Monday, August 13, 2012

Research Update: Growth Not Just Recovery After Divorce is the Norm

Post-traumatic disorder is NOT the most likely outcome of a trauma like divorce; post-traumatic growth is.

There is no question that divorce is traumatic for all its victims. Only the death of a spouse is more stressful, and that trauma seems to recede with time, while the trauma of divorce can linger for a lifetime. Mental health professionals have tended by virtue of their training and values, to be focused more on the disorder after trauma, and less on the growth that more often results.

A recent article (see the link at the end of this post) nicely summarizes the current research on the factors that lead to post traumatic growth rather than post traumatic disorder. Here are some of the major factors identified by research which predict a positive response to trauma:

  1. Recognition that growth is more likely than disorder. Knowing that growth is the most likely outcome can help inoculate a person against hopelessness and depression. Developing a positive expectation of not just recovery, but of growth, as a consequence of a trauma like divorce is the first step.
  2. Spirituality, specifically forgiveness. While this is probably the most difficult for most divorced/divorcing people to accomplish, failure to forgive is highly associated with ongoing disorder rather than growth. Remember this is a finding of psychological research, NOT a religious opinion.(http://psycnet.apa.org/index.cfm?fa=buy.optionToBuy&id=2010-09501-003) Forgiveness is the antidote to poisonous resentment and bitterness that are blocks to healing and growth. Forgiveness is for your benefit not your ex!
  3. Social support leads to growth rather than disorder. This is especially evident in divorce recovery groups and is why I recommend divorce recovery groups to every one of my clients and in my book, "Your Best Divorce Now: Tips and Tools... (http://www.amazon.com/dp/B008654OHG) Men are especially vulnerable to negative affects from divorce because they tend to try to go it alone, and hence are less likely to grow after divorce. There is nothing as healing as hearing other people's stories and realizing that you are not alone.
  4. Disclosure of your feelings and reactions leads to growth. Most divorce recovery programs encourage daily journaling as a tool to recovery, and research supports this as being just as effective as talking to someone for 30 minutes every day.
  5. Changing your outlook to viewing the trauma as a challenge to be overcome. This is why reading stories of how other people overcame their own traumas can be helpful. 
  6. Grieve, and take decisive action. Normal grief is a process with stages and a conclusion. Passivity and preoccupation with the trauma and its effects are associated with disorder, while positive, decisive action to change what can be changed is associated with growth
  7. Avoid substance abuse of any kind, even food. While the abuse of drugs and alcohol are obvious blocks to growth, overeating can also have negative affects on mood and recovery from trauma. 

1 comment:

Ken Phillips said...

These are true points. Divorce is not easy. And every one of us go through such difficult stages that we need all the help we can get. This are some great tips in trying to survive after the divorce. An important thing as well is that after divorce, we need an ear that’s willing to listen because the emotions should not be bottled up. It is through communication that we start to heal after divorce.
Ken Phillips