Post Traumatic Stress Disorder: A condition of persistent mental and emotional stress occurring as a result of injury or severe psychological shock
Post Traumatic Growth: Positive psychological change experienced as a result of adversity and other challenges in order to rise to a higher level of functioning
Although both stem from stressful life events, there are many differences between Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and Post Traumatic Growth.
The most significant difference is the end result.
Post Traumatic Growth is a theory that explains transformation following trauma. Developed by psychologists Richard Tedeschi and Lawrence Calhoun in the 1990s, it says that people who endure psychological struggle following adversity can often see positive growth afterward. They develop new understanding of themselves, the world, how to relate to other people, and the kind of future they might have.
To evaluate Post Traumatic Growth, psychologists may look for positive responses in the individual’s appreciation of life, relationships with others, new possibilities in life, personal strength, and spiritual change.
Although it may fluctuate, PTG seems to remain generally stable over time. That doesn’t mean the individual doesn’t have good days and bad days, but it does show a general positive trend.
As described by the American Psychiatric Association, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder is a psychiatric disorder that may occur in people who have experienced or witnessed a traumatic event such as a natural disaster, a serious accident, a terrorist act, war/combat, or rape or who have been threatened with death, sexual violence, or serious injury.
People with PTSD have intense, disturbing thoughts and feelings related to their experience that last long after the traumatic event has ended. They may:
- Relive the event through flashbacks or nightmares
- Feel sadness, fear, or anger
- Feel detached or estranged from other people
- Avoid situations or people that remind them of the traumatic event
- Have strong negative reactions to something as ordinary as a loud noise or an accidental touch
In the past, PTSD was known as “shell shock” or “combat fatigue” in reference to what veterans may experience after war, but it can happen to anyone after any type of traumatic event.
In fact, according to the American Psychiatric Association, PTSD affects 3.5 percent of U.S. adults every year, and about one in 11 people will be diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder in their lifetime.
Many people who are exposed to a traumatic event experience similar symptoms in the days following the event. For a person to be diagnosed with PTSD, however, symptoms must last for more than a month and must cause significant distress or problems in the individual’s daily functioning. Symptoms may appear later and often persist for months and sometimes years.
PTSD often occurs with other related conditions, such as depression, substance use, memory problems, and other physical and mental health problems.
The Difference Between Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and Post Traumatic Growth
Hope. Growth. Support. Resiliency.
These four words are key factors in the difference between Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and Post Traumatic Growth.
While PTSD is symptomatic with feelings such as disillusionment, anxiety, depression, and stress, PTG is about having growth after the trauma.
Without positive resources when you’re experiencing PTSD symptoms, people often turn to drugs, alcohol, or even suicide. Essentially, without support and growth, a traumatic event may lead to PTSD; the goal is to instead turn the negative event into clarity that results in a positive outlook.
Marc and Alisa Seyburn, founders of the Shelby Jane Seyburn Foundation, said the general population has heard a lot about PTSD, but in recent decades, increasingly more information has been produced about growth from trauma.
People find it comforting to know that after a difficult situation, they can grow from trauma, and that they can find positivity in life physically, mentally, and spiritually, they said.
You can have valleys. In fact, gaining strength through the dark moments is an important part of the Post Traumatic Growth process. With hope, support, and resiliency, those who have experienced a tragic event know that they don’t have to continue to suffer. They have faith that things will get better and that they can go on to build productive lives — even though those lives might look different than they did before.
The types of resources that are helpful may vary from person to person, but they may come in forms such as meditation, praying, talking walks, and mindfulness techniques.
“The worst thing that could happen is the loss of a child. My initial response was that I wasn’t going to survive it,” Alisa said, adding that many people go away from God after trauma. “For me, God was a source for my strength and hope.”
“A lot of people don’t want to admit that they’ve gone through growth because they feel guilty that they’re OK,” the Seyburns said, “but it doesn’t mean you don’t go through the pain. It doesn’t mean you lose the pain.”
Instead, for a lot of people, it’s about learning to live a new life.
When you have growth — physically, mentally, or spiritually — you can continue to cherish the positive aspects of the past while rebuilding your future.