Everyone knows about those who have Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). This condition develops when a person witnesses or experiences a shocking, terrifying, or dangerous event. The traumatic experience triggers nervous disorders, which often require prolonged treatment.
From a Christian perspective, this disorder is one of life’s big crosses that people must bear with resignation and patience. The notion of the Cross also helps the soul develop and increases a person’s dependence on and love of God.
The modern world hates this concept of the Cross because it spoils the false narrative of a life without suffering. Modern man resents trauma since it disturbs a person’s well-being. The Cross must be avoided at all costs and pleasures pursued. It is a scourge that keeps people from being happy.
Such a superficial outlook toward the Cross is false. Dramatic and painful experiences are not always negative. They do not always jeopardize the health and happiness of individuals. Scientists studying the effects of great trauma more closely now find that heavy crosses can also transform individuals and improve their lives.
It is time to take a second look at the Cross.
Post Trauma Growth
The new research calls the effect PTG, which stands for Post Traumatic Growth.
Psychologists Richard Tedeschi and Lawrence Calhoun researched this phenomenon in the mid-nineties and gave it its name. Unlike others, they studied the long-term effects of traumatic suffering and uncovered surprising results.
They found that certain people profited immensely by enduring trauma well. The two scientists identified five ways traumatic suffering delivered positive benefits to those who embraced it. They noted that such patients experienced:
- A wellspring of personal energy and strength,
- a capacity to enter into deeper relationships,
- a willingness to explore new possibilities,
- a greater appreciation of life, and
- a spiritual or existential growth.
Lasting Changes Based on Reality
These behavior changes were not fleeting or subject to fading. This growth resulted in changed worldviews and lasting transformations that surprised the sufferers.
Another characteristic of PTG is that it does not deny the reality of suffering. Indeed, some people living with PTSD eventually experience PTG. Those who benefit from PTG will not necessarily be free of suffering but will feel more fulfilled by their ability to deal with the crosses they face.
Those studying PTG are careful to point out that sufferers may not be happy in the sense of careless optimism. They can still suffer greatly, but their lives become more meaningful and focused.
Dr. Tedeschi also believes that collective units and nations can gain from suffering and experience post-traumatic growth as a group. The Greatest Generation, for example, was born from the double trauma of the Depression and World War.
A Special Kind of Person
Post Traumatic Growth does not occur with just any person. Generally, certain people are more likely to experience PTG than others. Although the numbers are disputed, some say as many as seventy percent of trauma sufferers experience some degree of PTG.
Arielle Schwartz, a clinical psychologist and author of the Post-Traumatic Growth Guidebook, says an important component of traumatic recovery is “to stay socially engaged” with family members and compassionate friends. Dr. Tedeschi adds clergy and health care personnel to family and friends since sometimes professional help is needed to spur the person to growth.
The Cross is easier to bear when the grief is shared with others. The trauma also forces the mind to reflect profoundly since it disrupts a person’s core beliefs. People then learn lessons that can lead to lasting transformation. During times of trial, people start thinking about the big existential questions of meaning and purpose that can often lead to God.
PTG also can change a person’s focus from self to others. It often results in a desire to serve and alleviate the suffering of others.
Reinforcing Church Teaching
The studies of PTG are important because they refute the modern myth that all suffering is harmful. Unfortunately, most studies do not go beyond the natural phenomenon of PTG. However, if vibrant growth from suffering can happen naturally, it only highlights how much more help is available through the supernatural ministry of the Church.
The Church teaches that uniting one’s suffering to those of Christ can have incalculable value for a person’s conversion and spiritual healing. Those who suffer can experience a divine joy as the suffering becomes an occasion to grow closer to the crucified and glorified Redeemer.
In this valley of tears, all people eventually suffer trauma, deaths of loved ones, war, natural disasters or misfortunes. Thus, science reinforces the Church’s teaching that embracing the Cross can lead to spiritual and personal growth.
The Best Equipped to Deal with Trauma
Indeed, those who practice the Faith are best equipped to deal with trauma since they expect and find purpose in the Cross. The Church forms a visible society with social links that support people in times of trial. The Church also provides the sacraments and other means of grace that fortify the soul during difficult times. Above all, sufferers can see Our Lord Jesus Christ on the Cross and His Sorrowful Mother as the supreme examples and models from which they can gain strength and courage.
The Catholic family is the ideal atmosphere to provide a safety net and space for PTG. A Christian society further buttresses individuals by coming to their aid. In contrast, the present narcissist and individualist culture is the least equipped to deal with the inevitable traumas of life since it sees all crosses with resentment and revolt.
Thus, the Cross becomes an instrument of sanctification and transformation. In its own way, even science supports this conclusion. The world that rejects the Cross only brings more suffering on itself since it refuses to accept reality and condemns people to the hell of absurd fantasies.