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 Disaster Of Politeness

April 12, 2016 by  

Most of us have been taught to be polite.  We are drilled with the belief that hurting anyone’s feelings is bad thing to do.  We are cautioned to “play nice”, “be nice”, “don’t be mean”.  I will admit publicly, for the very first time, that in 8th grade at Horace Mann School inn New Jersey, I was voted “most polite”.  Well, with credentials like that, I certainly have the right to post an article about the other side of politeness. I am not going to advocate meanness or bad manners.  I do however, want to point out that there is a dark side to every good quality, and here is the dark side of politeness.

Women’s ability to protect themselves from sexual assault decreases under certain conditions:

  1. When she is conflicted about what to do in the situation, her assertive resistance decreases.  She is more likely to resist politely or go along with his sexual advances.
  2. When she is uncertain about her own wishes, she offers only polite resistance.
  3. When she is in shock, she becomes increasingly passive.

Women especially, suffer from politeness.  Because they have been trained not to hurt anyone’s feelings, they become too passive when they are confused or uncertain.  They want men to like them.  For some women, particularly those with a history of childhood sexual victimization, their appraisal of a situation may be faulty.  They may misread a man’s sexual intentions.

I have listened to many, many stories of unwanted sexual behavior, coercion and assault.  These accounts come from smart, savvy women who, too often, say that they ignored their own wishes because, “I didn’t want to hurt his feelings,”  “I wasn’t sure,” or  “I didn’t want to be rude.” And then, some guy reads her passivity as consent and the hunt is on.  This is what I mean when I say that  the lovely qualities of politeness and kindness towards other people have a dark side – they prevent people from acting on their own behalf.

The above examples are extreme, I know, but tone them down and you still have a problem of ignoring your own well being because you are reluctant to make some other person uncomfortable, angry, frustrated or embarrassed.

3 Symptoms Of Trauma

July 10, 2013 by  

If you are wondering whether you, or someone else, are having significant reactions to a traumatic event, here are the basic dreamstimefree_12410790symptoms of traumatic responses:

  1. hyperarousal – startle reactions, hyper-alertness, vigilance for danger, or other bodily signs that prepare the body for fight or flight.
  2. intrusive thoughts – reliving the event; unwanted thoughts or images pushing their way into your mind on a regular basis.
  3. constriction – feeling shut down, frozen.

People can have these symptoms after bad personal experiences (assault, rape, war) or natural disasters (storms, floods) or other events that overwhelm our ability to adapt. If these are  familiar pieces of your day, you probably want to get professional help.


For relaxation, consider Object of Obsession

OO v3



Survivor Syndrome

February 4, 2011 by  

The term “survivor syndrome” refers to the set of symptoms that people experience after being exposed to persecution, whether that was torture, coercion, cruelty, or constant fear and helplessness. William Niederland has been writing about this phenomenon since the 1960s.  He describes symptoms that we now associate with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.  Here are some elements of the survivor syndrome:

  1. Chronic or recurrent states of depression, withdrawal, isolation – all marked by outbursts of rage.
  2. Sharp, indelible memories that cannot be erased.
  3. Wordless sadness.
  4. Anxiety because of fears that the persecution will return.
  5. Alterations in a sense of identity, both psychological and physical.
  6. Survivor guilt and unresolved grief.
  7. Vulnerability as seen in psychic tension or torment.

It is easy to miss ‘survivor syndrome’ or minimize the severity because, after all, haven’t these people escaped the persecution?  Aren’t they the lucky ones?  Tomorrow’s post describes “survivor guilt.”

15 Common Post-Trauma Stress Reactions

September 14, 2010 by  

It is not uncommon to have symptoms after you have experienced a traumatic event.  These are called stress reactions. After 9/11, The APA (American Psychological Association) put out a bulletin describing these symptoms.  If you, or someone who know has been through a traumatic event, look for the following symptoms.

 The APA’s list of symptoms (accepted by most professionals) associated with reactions to trauma are:

  1. Recurring thoughts or nightmares about the event
  2. Trouble sleeping
  3. Appetite problems
  4. Anxiety and fear, especially if you are in a situation that reminds you of the original trauma
  5. Being edgy, easily startled or overly alert
  6. Depression, sadness
  7. Low energy
  8. Memory and recall problems
  9. Feeling “scattered” and unable to focus
  10. Trouble making decisions
  11. Getting angry or irritable easily
  12. Feeling numb or disconnected from others
  13. Spontaneously crying, feeling hopeless
  14. Feeling fearful about the safety of others
  15. Being unable to face certain aspects of the trauma

Most stress reactions subside after a month.  No one has all of the symptoms listed above.  If you or someone else has a lot of them (there is not magic number), seriously consider seeking professional psychological help.