Academic journal article Journal of Counseling and Development : JCD

Loneliness as Moderator between Trauma and Posttraumatic Growth

Academic journal article Journal of Counseling and Development : JCD

Loneliness as Moderator between Trauma and Posttraumatic Growth

Article excerpt

The impact of traumatic events on individuals has been well documented. Although not all survivors of trauma develop psychological distress, those who do may experience depression, anxiety, panic and stress disorders, phobias, dissociation, and posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD; Briere & Scott, 2015; Calhoun, Tedeschi, Cann, & Hanks, 2010). According to Janoff-Bulman (2006), when a trauma occurs, it shocks the individual's core and creates something of a "psychological earthquake" (Bayer, Lev-Wiesel, & Amir, 2007, p. 5). The trauma shatters one's illusions of safety and security, as well as one's basic assumptions about the world (Bayer et al., 2007). These basic assumptions are founded on the idea that if individuals do the right thing, are careful, and are overall good people, they can prevent bad things from happening to them (Janoff-Bulman, 2006). Although individuals know that bad things happen in the world, they do not expect those bad things to happen to them personally until a traumatic event happens (Janoff-Bulman, 2006).

* Posttraumatic Growth

Although somewhat counterintuitive, researchers have found that in some cases, the emotional healing process in the aftermath of a traumatic event can actually lead to positive psychological changes and effects (Bayer et al., 2007; Bush, Skopp, McCann, & Luxton, 2011). This phenomenon is known as posttraumatic growth (PTG). PTG is a complex process that begins when individuals start to cope with their trauma and learn to assimilate or accommodate the trauma into their existing belief system and cognitive schema (Bayer et al., 2007). As individuals strive to make meaning from their trauma, changes to their cognitive and emotional conceptualizations of themselves and the world they live in lay the foundation for PTG (Janoff-Bulman, 2006). According to Tedeschi and Calhoun (2004), it is the struggle with this new reality "that is crucial in determining the extent to which posttraumatic growth occurs" (p. 5); trauma and PTG are not mutually exclusive. Although PTG is sometimes used interchangeably with the term resilience, Tedeschi and Calhoun (1995, 1996) saw these as two distinct concepts. Resilient personality traits may enable someone to better cope with crisis or trauma, but inevitably resilience refers to an individual maintaining emotional stability (Ogiriska-Bulik, 2015). In contrast, individuals who experience PTG undergo a transformation following trauma, whereby there is movement past their pretrauma level of functioning (Tedeschi & Calhoun, 1995, 1996).

The mechanisms underlying PTG, however, remain somewhat unclear. Various researchers have created theoretical models and hypotheses to try to understand and explain how PTG occurs. Janoff-Bulman (2006) suggested there are three pathways to PTG: strength through suffering, existential reevaluation, and psychological preparedness, which involves adjusting one's schema to accept that there are random, uncontrollable events in the world. PTG happens by survivors acknowledging these elements, utilizing coping skills and resources, and relying on their reestablished psychological sense of coherence (Janoflf-Bulman, 2006). Similarly, Taylor's (1983) model of cognitive adaptation includes three themes that arise during the posttrauma readjustment process: (a) searching for meaning, (b) trying to gain mastery and a sense of control over the event and over one's life, and (c) working toward self-enhancement and improved self-esteem. The individual reconciles these themes by using constructive thoughts and actions to adapt and to grow from the trauma.

Another mechanism by which PTG could occur is through cognitive processing, which involves processing the trauma in such a way as to enable the rebuilding of core beliefs (Tedeschi, 2011). More specifically, central to cognitive processing is the idea of rumination. Tedeschi (2011) described rumination as initially involving intrusive, repetitive, automatic thoughts that eventually subside into a more deliberate reflection of the event. …

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