by Roni Berger, Ph.D., LCSW
Most of us heard about the German philosopher’s Nietzsche statement in the title; however, until quite recently, we heard much more about the devastating effects of struggling with highly stressful events.
As communication advances, media and social networks make all of us in the global village involved witnesses to traumatic experiences inflicted on individuals, families and communities around the world as soon as they occur. Natural disasters such as flood, hurricanes, bushfires and earthquakes, as well as human made catastrophes like wars, terrorist attacks, the failure of atomic reactors, and personal assault including rape and abuse, all take their toll in lives, injuries, devastation, psychological, health, social and financial outcomes.
Both those directly exposed and those close to them such as family members or professional service providers are affected. However, while the idea was around for a long time, only in the last three decades, we have reliable evidence that together with negative effects, traumatic exposure may also lead to benefits called posttraumatic growth (PTG). PTG has been documented in different cultural contexts followingdiverse stressor events. While its nature and manifestation are culture-specific, universally, growth may include different combinations of the core elements of interpersonal relationships, values, and beliefs, attitudes to life and view of self.
It is important to remember several basic facts:
- It is the struggle with the traumatic event rather than the occurrence itself that may lead to growth;
- Negative and positive outcomes of the struggle are two separate rather than opposite processes and may occur simultaneously;
- Not everybody experiences posttraumatic growth and thus, not getting benefits from the struggle is NOT a failure;
- Many factors determine if growth occurs such event, personal, and environmental characteristics;
- Growth, if it occurs, happens later in the process. No good comes of expecting it or pushing for it.
Dr. Roni Berger is a professor in the Adelphi University School of Social Work. She teaches courses in quantitative and qualitative research methods and practice with individuals, families and groups in the M.S.W. and D.S.W. programs, as well as a course on practice with immigrants and refugees. Together with Tzipi Weiss, Roni Berger co-authored the book Post-Traumatic Growth and Culturally Competent Practice.’