Post Traumatic Growth

We are all familiar with the idea of post traumatic stress syndrome.  However, there is a positive idea that describes the opposite effect.  It is when someone uses a setback to create positive growth in their life.

In other words, we can use the downward momentum of life’s circumstances to propel ourselves in the opposite direction to heights that we had never previously imagined.

Here are a couple of ways that we might do that:

  1.  Choose Your Counterfact Wisely

A counterfact is an alternate scenario our brains create to help us evaluate what happens in our life. Stated another way, it is imagining an alternate scenario to balance your view of an event against. 

We must learn to choose our counterfact(s) wisely, because choosing a counterfact that makes us feel worse alters our reality in a negative way.  However, if you choose a counterfact that makes you feel amazing, you feel better and your life is tangibly better.


A while back, I was driving our family minivan home after purchasing a new car that my wife was driving home.  When I stopped at a stoplight, a woman crashed into the rear end of the minivan that I was driving.

I could have chosen a negative counterfact(s):  That crazy woman rear ended me!  Can you believe my terrible luck?  She damaged my van just as we finally squared away our second vehicle.

That would have made the event much worse and I would have felt worse.

Instead, I chose positive counterfacts:  No one was injured.  Thank goodness the damage to the van was only minor, it is still drivable.  I still made lunch with my friend later that same day.

That made the event feel relatively trivial, as it was in the grand scheme of things.  I could take a breath, put it in perspective and move on with my life happily.

Since the counterfact is invented, choose one that makes the event positive for you.

“There is no bad weather only inappropriate clothing.”- Benjamin Zander’s Father

If we are able to frame a failure as an opportunity for growth, we are more likely to experience the growth.

  1. Explanatory style

Explanatory style refers to how you explain a past event.

If you have an optimistic explanatory style, you will see adversity as local and temporary.  You will say things like, “It’s not that bad, and it will get better.”

If you have a pessimistic explanatory style, you will see events as global and more permanent.  You might say, “It’s really bad, and it’s never going to change.”

The key is to choose an optimistic explanatory style whenever possible.

Take a moment, think of a past negative event and tell the story with a positive explanatory style.

The strategies that most often lead to adversarial growth:

  • A positive reinterpretation of the situation
  • Embracing optimism
  • Accepting the circumstances as they are
  • Focusing on the problem directly / head-on

“Things do not necessarily happen for the best, but some people are able to make the best out of things that happen.”- Tal Ben Shahar

Make your mind up now to use one or more of these techniques the next time that you experience a setback.  Let me know how it goes.

Just my opinion.  What do you think?  Let me know in the comments.

If you find value in this article, please share it with others that may also find value.  Like, comment and follow Sapiens Society below, on Facebook and on Twitter.

#PostTraumaticGrowth #ChooseWisely #Resilience #Optimism #Framing #Counterfact #Explanatory Style

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