Growth Through Adversity
The Growth Initiative is an ongoing research program that aims to better understand the conditions under which people can experience positive behavioral changes after going through highly stressful adverse events. They intend to uncover the scope of this growth, and the factors that limit growth. This research program is based at Wake Forest University and the University of Pennsylvania and made possible through a grant from the John Templeton Foundation
Changing in the Aftermath of Adversity
Nietzsche’s claim that “what does not kill me makes me stronger” has great intuitive appeal, and many of us believe that experiencing hardship and troubles can leave us in a better place than we were before. Psychological scientists have become increasingly interested in studying the positive life changes that people report in the aftermath of highly stressful life events including (but by no means limited to) diagnosis with terminal illness, bereavement, and sexual assault. This notion has been referred to with many different names, but the construct is most commonly referred to by scientists as adversarial growth, posttraumatic growth, stress-related growth, altruism born of suffering and benefit finding.
Growth through Adversity
Posttraumatic growth (PTG) is a scientific construct that strives to capture these positive transformations in beliefs and behavior. PTG may take five forms: improved relations with others, identification of new possibilities for one’s life, increased personal strength, spiritual change, and enhanced appreciation of life. These positive changes relate to the development of important qualities of character, such as diligence, generosity, love, purpose, and humility. Thus, adversity may provide opportunities for the development of important character traits, echoing St. Paul’s insight that “suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope” (Romans 5: 3-4).
For more information on the science of growth through adversity, see the Growth Initiative website.