the help and social support of their families, friends and communities in the wake of a traumatic event. The availability of these resources actually play a big role in determining whether people do, in fact, grow.

Nor should growth be thought of as a goal for everyone. For many people, just getting back to where they were before the trauma may be an ambitious enough goal.

While it’s certainly possible for adversity to lead to new insights and wisdom, science is still unclear about the “when” and “how.”

Stories of growth stemming from trauma are certainly powerful. They can serve as inspiration for our own lives. But we need to do better research to know whether such stories are the norm or the exception.

[ Insight, in your inbox each day. You can get it with The Conversation’s email newsletter. ]The Conversation

Eranda Jayawickreme, Associate Professor of Psychology, Wake Forest University and Frank J. Infurna, Associate Professor of Psychology, Arizona State University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

See also:
To Confront Effects Of Trauma, Start With Self-Care
Self-Care Wisdom

Edit Module
Edit ModuleShow Tags
Edit Module Edit ModuleShow Tags

Daily Astrology

February 28, 2020

The Moon enters Taurus during the wee hours of the morning. By the start of the work day Luna is in an electrifying conjunction with Uranus. Watch your daredevil speed. Expect the unexpected. Fortunate lunar aspects with Mercury and Mars suggest that…
Edit ModuleShow Tags

Alternative Health Directory

Browse all listings »

Edit ModuleShow Tags
Edit ModuleShow Tags

Calendar

February 2020

With Kacey O’Donnell  Start Date: February 23, 2020   Come explore the spiritual path of Wicca! Discover more about nature, energy, magick and yourself. This 12-month course...

Cost: $1195 (Early Bird $1095)

Where:
Women of Wisdom
118 Washington Street
North Easton, MA  02356
View map »


Sponsor: Women of Wisdom
Telephone: 508-230-3680
Contact Name: Women of Wisdom
Website »

More information

The Basics Of Using Essential Oils Presenter: Kay Judge CCA Are you curious about how essential oils work and how to use them safely? This class will provide a basic understanding of the...

Cost: $25

Where:
Center for Inner Wellness
26B Main Street
Chester, MA  01011
View map »


Sponsor: Center for Inner Wellness
Telephone: 413-242-4069
Contact Name: Kay Judge
Website »

More information

Come shine with us! Join us in harmony and in our goal to bring the light of Spiritualism forward to all those who are searching.

Where:
VFW Post 2597
775 Boston Rd, Rt 3A
Billerica, MA
View map »


Sponsor: The Spiritualist Fellowship Church Of New England
Website »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...

A Fundraiser for Lucy’s Love Bus Monday February 24th at 5:30pm (Snow date: March 2nd) Join us for complimentary appetizers, free door prizes, drinks, fun music, a raffle and auction with...

Where:
Crave Restaurant
10 Water Street
Amesbury, MA
View map »


Telephone: 857-277-1984
Contact Name: Kerry
Website »

More information

With Anna DeWitte Mondays—starts 1/27 Our next new class! Join Anna (one of our recent grads) for her mild heat class! The temperature will hover around 80 degrees which helps to loosen...

Cost: $17

Where:
State of Grace Yoga & Wellness Center
104 East Hartford Ave.
Uxbridge, MA  01569
View map »


Sponsor: State of Grace Yoga and Wellness Center
Telephone: 508-278-2818
Website »

More information

Discover Beauty. Discover Goodness. Discover Yourself. Your soul’s gifts are waiting. Breathe. Find stillness. The spark you need to ignite your life is here, within. Max Meditation...

Cost: $15

Where:
Modern Mystery School Boston
132 Charles St
3rd Floor
Auburndale, MA  02466
View map »


Sponsor: Modern Mystery School Boston
Telephone: 617-694-0994
Contact Name: Jordan Bain
Website »

More information

2nd and 4th Monday of every month This psychic message circle is for anyone wishing to raise their connection using their psychic centers known as the “clairs.” Learn how to use...

Cost: $20

Where:
Messages From Heaven Healing and Learning Center
646 Central Street
Suite 3
Leominster, MA
View map »


Website »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...

Sound baths provide an opportunity to relax and journey into a healing, meditative and rejuvenating state. There is nothing you need to do, know or believe. Join us for a powerful, yet casual...

Cost: $25

Where:
Moth & Moon Studio
173 South River Rd
Suite #4
Bedford, NH  03110
View map »


Sponsor: Jeffrey Charles Warren
Contact Name: Jeffrey Charles Warren
Website »

More information

Automatic & Channel Writing — Class 2 of 3 Discussion of the process of writing and channeling. Continued writing practice and connecting practice and exercises. Discussion of...

Cost: At door $20; online reg. $15

Where:
The Healing Power of Flowers — Heaven and Earth
68 Stiles Rd, Unit A
Salem, NH  03079
View map »


Sponsor: The Healing Power of Flowers - Heaven and Earth
Telephone: 603-275-7688
Contact Name: Stacey
Website »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...

15 minutes for only $25 with some of our most popular readers! Plus, all merchandise will be 10% off too! Genevieve Hackett - Tarot or Mediumship Readings Renee Walsh - Destiny Divination...

Cost: $25

Where:
Circles of Wisdom
386 Merrimack Street, #1A
Methuen, MA  01844
View map »


Sponsor: Circles of Wisdom
Telephone: 978-474-8010
Contact Name: Cathy Kneeland
Website »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...

Join Life Coach Cheryl Richardson and her husband, Michael Gerrish, a psychotherapist and gifted intuitive, for a special evening designed to help you upgrade your life!  During this event,...

Cost: $35

Where:
Circles of Wisdom
386 Merrimack Street, #1A
Methuen, MA  01844
View map »


Sponsor: Circles of Wisdom
Telephone: 978-474-8010
Contact Name: Cathy Kneeland
Website »

More information

February 27–29 Annie Appleseed Project: all-volunteer cancer nonprofit helps people make informed decisions on lifestyle issues, complementary therapies and holistic treatments....

Where:
West Palm Beach, FL


Website »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...
No Events

Kundalini yoga and Naad yoga (the yoga of sound), are powerful tools that help us to cope with challenges, change our state, and lift us into an elevated experience. We all know what it is like...

Cost: $35, $40 at the door

Where:
Yoga At The Ashram
368 Village St.
Millis, MA  02054
View map »


Telephone: 508-376-4525
Website »

More information

Get a personal teaching for Brother Granite's new Visionary Shamanism Tarot. This class includes the new Visionary Shamanism Tarot deck as well a 90 minute one on one class with Brother Granite...

Cost: $80

Where:
407 Deans Plaza
407 Rte 44
The Enchanted Forest Taunton
Raynham, MA  02767
View map »


Sponsor: Brother Granite
Telephone: 774-208-6195
Contact Name: Granite
Website »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...
Edit ModuleShow Tags
Edit Module Edit ModuleShow Tags