Discussing post-traumatic growth with special guest G. Donald Cribbs
I’m so pleased to have G. Donald Cribbs stop by The Egghead Agenda on his blog tour for his newly released (just last week!) book, The Packing House. He will discuss the the exciting concept of post-traumatic growth (PTG). As you may know, I’m a neuroscientist who researches the effects of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) on the brain, but as our guest points out, we so often only focus on the damage that trauma does to us. I mean, of course, what good can come from rape, war, accidents, and disasters? When I was diagnosed with PTSD, I thought I’d been given a life-sentence to suffer forever–I’d been suffering for years already, now it just had a name. At that time, there didn’t seem to be a cure or even a reliable way to treat PTSD. But as I found over the course of just a couple of years, while PTSD will always be with me, I experienced a profound healing that made my life more fulfilling, meaningful, and productive than it ever would have been had I not been a victim of sexual abuse and rape. It sounds like G. Donald Cribbs has found something similar. He is a graduate student for clinical mental health counseling who had never heard about post-traumatic growth prior to graduate school. The only thing he’d heard about was PTSD. He is particularly interested in how PTG connects with PTSD, and he suspects that they exist on a kind of continuum. More on that below, but first, let’s learn a little bit more about our guest and his new book release!
About the author
G. Donald Cribbs has written and published poetry and short stories since high school. Donald is a graduate of Messiah College in English and Education, and is currently a graduate student in Clinical Mental Health Counseling. He and his wife and four boys reside in central Pennsylvania where the author is hard at work on his next book, tentatively titled, UNPACKING THE PAST, the sequel to his debut novel, THE PACKING HOUSE (2016), by Booktrope Editions. Having lived and traveled abroad in England, France, Belgium, Germany, China and Thailand (you can guess where he lived and where he visited), the author loves languages and how they connect us all. Coffee and Nutella are a close second.
The Packing House
When sixteen-year-old Joel Scrivener has a raging nightmare in study hall and someone records it on their phone, he awakens to a living nightmare where everyone knows the secret he’s avoided for ten years. Reeling from a series of bullying incidents posted on YouTube and an
ill-timed mid-year move, Joel takes to the woods, leaving the bullies and his broken home behind. However, life as a runaway isn’t easy. Joel finds it difficult to navigate break-ins, wrestle hallucinations, and elude capture. He races to figure out who his dream-world attacker could be, piecing clues together with flashes of remembered images that play endlessly inside his head. Besides these images, the one constant thought occupying Joel’s mind is Amber Walker, the girl he’s been in love with for years. Amber sees little beyond the broken boy Joel has become, despite the letters they’ve written back and forth to each other. But Joel is stronger and more resilient than he looks, and it’s time he convinces Amber of this fact, before he runs out of chances with her for good.
Discuss this book on Paperbacks & Wine-> The Packing House Discussion Group
Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) vs. Posttraumatic Growth (PTG): Focusing on Symptoms vs. Resiliency in Survivors of Trauma by G. Donald Cribbs
I’m no expert. I may be a counselor-in-training, completing my master’s degree in Clinical Mental Health Counseling at CACREP-accredited Messiah College Graduate School, but I’m not the authority on Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) or Posttraumatic Growth (PTG). Here’s what I do know: I know what it’s like to experience significant trauma. In fact, I was sexually molested at the age of four by a male perpetrator and spent years reeling from the after-effects of Childhood Sexual Abuse (CSA).
It’s entirely possible I grew up with PTSD symptoms and remained undiagnosed. Regardless, I’m still here today, and somehow, I’m thriving. I found my way through the trauma, the pain, and the unwanted flashes of memory of my abuse. With little help and the furthest-from-ideal home life situations, I found a way to bounce back, grow, and find resiliency. You can, too.
As a graduate student I’m learning plenty of new things. I never knew there was such a thing as PTG, but there is. We’ve all heard about PTSD, since many of our family members have at least someone in the military, or who have experienced trauma from the events of 9/11, or who have lived through one of several hurricanes, or other weather-related natural disasters.
But here’s the problem with PTSD: it focuses solely on the symptoms of the trauma, the after-effects, and these can start to define the survivor. The goal of a diagnosis is to identify a mental health need, to develop a treatment plan and therapeutic goals, and to work toward those goals. The ultimate goal is to be discharged from treatment because you have attained your goals or have made sufficient progress in healing from your trauma. When an individual is diagnosed with PTSD, it’s like a sentence for permanent victimhood. The diagnosis can define you, it can prevent you from moving on, and it can limit your ability to find a way out. Or at least, it has the potential for these negative outcomes if handled wrong.
I’ve never been diagnosed with PTSD, but I’ve experienced some of the after-effects. These may include: reliving or experiencing the trauma through flashbacks or nightmares. These experiences can be so vivid they include visuals, smells, and the sensation of touch. Those who experience these vivid reliving of past events might experience things that are not actually happening, and then startle awake from being in a hyper-alert or hyper-vigilant state of mind, and realize those events did not actually happen.
Imagine a line with a focal point in the center which stands for the trauma you’ve experienced. If you were to move to the left, let’s say this can be described as a negative outcome. If you were to move toward the right, let’s say that is a positive outcome. Moving left of the trauma brings you to Posttraumatic Stress Symptoms (PTSS). These symptoms have distress as a key component. Moving further along this continuum away from the trauma, brings you to PTSD. But, these negative outcomes do not have to be the only way out from the trauma. Moving to the right, away from the trauma, you come to PTG. Posttraumatic Growth is an amazing paradox. The individual with PTG has both distress, just like PTSS on the opposing side, but as a result of a cognitive change, literally a transformation, after processing the after-effects of the trauma, which leads the individual toward PTG. The components of PTG include: new possibilities, relating to others, personal strength, appreciation for life, and spiritual change. Along the positive side of the continuum, PTG is only the first step leading to Resiliency. Resiliency is where true growth happens, with long-term positive effects, and no longer has distress or reliving the trauma as an outcome.
The point of this article is to inform you, and to let you know that these acronyms exist and what they mean. You have options, and not all of them are negative ones. We live in a negative-focused, glass-half-empty, bad news is good news culture. Rarely do we hear about the possibility of good, growth, resiliency as outcomes to problems, let alone trauma. Now you know. Tell a friend. And when you’re tempted to make a joke of the very real trauma someone has experienced, first walk a mile in their shoes, then see if they’re doing the best they can with the resources they have, and swallow that thought if it doesn’t encourage that person toward a positive outcome.
Who knows? Maybe you’ll be the next one to experience an unexpected trauma in your life, and you’ll be glad to know there are options that don’t involve remaining a victim, or a public punching bag, or a bully’s favorite sport. Will you accept a PTSD or PTSS diagnosis? Or, will you seek out the possibility of PTG or resiliency as an outcome for you?
Apryl, thank you for all you do to advocate for PTSD, and for letting me share this guest post on your blog as a part of my book tour.