Differences between Men and Women in Posttraumatic Growth (PTG)

October 27, 2017 by  

Yesterday I defined Posttraumatic Growth (PTG) as the positive change as a result of struggles after a life crisis.  A very interesting study tried to figure out whether men and women differ in their ability to weather crises and experience growth.  Remember, in general men and women tend to score similarly on most psychological variables – men and women are more alike than different (in spite of the popular press’s desire to highlight differences).  If you don’t believe me, please read Janet Hyde’s wonderful article, “The Gender Similarities Hypothesis” in the September, 2005, issue of the American Psychologist.

But, I digress.  There does seem to be a difference in men and women’s reporting about growth after a crisis.  Even when the researchers accounted for the types of crises that men and women might not share equally (sexual violence and war are 2 good examples), they found differences. I’ll give you the citation at the end so you can follow this up if you like.  The group of researchers analyzed 70 studies that met their strict criteria.  They had more than 16,000 subjects, so you can see that this is a strong study.

Women reported more growth after crises than men did.  Why?  Backstory:  Women are more than 4X likely to develop PTSD (Posttraumatic Stress Disorder), women report more PTSD symptoms, women report greater severity of PTSD symptoms.  So, if they seem to have more reaction to trauma, what allows women to experience greater growth after a trauma?

Women and men both are exposed to trauma and experience bad things.  Women have more symptoms because they perceive situations as more threatening that men do; when threatened, they experience more stress; and feel more loss of control than men do.  Probably, because of these facts, women lives have more upheaval.  They may be forced to face their distress.  Women tend to contemplate and brood more than men but it works for them here.  They brood constructively; they recall their strengths; they rely on their social networks; and they use therapy more often.  These are the ways that people grow and change. The women face their emotions, they do not avoid their feelings.  They “work through” the problems, the feelings, the beliefs connected to the trauma and come out healthier.

Growth after trauma comes from actively struggling with the problem, the aftermath, the mess, the horrible feelings.  You can make sense – emotionally and brain-wise – out of life events.  This is one way that growth happens.

The study referred to is by Tanya Vishnevsky, Arnie Cann, Lawrence G. Calhoun, Richard G. Tedeschi, and George J. Demakis (all from U. of North Carolina at Charlotte).  Gender Differences in Self-Reported Posttraumatic Growth: A Meta-Analysis, 2010, Psychology of Women Quarterly, volume 34, pp. 110-120.

Personal Growth after Trauma

October 26, 2017 by  

There has been much good information written about the harmful effects of trauma, whether the damage was done from war, sexual abuse, violence, natural disasters or the other zillion ways of being harmed in this world.  When I used to teach Adult Development to the Counseling Psychology graduate students at Northwestern University each Spring, we talked about trauma for two grueling weeks.  By then, the students begin to look traumatized by our readings, lectures and discussion but, of course, they were in training to learn to be therapists, so that was part of the deal.

However, there is another, more positive, phenomenon that we discuss less often – positive growth.  Researchers are beginning to write about Posttraumatic Growth (PTG), meaning that people experience positive change as a result of their struggles and working through of a big crisis.  I believe that much of the positive growth comes from the person’s ability to mourn – that is, to work their way through the difficult experience, emotions, and beliefs.  People don’t “get over” crises but they can get through them in and, like a long hard journey, reach a better, healthier, more creative place at the other end.

I’ve written (books and papers) about the process of mourning for more than thirty years.  I’ve written about the creative outcomes that are possible for more than fifteen years so many of those ideas will appear here regularly.  I hope that you find them helpful.  Tomorrow, I’ll say a bit more about the differences between men and women in achieving posttraumatic growth and mourning.

The Problem of Seeing All Points of View

November 16, 2012 by  

At first glance, seeing different sides of a problem

sounds like a good thing to be able to do.  It sounds open-minded, flexible and social – right?  Not always.  Let me explain………

Years ago, I watched an interview at the Republican National Convention.  The reporter said to the Republican delegate, “I know that you are a supporter of a woman’s right to choose.”

“Yes,” answered the delegate who happened to be a woman.

“Yet, today you voted against that,” the reporter continued. “You voted for a party platform that outlaws the right to choose.”

“Yes,” she said again.


“I am a supporter of choice but I listened to other people and they wanted a different platform. It meant a lot to them, so I voted with them.”

Forget about your position on choice, forget about Democrats and Republicans.  Think about the underlying dynamic that the delegate described.  It goes like this – 1.) I believe in a position. 2.) I hear

your different beliefs. 3.) I understand that you care. 4.) I go along with you.

Her beliefs haven’t changed; she has not been convinced of another position; she is going along.  First, let’s argue that this is a good thing.  She has listened; she is empathic; she appreciates other people’s wishes; she knows how to compromise – all good.  Next, let’s argue the negative.  She has gotten lost; she has given up her beliefs; she is voting against her own values.

I want to suggest an alternative process that involves not being chained to your position AND not giving up your beliefs because someone else happens to have a different idea.  Maybe the delegate could have gone through this process instead: 1.) I believe in a position 2.) I hear your different beliefs 3.) I understand that you care. 4.) I understand that I also care and must go back to my beliefs and also consider them in order to come to a decision.

People who see all sides to a question often forget to return to their side, consider and reconsider their own wishes before making a decision.  They get stuck in someone else’s beliefs or desires.  They get lost in pleasing, accommodating, or compromising – all fine ideas until you personally disappear.