Post-Traumatic Growth of Wisdom after Covid

PTG graph
It is both a popular belief and a research backed notion that wisdom is gained through experience.  The more challenging the experience, the more opportunity for growth. Situations that push us to the limits of our endurance are called ultimate limit experiences,”and they can accelerate the development of wisdom. The psychological term for inner growth that springs from stressful experiences, is “post-traumatic growth.” These two areas of research overlap, and ultimately come to the same conclusion: The opportunity for growth exists within all crisis, but not everyone who goes through a life crisis becomes wise as a result. The Post-traumatic growth of wisdom after Covid will be here for the taking. How can we seize this opportunity? Obviously, the level of trauma caused by the pandemic varies widely. Some of us have lost loved ones, lost our homes, or have lost the ability to meet our basic needs. The prevalence of depression and substance abuse has increased noticably. As of June, 40% of U.S. adults reported struggling with a mental health or substance abuse issue.  On the other end of the spectrum, some of us are living comfortably despite Covid, but are still experiencing fear, loneliness, and a loss of stability. None of us are living the same lives we were living 1 year ago. For those of us in survival mode, growing wisdom is far from our minds right now. Coping is the utmost priority, so if that is were you are at, you may rightly irritated by calls to use this time for growth, and may find this article on coping more relevant. Others of us have been fortunate to be able to use this time to reassess priorities, start a work-out program, bake bread or start meditating. While our experiences over the last year vary widely, we are all coping with something no of wants to be coping with, and to widely varying degrees it is a traumatic experience for all of us. The majority of us are going to bounce back; at some point returning to the level of happiness we experienced before Covid. This bouncing back to baseline, is the definition of resilience, and humans are by nature, incredible resilient. While shooting for a return to normal (resilience) is a fine goal in itself, consider being open to derive something positive from this time of struggle. The possibilities for personal and collective growth are opportunities for accelerated growth and wisdom. 2E3E7AF5 4CA0 4A5C 81583A6A0F29DA72

Post-Traumatic Growth (PTG)

PTG does not occur as a direct result of trauma; rather, it is the individual’s struggle with the new reality in the aftermath of trauma. The phenomenon was identified by psychologists Richard Tedeschi and Lawrence Calhoun in the 1990s. They described five categories of growth that occur over time:
  1. Changes in how they relate to other people
  2. Recognition of new opportunities, priorities or pathways in life
  3. Greater appreciation for the value of one’s own life, and life in general
  4. Recognition of one’s own strength
  5. Spiritual or existential development

What does PTG look like in the research?

Survivors of trauma report an increased ability to recognize and embrace new opportunities. They are able to forge stronger relationships with loved ones as well as with victims who suffered in the same way. They report being able to cultivate inner strength through the knowledge that they have overcome tremendous hardship, and they gain a deeper appreciation for life. Often their relationship to religion and spirituality changes and evolves. While this research is looking specifically at “growth,” and not wisdom per say, the 5 categories of growth that they identified correlate perfectly with what research identifies as the traits of wise people. So how can we cultivate the post-traumatic growth of wisdom after Covid?

Post-traumatic growth is a long-term game.

Remember the key word is POST. It is not called traumatic growth. Although we may see a light at the end of the tunnel, we are still in the midst of pandemic. The physical, emotional, and financial costs are going to be with us for a long time, but there WILL be opportunities to cultivate wisdom. Now is the time for us to get through this, and remember that human beings have an incredible capacity to overcome adversity. Post-traumatic growth is a long-term game.  Just be open to the opportunities for it so you can recognize them when the time is right. If you have the space, time, bandwidth, right now to think about your own post-traumatic growth; that in itself can be a coping mechanism. It is a way to focus on positives, without ignoring the negatives. When we are in the midst of a longer term traumatic period like this one, we have time to begin accepting the chapters already written, while shifting our view of the future events in a meaningful way. We can craft our story in a way that paints a picture of a traumatic experience that leads to a future that is improved in some ways; and this picture offers hope despite the misery we may still be feeling. 38121bfaf642ba7857ba2a1f80726255

Facilitating post-traumatic growth = cultivating wisdom.

Post-traumatic growth often happens naturally, without psychotherapy or other formal intervention, but it can be facilitated.  Psychologist Richard Tedeschi shares the elements of post-traumatic growth in his book The Posttraumatic Growth Workbook: Coming Through Trauma Wiser, Stronger, and More Resilient.   The 5 elements that foster PTG growth are:
  1. Education
  2. Emotional regulation
  3. Disclosure
  4. Narrative development
  5. Service
For an excellent summary of the 5 elements, you can view Tedeschi’s article on growth after trauma here. Wisdom researchers have identified 3 long-term strategies for cultivating wisdom; one of which is post-traumatic growth. The other two are the ability to reflect on your experiences, and a meditation practice. 8 weeks of meditation has been show to lead to the thickening of brain regions responsible for perspective taking and emotional regulation, which are vital components of wisdom. The beauty of meditation is that it not only provides long-term benefits, but it also helps bring down your stress response in within minutes, giving you noticeable relief.  If you’re new to meditation try several rounds of the 4-7-8 breathing exercise shown in the graphic, or try the guided meditation for wisdom linked below. cb47f2a114657dae64cdb8acf3d44c20 Taking the time to reflect on your experience is vital to cultivating post-traumatic growth of wisdom after Covid. Ponder these questions about your experience so far: How has it caused you to recalibrate your priorities? What new paths or opportunities have emerged from it? What do you appreciate more now? How have your relationships improved? How have you been surprised by your own resilience during this time? Likely there are several positives to be found among the answers to those questions, and likely also areas where you can offer yourself both empathy and gratitude.

There will be both personal and social long-term effects from this pandemic experience. Being mindful of which of those changes are positive and worth cultivating is one step towards the post-pandemic growth of wisdom. My wish is that many of us develop a heightened sense of appreciation, more authentic relationships, and a new sense of resilience and confidence; which has the effect of up leveling our collective wisdom.

Thanks for reading ❤ With Gratitude, Aimee O’Neil LLMSW  
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Aimee O'Neil LLMSW

Aimee O'Neil LLMSW

Founder of Wisdom Cultivators

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