Can going through a difficult time be a source of positive personal change? That idea has roots in many ancient thoughts and traditions. It continues to be important today and is now also the subject of formal research studies. The studies are showing that after a traumatic event, more people report personal growth than psychiatric disorders.
What is post-traumatic growth?
The term "post-traumatic growth" describes a positive life change that develops from a stressful, frightening experience or trauma. For some people, this growth happens during their cancer experience.
Researchers note that post-traumatic growth is not the same as resilience. Resilience describes people returning to their previous levels of functioning. Post-traumatic growth refers to positive personal change.
What forms does post-traumatic growth take?
People may experience different types of growth while coping with cancer, including:
Improved relations with others. Living with cancer may deepen connections with family and/or friends. For instance, you may grow closer to your spouse or partner by supporting each other. It may also be easier to connect with other people who have had a traumatic event.
New life experiences. A cancer diagnosis may change your priorities. As a result, you may make different life choices, such as making a career change or overcoming a fear.
A greater appreciation for life. Some people say they value life more and feel a new sense of vulnerability to death. This awareness may help you appreciate the world in new ways.
A sense of personal strength. Some people report that they have more mental strength and feel empowered. This can result from feeling proud of what you have accomplished and lived through.
Spiritual development. You may have more of an interest in adding spiritual depth to your life, such as practicing religion.
Can I aid in my personal growth?
Even with post-traumatic growth, you may feel stress and negative feelings. Growth and suffering can happen at the same time. In fact, most people who report post-traumatic growth also report having struggles.
Post-traumatic growth, like post-traumatic stress, is not something everyone experiences. Research shows that these people are more likely to experience it:
Those who generally adapt well to new experiences and challenges
Those who keep a cheerful outlook
Those who have a strong social support network
To foster personal growth through your cancer experience, consider these steps:
Reduce anxiety. Find ways to reduce your anxiety and stress. For example, use relaxation techniques, exercise regularly, and talk with supportive friends.
Reflect on your experience. Process your experience through journaling, creating art, or talking with supportive people.
Restore a sense of safety. Consider talking with a mental health professional qualified to provide you with counseling. This can help you place your cancer experience in perspective and help you cope with the uncertainty cancer can bring.
Connect with others. Join a support group. Find mutual support and encouragement by talking with others who have similar experiences with cancer, either in person or online.
Create a post-trauma life vision. Think through what you have learned since you were diagnosed with cancer and the resulting experience. Then, plan how you want to live more fully.
3 Tips for Transitioning Out of Cancer Treatment
Grief and/or Gratitude? Choosing Your Truth in the Cancer Experience
6 Tips for Recognizing Milestones in a Life With Cancer
National Cancer Institute: Facing Forward—Life After Cancer Treatment
UNC Charlotte Department of Psychology: What is Post-Traumatic Growth (PTG)?