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Grief: Post Traumatic Growth or Stress Disorder

Grief Post traumatic growth post traumatis stress disorder Grief: Post Traumatic Growth or Stress Disorder

What are strategies for coping with PTSD and Promoting PTG?

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PTG and PTSD

Loss is a change that is permanent. It brings feelings that are difficult to manage, and it is near impossible to prepare for. The surprise or sometimes shock of being thrown into a situation which we lack control of can have long lasting effects.

In this guide you will find:

We can’t physically see broken hearts

Loss is a change that is permanent. It brings feelings that are difficult to manage, and it is near impossible to prepare for. The surprise or sometimes shock of being thrown into a situation which we lack control of can have long lasting effects.

Losing a loved one is a traumatic experience, one that many would describe as heart-breaking. If we think of a broken bone, it’s easier to understand that breaks take time to heal, that the fragments need to be reset and the injury needs to be nurtured for healing to take place. 

The final stage of healing of a fracture is described as remodelling, which means it may look and feel like it was before the break, but it carries a history of having once been broken.

And then there is rehabilitation, through the time of healing, we might be out of practice of using the fractured area to perform normal activities. 

We can’t physically see broken hearts, but we can try to understand that just as physical trauma or injury sets us back, emotional trauma also requires time and nurture for healing to occur. There is a reshaping or remodelling of the mind as it adjusts to life after the loss of a loved one. 

Some people experience physical pain as a result of extreme emotional stress that follows the grief of loss but for many others it is purely mental or emotional.

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What is PTG and PTSD?

PTG is Post Traumatic Growth, while PTSD is Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. These are two possible experiences we may encounter through the grieving healing process and they do sometimes overlap. Research shows that the greater the impact of the trauma, the greater the level of growth that may emerge.

Post Traumatic Growth as the name implies, is defined as a positive psychological state. According to Journal of Traumatic Stress, Post-Traumatic Growth can be seen in positive responses in the following five areas:

  • Appreciation of life.
  • Relationships with others.
  • New possibilities in life.
  • Personal strength.
  • Spiritual change.

Essentially, making lemonade out of lemons. A person gets to a point where they come to appreciate life and relationships and they may feel refreshed and stronger, ready to face new challenges. 

Post Traumatic Stress Disorder on the other hand is much more difficult to narrow down and describe as it manifests differently in different cases and needs an actual diagnosis by professionals. 

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) may be characterised by symptoms such as 

Intrusive memories

  • Flashbacks, nightmares or other kinds of emotionally stressful situations not caused by any immediate situations but may be induced by some specific triggers. 

Avoidance

  • Avoiding thinking or talking about the traumatic event, places or situations that are a reminder to the traumatic event.

Negative changes in thinking and mood

  • Negative thoughts or a general hopelessness about the future or outlook of the world.
  • Inability to remember important aspects of the traumatic event.
  • Feeling emotionally numb and unable to enjoy things, or the company of family and friends. 

Changes in physical and emotional reactions

  • Easily frightened or constantly being on guard for danger
  • Self-destructive behaviour 
  • Trouble sleeping /concentrating 
  • Irritability or aggressive behaviour
  • Overwhelming feeling of guilt or shame

What are the signs of PTG or what does PTG look like?

PTG leads to a healthier and more preferred destination but in many cases symptoms of PTSD will remain and will only be known when a trigger is encountered. A person may become susceptible to numerous triggers that could upset the mental injury and set back the healing process.

We are made to adapt to change in circumstances and when we do heal some people may become more resilient to the same triggers, others however may be a little more fragile.

Is PTG the same as resilience?

Resilience however is not the same as Post Traumatic Growth, one doesn’t necessarily go through trauma to be resilient but often resilience could be a quality that emerges as part of PTG. It is also important to note that the rate of healing and growth will vary across persons or situations.

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Effective strategies for coping with PTSD and Encouraging PTG

When we look from the perspective of healing, here are five strategies to successfully manage Post traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and promote Post Traumatic Growth (PTG) 

 

  • Accept

It can be difficult to come out of the shock and trauma of losing a loved one but until we accept what has happened, we may find ourselves stuck in a position, replaying memories, unable to move forward and wishing we could turn back time. 

 

Acceptance is difficult as it may feel like letting go when we are doing all we can to keep alive the person we lost, because we still have so much love that we want to give to them. Understanding and acceptance are very closely linked, we tend to find it easier to accept what we understand. 

 

For younger people, understanding may be more difficult especially when it is the first experience they have faced with loss, or where they have never previously been taught to understand the permanence of loss. 

It is natural to try to make sense of the situation e.g finding a reasonable explanation why a person has passed away or why the illness or incident that led to the passing had happened in the way it did, but there isn’t always a logical one. 

 

Sometimes this leads to us looking to assign blame and when we cannot find anyone or anything to blame it is common to internalise the blame. Acceptance is also coming to the realisation of the facts and separating them from additional thoughts that the distress has created in the mind. Successfully accepting the facts is a step forward in the growth process.

 

  • Seek Professional help

Much like walking into the A&E to get a fracture reset, we may need a professional to help to properly diagnose and recommend the required course of action to help the healing process. It is important that any form of medical advice or treatment is dispensed by a trained professional.

 

A professional will normally want to understand the telling signs and symptoms before making a conclusion and diagnosing PTSD. Common symptoms are listed on professional medical websites such as the NHS, Mind, Better Help.

 

For ease of reference, a few are listed here:

  • Anxiety
  • Eating disorders
  • Mood disorders
  • Fear
  • Sleeping disorders

Particularly, if there are overwhelming feelings of doubt or distrust in oneself to cope or manage situations, professional help is strongly advised.

 

 

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Nurture

Healing is growth and growth requires nurture. Much of that nurture comes from the surrounding environment. Sometimes this means people withdraw from some social situations or interactions and surround themselves with more predictable situations while they try to heal. 

 

Some resources recommend practising mindfulness, meditation or other repeatable activities which can start to help with the sense of control and gradually ease the mental state. The withdrawal also helps to ensure that possible triggers are removed. 

 

Support which helps the nurture stage could include being available and providing time to a person who is healing or it could be other forms of emotional and physical support including the provision of material needs which are essential whilst the healing is ongoing. 

 

After a time, which varies per person and per situation, there will be a stage of rehabilitation which could include reintroduction of more unpredictable activities and immersion into the wider social spaces. This can be a way of gradually testing the newfound strength having healed from the traumatic experience. This growth may happen at different rates for different people or in different situations.

 

  • Rehabilitate

Many psychologists recommend having a form of expression to avoid internalising feelings. Many times, it is difficult to talk with words about what has happened or describe the feelings articulately especially when it is fresh. The ability to express through other creative means may be a useful tool in such cases. 

 

It is not about being good at the particular creative venture for it to help, and it doesn’t matter that a person has had any experience prior to trying out this route to healing. The idea is that any attempt to find expression or release in a comfortable space in a form that eases the pressure.

 

Nature can also be a very powerful thing. Introducing a change of scenery which includes the serenity of nature, fresh landscape or anything else that deviates from the normal and allows a person to mentally escape and then gradually ease back into reality. 

 

  • Repeat

It would be remiss to say that there is always a linear pattern to dealing with any kind of post traumatic issue. The good news is that any of the actions previously itemised may be applied repeatedly until we start to see evidence of the healing or growth. 

 

Healing or growth does not always mean that there is no scar. It is not uncommon that there will be residual symptoms that we may have to deal with.

 

PTSD can be a permanent situation and unfortunately some people never really recover from it. On-going management of the symptoms is necessary.

 

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