Resilience mushroom

Moving from the story of Trauma and Loss to Post Traumatic Growth (Resilience, Beauty, Self-stories)

We are living and experiencing trauma daily.  How do we move away from the barely surviving to thrive in pandemic times?  Post Traumatic Growth (PTG) is a much more unfamiliar topic than Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.  Yet, more than 95% of people bounce back after periods of trauma and upheaval.  Different strategies (resilience, beaty and self-stories) could support PTG.

  1. A story of Resilience

What is the impact of stress on the brain? 

Oaklander (2015:38) mentions that neuroscience found that stressful situations change the structure and functioning of the brain. 

Can we reverse these changes to the structure and functioning of the brain?

Offering and participating in resilience training also changes the brain.  The brain becomes more resilient and opens opportunities to accept agency on how to react when experiencing pressure. 

Why is resilience relevant today?

Research done by Masten and Werner found that some people performed well despite their high risk of trauma and displacement.  What made the difference was being part of a caring community, having stable role models and a strong belief in their problem-solving ability. Resilience is a skill that is beneficial in everyday life (Oaklander, 2015:38).

Would I be able to develop my resilience?

Charney and Southwick (in Oaklander, 2015:38) are of the view that any person could train themselves to increase their resilience; the only resources needed to be free time and the person’s mind.  Although the science of fear and the brain’s reaction to stressors are fascinating (supported by Retief’s work, 2011:30-41 and Siegel’s work, 2010), research shows that the resilient brain can regulate fear and stress (Charney in Oaklander, 2015:40).  Although people’s neurobiology remained similar over generations, triggers to stress response have changed, and people do experience triggers daily. 

What are the benefits of resilience? 

Resilience training and training to respond differently to trigger changes the brains response to stress, the brain becomes more resilient; the person becomes more resilient.  Davidson (in Oaklander, 2015:40) suggest that connections in the brain are essential to resilience, linking with the prefrontal cortex and amygdala; the more robust the relationship, the more control the person has over their emotional responses.  Paulus (in Oaklander, 2015:40) found that the brain is in a position to anticipate emotions faster, and is agile to move between diverse emotions, which may suggest that the biological response to stress may be fascinating in understanding and managing emotions. Resilience training teaches people critical thinking skills, which enables them to regulate their behaviour and invite them to take personal agency under stressful situations (Seligman, 2011:175).

How and when do I have control over my emotions?

Frankel’s work suggests that behaviour may be as a result of triggers that people experienced.  However before reaction, there is a space of time where people have the freedom and power to choose how they want to respond, this could offer an opening into the trauma that could be a source of growth (Raath, 2019). 

How could we do to become more resilient? (Oaklander’s, 2015:42).  Various strategies could be employed, these include:

  • By developing and adjusting fundamental beliefs that could sustain us.
  • By finding meaning in challenging situations.
  • By approaching challenges with a positive mindset.
  • By learning from other resilient people.
  • By facing our fears.
  • By inviting support from others.
  • By learning something new.
  • By doing exercises.
  • By letting go of the past.
  • By approaching life by identifying and living our strengths.
  1. A story of Beauty

How can appreciating ‘beauty’ be helpful in these times? 

Ventura (2001:3) uses ‘beauty’ as a metaphor to connect the person’s innermost being to the world.  Using narrative questions, ‘What is beautiful in your life?’ (2001:4) may create a space where people could reflect on finding beauty in their world irrespective of where they find themselves.  People may then become aware of experiences of beauty with the self and within others; which forms part of living (2001:5). Beauty has different forms, functions, and qualities that maybe went unnoticed.  Beauty is precious, holds value and are cherished. The person may welcome beauty into their lives, allowing it to become stronger, expressing beauty and blossoming. (2001:6)

  1. Self-stories and narratives

Why are self-stories (narratives) relevant?

Neimeyer (2001a) sees PTG as a way that people could construct meaning after a crisis or loss (in Neimeyer, 2005:69).  People form self-narratives from the sense that they make at a personal level.  These inform their identities. However, life-changing events may shake their self-narratives (Neimeyer, 2005:70).  People may receive validation and social support during trauma which leads to healing and growth; where some do not experience this validation and comfort, this is where PTG could be helpful. (Neimeyer, 2005:70-71).  PTG may also need to be embedded within the social and cultural context within a society to facilitate growth and constructive alternative discourses (Neimeyer, 2005:71).  Where people struggle to integrate disruption into their stories, renegotiation of self-stories are needed, while traversing the landscape of upheaval and loss.  Renegotiated and new self-stories are likely to change their identities, priorities, values, adopting new skills and roles and resilience (Neimeyer, 2005:71-72,75).  The outcome is personal transformation and growth through pandemic times.  People are claiming back their lives from the impact of the pandemic.

  1. A personal invitation

How could you employ some of these strategies to help you to cope during these times?  Work with some of these concepts and let me know how it is working for you.  Resilience, emotional control, beauty and adjustment of self-stories invite us to journey with them in developing our natural bounce forward potential.  Given the learning that has taken place, we do not return to where we were – we bounce forward, to a different place and space.

Let me know if this has been helpful?


Neimeyer, R.A., 2005, ‘Re-storying loss: Fostering growth in the posttraumatic narrative’, in Calhoun, L.G. & Tedeschi, R.G. (eds.), Handbook of posttraumatic growth research and practice, 68-80, Routledge, New York.

Oaklander, M., 2015, ‘Bounce back’, in Time – Frontiers of Medicine, published 1 June 2015, pp. 38-40.

Raath, E., 2019a, The meaning of trauma, discourses about trauma and trauma debriefing, Class notes, Trauma, University of Pretoria, Coram Deo, on 29 January and 5 February 2019.  

Retief, Y., 2011, Healing for trauma in the South African context, Struik Christian Books, Cape Town.

Seligman, M., 2011, ‘Flourish: A new understanding of happiness and well-being’, in Turning Trauma into growth, pp. 152-175, Nicholas Brealey Publishing, London – Boston.

Seligman, M., 2011, ‘Flourish: A new understanding of happiness and well-being’, in Turning Trauma into growth, pp. 152-175, Nicholas Brealey Publishing, London – Boston.

Ventura, M., 2001, Beauty Resurrected – Awakening wonder in the consulting room, [Article], [Class handout], in Raath, E., The meaning of trauma, discourses about trauma and trauma debriefing, Coram Deo, University of Pretoria on 29 January, 5 February and 12 February 2019.

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