Skip main navigation

Military Health System

Clear Your Browser Cache

This website has recently undergone changes. Users finding unexpected concerns may care to clear their browser's cache to ensure a seamless experience.

Turn Post-traumatic Stress Into Post-traumatic Growth

Image of PTSD Infographic. National Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder Awareness Month, every June, is one way to spread awareness about issues related to the condition. The individuals with PTSD are affected every day of the year, so knowing where to turn for support may help, and the treatment can be tailored to the person (DOD Graphic).

You likely attended a briefing on post-traumatic stress (PTS) during your time in the military. This is good, as post-traumatic stress can be an incredibly difficult experience and getting help is a critical first step.

But what do you know about post-traumatic growth (PTG)? PTG is the process of going through an extremely tough experience and coming back stronger with important lessons learned about life.

PTG is a common human phenomenon across cultures and religions throughout time. Yet there are some common myths about PTS and the possibility of experiencing PTG that are important to know for warfighters and those who support them:

Myth #1: You can experience PTS or PTG, but not both.

Fact: PTS is a normal experience when facing trauma and often happens before you can experience PTG. When you experience trauma, a part of the normal human-stress response is to deeply reflect on what happened to help you learn from it and improve for future adversities.

This might include flashbacks or not being able to let things go. This process can be painful, troubling, and require the help of therapy to navigate. But this does NOT mean you are damaged.

In fact, this process is normal and can eventually lead to growth. Those who don't have some symptoms of PTS are actually less likely to grow from the experience and instead just bounce back to who they were prior to the trauma.

Growth occurs when the trauma you experienced becomes a turning point: That is, who you are after the experience is better than who you were before. Symptoms of PTS are part of that growing and changing process that enables you to transform.

Myth #2: If you haven't experienced PTG by now, you never will.

Fact: There's no deadline to grow from trauma. You can experience PTG six months or 10 years after a crisis. Further, you can continue to grow in additional ways even if you believe you've already grown from a specific trauma.

The trauma is just the catalyst: Your deep reflection and rebuilding your beliefs and values lead to your growth. This can happen over many years and continue throughout your life.

In fact, some researchers of PTG expanded the definition of trauma to include any experience that shatters one's worldview, their core values and deeply held beliefs about themselves, others, or the world. So, whether it's the death of a loved one, serious injury, painful breakup, or social isolation during a pandemic, the ongoing process of rebuilding your worldview better and stronger is what leads to your growth. This process can take a long time with many ups and downs along the way.

Myth #3: Experiencing PTG means "happily ever after."

Fact: "Post-traumatic growth means who you are now is better and stronger in a meaningful way than who you were before the event," said Army Lt. Col. Oscar Cabrera, director of the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research, in Silver Spring, Maryland. "But it does not mean you're perfect or that life will be perfect. You'll still likely face hard times, make mistakes, and find more ways to grow. You might also go back to past behaviors or have troubling times thinking back on the trauma."

Facing these types of challenges doesn't mean you didn't grow. It means you are human, complex, and still a work in progress. Use HPRC's optimism self-check or gratitude calendar to help yourself continue to reflect, grow, and connect with the people and values you care most about.

To learn more and take a short survey to see how you might have experienced PTG from a recent crisis, read HPRC's article on the 5 benefits of post-traumatic growth.

Human Performance Resources by CHAMP is the educational arm of the Consortium for Health and Military Performance (CHAMP), a Department of Defense center of excellence located at the Uniformed Services University for the Health Sciences, in Bethesda, Maryland. HPRC provides research-based facts and holistic, performance optimization resources that help members of the military community optimize their military performance by staying physically and mentally fit, fueling and hydrating properly, maintaining social ties, and staying resilient - all pieces of the puzzle that make up Total Force Fitness.

You also may be interested in...

Article Around MHS
Sep 15, 2023

Preventing Suicide Through Social Connectedness

Suicide is a significant public health issue that impacts individuals, families, communities and society at large. Many risk and protective factors play an integral role in the prevention of suicide, including social connectedness, which occurs when people or groups are engaged in relationships that create a sense of belonging and being cared for, valued and supported. (Defense Centers for Public Health-Aberdeen graphic illustration by Jason Embrey)

Suicide is a significant public health issue that impacts individuals, families, communities and society at large. The issue is also tied to what the U.S. Surgeon General, Dr. Vevek Murthy, called an “Epidemic of Loneliness and Isolation” in a May health advisory that calls for a National Strategy to Advance Social Connection.

Article Around MHS
Sep 7, 2023

Dog Jog for Life: Unlocking the Power of Pets in Suicide Prevention

For Suicide Prevention Month, emphasize the importance of escorting individuals in need to the best available help, ensuring they receive the assistance they require. However, in our efforts to support human lives, we sometimes overlook a remarkable source of solace and strength—our pets.  (Photo By Russell Jordan)

A U.S. Army public affairs officer highlights the importance of dogs in mental health while promoting "Dog Jog for Life," an event that embodies the spirit of suicide prevention, intervention, and postvention at U.S. Army Garrison Rheinland-Pfalz. “Our dogs often understand our moods better than we do ourselves. They offer us empathy, share in our ...

Fact Sheet
Aug 30, 2023

Breathe2Relax App

.PDF | 384.67 KB

Initially designed for the military community but beneficial for use by anyone, the relaxation app trains you on the “belly breathing” technique that has proven benefits for your overall mental health. Use the app’s breathing exercises to learn and practice the breathing technique on your own or as part of a stress management program supervised by ...

Fact Sheet
Aug 30, 2023

Virtual Hope Box App

.PDF | 778.13 KB

The Virtual Hope Box is a smartphone application designed for patients and their behavioral health providers as an accessory to treatment. The VHB contains simple tools to help patients with coping, relaxation, distraction and positive thinking.

Video
Aug 23, 2023

Top Signs You Might Need Some Help

Image says: Top signed you might need some help.

We all have difficulties. Dr. Joshua Morganstein gives us his top signals that let us know we might need some help. - not sleeping well - trouble at work - continuing conflicts with people - increased substance use (alcohol, tobacco, medication) - thinking about hurting yourself or other people This video is part of a series addressing ...

Video
Aug 23, 2023

Who can I talk to? - Some Tips for Mental Health Care

Image asks: Who can I talk to? Some tips for mental health care.

Dr. Joshua Morganstein gives some ideas on who you can talk to if you are having a difficult time. Some people you might want to talk to are a peer, a trusted supervisor, someone who has gone through what you've been through, someone who you trust to keep your confidentiality, a faith leader, a mentor, your primary care provider, or a mental ...

Video
Aug 23, 2023

Will Mental Health Services Affect My Security Clearance?

Image asks the question, Will mental health services affect my security clearance?

Dr. Joshua Morganstein addresses a very common question: Will seeking mental or behavioral health services affect my security clearance? The short answer is: No. A study from 2012 - 2018 looked at 2.3 million security clearances. Of those 2.3 million clearances, almost 47,000 people reported psychological health issues. Of those 47,000 people, ...

Video
Aug 23, 2023

3 Tips for Coming Home from Deployment

Image states three tips for coming home from deployment.

Coming home from deployment can be challenging. We might feel a sense of loss of meaning or that other people don't understand the experiences we had. Dr. Morganstein gives 3 easy tips for adjusting to life back at home. 1. Give yourself time and space. 2. Talk to your loved ones about what's going on. 3. Give your loved ones time and space ...

Skip subpage navigation
Refine your search
Last Updated: September 28, 2023
Follow us on Instagram Follow us on LinkedIn Follow us on Facebook Follow us on X Follow us on YouTube Sign up on GovDelivery