Depression, anxiety, and posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) rates are on the rise, capturing the spotlight of concern. However, there exists a lesser-known narrative, one that is often overlooked and rarely reported—a tale of resilience and growth that emerges from the depths of trauma.
Contrary to popular belief, most individuals possess an innate ability to bounce back from traumatic events. In fact, research reveals that two-thirds of people do not develop PTSD after experiencing trauma. Instead, they embark on a transformative journey known as posttraumatic growth.
Adversity has the power to empower us. When we effectively process and integrate traumatic experiences, we emerge more resilient than before, stronger. Our minds become fortified, better equipped to navigate future challenges with grace and fortitude.
By skillfully regulating our brain’s fight-or-flight response, we forge new neural connections associated with trauma management. Neural plasticity, a remarkable feature of our brain, works in our favor, enlarging the pathways responsible for stress recovery. These amplified pathways serve as our armor, empowering us to confront life’s trials and tribulations with resilience.
One study that deeply touched my heart involved 218 veterans and their spouses who participated in a transformative weeklong retreat (Church & Brooks, 2014). Incorporating techniques such as EFT tapping, meditation, and other approaches described in my book Bliss Brain, the workshop aimed to alleviate PTSD symptoms.
At the outset, 83% of the veterans and 29% of the spouses exhibited signs of PTSD. Yet, after six weeks, these numbers had plummeted significantly—only 28% of veterans and a mere 4% of spouses tested positive for PTSD. Jenny, a veteran’s spouse who had contemplated divorce before the retreat, tearfully exclaimed, “After all these years, I finally got my Robby back from Vietnam.”
However, behind each of these remarkable statistics lies a personal journey of triumph—a rekindling of love, restoration of peace, and a return to a fulfilled life. The scales tip away from the clutches of PTSD and towards the path of posttraumatic growth.
This remarkable healing potential paves the way for new horizons of possibility, not only for individuals grappling with trauma but also for their communities. Rather than being limited by the tragedies they have endured, their potential becomes unshackled. They unearth hidden wellsprings of creativity and joy that were obscured by the veil of trauma.
In the Old Testament book of Ecclesiastes, the prophet imparts timeless wisdom, reminding us that there is a time for every purpose under heaven, including both destruction and healing. We have all endured dark periods, wherein the weight of stress stifled our potential. However, the work of emotional maturity lies in undoing this damage, and ushering in a season of healing, restoration, rebuilding.
When we allow ourselves to remain trapped in the clutches of our tragic narratives, replaying the suffering of the past, we inadvertently reinforce neural pathways associated with prior trauma. This phenomenon, known as the “dark side of neuroplasticity,” intensifies the brain’s stress circuits, leading to escalating symptoms such as nightmares and flashbacks.
Yet if we consciously choose the path of posttraumatic growth, we engage in practices that elevate our emotional and spiritual states—meditation, EFT, prayer, and other transformative techniques. Through the magic of neuroplasticity, these elevated states become embedded traits within us.
In this way, the adversities that haunt our present and linger from our past need not define us or shape the default setting of our brains. Instead, we harness the power of tragedy as rocket fuel for profound transformation. We emerge from the ashes, rise, and fully embrace the flames of resilience and growth—generating a new narrative of triumph over adversity.
Church, D., & Brooks, A. J. (2014). CAM and energy psychology techniques remediate PTSD symptoms in veterans and spouses. Explore: The Journal of Science and Healing, 10(1), 24-33.