The Difference Between PTSD and Post Traumatic Growth

blankYou’ve no doubt heard the term PTSD. This acronym stands for post-traumatic stress disorder. According to psychiatry.org, PTSD is defined as:

“A psychiatric disorder that can occur in people who have experienced or witnessed a traumatic event such as a natural disaster, a serious accident, a terrorist act, war/combat, rape or other violent personal assault.”

PTSD is an anxiety disorder that affects millions on an annual basis. There’s a common misconception that PTSD only occurs when the victim has witnessed something horrific, but “violent personal assault” can be verbal abuse, gaslighting, and other emotional harm. A sufferer of PTSD will have flashbacks, specific triggers, and anxiety associated with noises, places, and other memories.

You’ve heard of PTSD, but what about PTG? Post-traumatic growth is a concept that involves moving forward and growing from a traumatic experience, rather than falling into the depths of anxiety, depression, and PTSD. Let’s take a look at how these two are different and how you can achieve PTG.

PTSD at a glance

PTSD is classified as an anxiety disorder, and affects approximately 60% of men and 50% of women. This makes it one of the most common anxiety disorders in the world, and its effects can make living everyday life difficult to say the least.

We often think of soldiers returning home from a campaign when PTSD is mentioned. While veterans certainly account for a large percentage of PTSD cases, they don’t represent the entire group. PTSD can occur from any traumatic experience. Rape, assault, abuse, or even the death of a loved one can cause PTSD.

After a traumatic event, you’ll probably notice a difference in sleep patterns, appetite, mood, and you’ll likely relive the event through troubling memories or nightmares. This is a completely natural response, and your brain’s way of making sense of what happened and yearning to return to a sense of normalcy.

PTSD occurs when you’re unable to process what’s happened. If you notice those symptoms worsening over time, you could be experiencing PTSD. Traumatic events are difficult for us to make sense of, and that’s ok. But when you’re still trying to process something months or even years later, with no success, it’s time to look closer at what’s troubling you and seek professional help.

PTG At A Glance

Post traumatic growth is sort of the opposite of PTSD. Where PTSD causes anxiety, stress, and discomfort, PTG allows a person to move on, make sense of their emotions and what occurred, and gain wisdom or insight from what occurred.

Let’s say you’ve been in an abusive relationship for a number of years. Until recently, you never knew the warning signs or even realized that the abuse was tearing down your self-esteem. You’ve become isolated from your loved ones and lost most of your friends.

At long last, you’ve exited the relationship. It’s like a veil has been lifted from your eyes. Suddenly, you realize you were treated harshly, and that what your partner did was wrong. Rather than struggling to move on, tossing and turning at night, or experiencing mood swings, you’re suddenly happy again. You feel yourself growing, learning to be ok with yourself, and living a whole new life. This is PTG.

As motivational speaker Les Brown would say, “Are you going through it or are you growing through it?” Growth often comes out of destruction. Just look at a forest fire. Once the flames have ripped through the foliage and burnt everything to ash, a great settling occurs. The ash and soot and dust settle to the forest floor, and within a few weeks, something amazing happens; the first buds of new life start reaching up from the ashes.

PTSD vs PTG

While PTG can help you through a traumatic experience, you can’t always avoid PTSD or feelings of anxiety altogether, and that’s OK. Remember that everyone has a different healing process, and if you’re not quite ready for growth yet, that’s alright. Maybe you need professional help in order to make sense of your experience, and that’s OK too!

Don’t be afraid to reach out and ask for help. Sometimes, things happen that we simply aren’t equipped to deal with or make sense of. Having someone else’s insight, along with professional medical help, can take you from the PTSD stage and into the PTG stage.

The Bottom Line

PTSD might be unavoidable in some cases, but you can always grow from life’s challenges. It’s normal to feel anxious about a major traumatic event. You’ll probably experience mood changes, appetite changes, and disrupted sleep patterns. But when your symptoms worsen or last for months on end, it’s time to get help so you can move away from the PTSD phase and into the PTG phase.