Positive Reappraisal of a Traumatic Experience Enables Recovery From Trauma and Facilitates Post-Traumatic Growth

by The Studio of Mental Health and Psychology

An excellent study by Quan et al. (2022) on the relationship between childhood trauma and post-traumatic growth shows that acceptance is a technique that plays a critical mediating role between childhood traumatic experiences and post-traumatic growth, a positive life change. It also demonstrates that positive reappraisal of trauma moderates acceptance. The positive correlation between positive reappraisal and acceptance implies that with the increased levels of positive reappraisal, the participants’ acceptance of childhood traumatic experiences also increases.

Positive reappraisal is an adaptive strategy that enables trauma survivors to find the meaning behind traumatic events and obviously positively reappraise that event, making sense of it. Reappraisal is a powerful strategy that helps individuals come to terms with trauma. For instance, the research participants pointed out that their traumatic experiences could help them become stronger in addition to the pain and loss. This making sense of a traumatic experience facilitates acceptance and integration of trauma into life.

However, it is worth noting that one of the limitations of the study is that trauma types aren’t specified. Indeed, adult survivors of certain types of interpersonal childhood trauma might not be able to positively reappraise it, find its meaning or make sense of it. Silver, Boon & Stones (1983) suggest that in these cases, the survivor needs to accept that their experience is unexplainable, e.g.: “I can’t make sense of it – but I can’t make sense of a tornado either. They occur, they are devastating, they go away. Do they serve a useful purpose? No.” 

Nevertheless, in many cases, positive reappraisal can alleviate negative feelings and encourage positive emotions. It helps people not to employ maladaptive pain avoidance strategies to face traumatic memories. Furthermore, positive reappraisal can help people reconstruct their quality of life and reconsider the meaning of life after traumatic events. These factors contribute to creating intervention approaches that facilitate recovery from trauma and enable post-traumatic growth.

Adaptive cognitive strategies can help individuals integrate trauma more effectively as opposed to maladaptive denying, avoiding or suppressing traumatic memories.

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