It is desirable and motivating to think that adversity makes us more resistant. That we will emerge stronger from this crisis. That these exceptional circumstances will bring out our best part. That we will test our emotional strength and develop new psychological tools to improve our life.
There is no doubt that this will be the case for many people. There are those who respond very well under pressure. Many people will be able to expand their limits. Get to know each other better. Discover new qualities or an unsuspected strength. However, there are also people who don't function well under pressure. Those that limit systems crush them. People extremely vulnerable to stress. Those who are destroyed by crises. Those people are worth no less. They just react differently.
Adversity does not make us grow, it is we who grow through it at times
In the mid-90s psychologists Richard Tedeschi and Lawrence Calhoun discovered that some people, after experiencing a traumatic situation, develop a new understanding of themselves and the world, value life more, strengthen emotional ties with their circle of confidence and feel stronger, more spiritual and inspired. They called it "post-traumatic growth".
Post-traumatic growth, therefore, does not only mean surviving adversity, but experiencing positive change starting from these that leads us to be a better, stronger and / or wiser person.
Their results are positive and encouraging. There are no doubts. They help us make sense of our life. Indeed, we tend to redeem ourselves, to consider the narrative of our life in terms of the challenges we have faced and the setbacks we have overcome. It is comforting to think that good things can come from bad things. That the most terrible events will take a positive turn or that, in some way, they can change us for the better.
And sometimes it is.
But not always.
Because the adversity and suffering they cause are not a revelation in themselves. They do not contain a lesson or lead to personal growth per se. Unless we try hard to make sense of it.
Other studies have found that in some cases that self-perceived growth can be a smokescreen. Psychologists at the University of Pennsylvania, for example, found that the post-traumatic growth that many people recognized after a breakup was not actually reflected in their behaviors and attitudes.
Therefore, we are likely to sometimes say that we grew up just to comfort and console ourselves, when in reality we are still dealing with the emotional consequences of trauma in a culture that leaves us very little time to mourn tragedy and where everyone expects us to recover in. a relatively short time. In a culture where the watchword is: overcome it and continue!
Of course, ideally, the wounds inflicted by adversity should heal quickly. And we should come out strengthened. We should learn a lesson.
But we don't live in an ideal world, and our psychological functioning is far from linear, so the pressure to move on, see the bright side, and grow with experience can make some people feel obligated to put on the mask of a false ability. recovery behind which hide feelings of anguish, pain and sadness that find no confirmation in those around them.
In the long run, attempts to push people into post-traumatic growth can become a boomerang as it may prevent them from seeking the help they need and recognizing their vulnerability, encouraging them to implement maladaptive coping strategies that may end up being destroy their sense of self-efficacy.
Free yourself from the tyranny of post-traumatic growth
In general, it is often difficult to accept the idea that personal growth and resilience are typical results of adversity. This would mean that in the long run the suffering is good and that people who have been through difficult situations are stronger. But that's only half the story.
Going through a tragedy is not easy. Sometimes the pain of some trauma does not go away completely. In reality, it is not just the pain, but the psychological cataclysm that adversity can cause in our world. These tragedies can erase our securities in the blink of an eye and take away our emotional pillars. From such tragedies, it is difficult to recover. It takes time.
So it's important to assume that everyone doesn't grow the same, much less at the same rate. That while some are able to close themselves in a kind of protective sphere that mitigates the blows, others are completely destroyed by the tragedies.
These people will continue to need help and support long after the tragedy has passed. For them, that much-desired normality won't come when the doors open and we can get back on the street. It is that help and support they receive - not adversity - that can help them overcome the trauma.
Nor is it necessary to consider growth as a goal for everyone. For many people, getting back to where they were before the trauma can be quite an ambitious goal. Post-traumatic growth is a result, not a goal.
There is no doubt that growth stories resulting from trauma are powerful and motivating. They can inspire us and give us something to hold on to when our world falls apart, but we also need to be aware that if we can't get stronger, nothing happens. If we fail to see the "positive" of the situation, nothing happens. Sometimes just getting out of it is already a great achievement. And that's what we should focus on when we lack strength.
We all have self-healing resources, but they are different. They activate in different situations and grow at a different rate. It is important not to force our pace, but to "digest" what we are experiencing without putting too much pressure on ourselves. We can't take the pressure off by adding more pressure.
Therefore, if we experience post-traumatic growth with everything we are experiencing, great. If not, nothing happens.