Alicia Assad, MAPP '08, Health Counselor is a writer and mother of four. Having survived postpartum anxiety, multiple pregnancy losses, and her son's burn injury, she contemplates ways that concepts such as optimism and gratitude can lead to growth in the aftermath of adversity. She is a former Miss New Jersey and Radio City Rockette. Follow her writing on Facebook, @AliciaAssadWrites, and visit her website, Alicia Assad: Recovering Perfectionist. MOM. Happiness Aficianado. Storyteller. Alicia's articles for Positive Psychology News are here.
“That which does not kill us makes us stronger.” ~Friedrich Nietzsche
This familiar quotation suggests our struggles will lead to resilience, if we pull through them at all.
Yet if we find ourselves enduring traumatic experiences so powerful that they turn our worlds upside down, we might wonder,
I have been in this place of struggle, having survived a few serious traumas myself. Since I am relentlessly optimistic, I always believed I would somehow find a way to piece my shattered beliefs together. But I was desperate to know how.
“How? How am I going to get through this and become stronger?”
A positive psychology practitioner, I was applying tools like gratitude and hope theory to move away from despair, but it wasn’t until I stumbled across research illuminating the experience of growth after adversity that I began not only to heal, but also to grow.
Then I actively sought a positive life transformation by sharing my experience publicly. I became passionate about disseminating the information I found valuable in a time of struggle.
My personal connection to the topic of post-traumatic growth offered me this opportunity to review Miriam Akhtar’s book, #WHATIS Post-Traumatic Growth?, a book about the journey from trauma to growth.
A trauma survivor, my first thought when I finished reading it was,
“I wish I had had this book when I was suffering.”
What’s in the Book?
In five chapters and 141 compact pages, Akhtar’s personal experience is woven with the research and practical tools of positive psychology to raise awareness about the concept of post-traumatic growth, that is, that positive change can happen in the wake of a traumatic event.
Akhtar gives her readers 20 inspiring reasons to be open to the concept of post-traumatic growth, and her personal anecdotes give her research-based tools authenticity.
What initially struck me about this small book is its structure. Akhtar organizes a vast amount of information in a simple, easily digestible manner, which I believe is crucial for the real world. In the wake of trauma, I felt exhausted, defeated, and disoriented. That was not the time to dive into a big book. However, I could picture myself dipping into Akhtar’s message and finding tools practical enough to apply even in times of high stress.Shame Begone
Akhtar discusses the unnecessary shame often associated with negative subjective experience. She explains that trauma can shake our beliefs and make us feel that our safety is shattered. That can lead to emotional, psychological, and physical harm, which can seriously disrupt the course of our lives.
We can experience this even in facing smaller repeated traumas. Her broader definition of trauma might inspire readers to look at even more ordinary adversities for opportunities for growth.
Naturally, we want to avoid adversity at all costs, but if we move toward the adversity that life inevitably brings, we might experience a positive transformation in one or more of the five key areas:
- Personal strength
- Closer relationships
- Greater appreciation for life
- New possibilities
- Spiritual development
This information is inspiring, but it brings me back to the question I once wondered: “How.”
The How of Post-traumatic Growth
Akhtar first reveals,
“The process starts by trying to make sense of the trauma, which can prompt a re-evaluation of our core beliefs… But later on this rumination shifts into something more constructive as people find some meaning in the adversity and gravitate toward a place of acceptance about their changed world, gaining wisdom and well-being along the way.”
In the pages that follow, she delivers tools based on theory from mindfulness to cognitive behavioral therapy to help manage our emotions. These are followed by techniques to address the physical realm, reminding us to focus on physical activity, rest, and sleep when enduring trauma.
Rounding this off is her Personal Resilience Toolkit, a well-packaged compilation of techniques from ACT to a discussion of mindset and constructive rumination.
Akhtar shows us not only that there is a light at the end of the tunnel, but illuminates a step-by-step path to help us to reach it. Her path is substantiated with personal experience, inspiring stories, and research-based tools.
If you are eager to make sense of life’s inevitable adversities, read this book. Akhtar reminds us that our future can be bright perhaps not in spite of the adversity we face, but because of it.
Akhtar, M. (2017). What is Post-Traumatic Growth?. Watkins Publishing.
Akhtar, M. (2012). Positive Psychology for Overcoming Depression: Self-Help Strategies for Happiness, Inner Strength and Well-Being. London: Watkins.
Assad, A. (2015). Growing through adversity. Positive Psychology News.
Roepke, A. M. & Seligman, M. E. P. (2015). Doors opening: A mechanism for growth after adversity. Journal of Positive Psychology, 10(2), 107-115, DOI: 10.1080/17439760.2014.913669. Abstract.
Tedeschi, R. G. & Calhoun, L. G. (1998). POSTTRAUMATIC GROWTH: Positive Changes in the Aftermath of Crisis (Lea Series in Personality and Clinical Psychology).