The Path to Growth

Updated: Sep 17, 2019

In Blog Post 2, I spoke briefly about Dr. deLara’s study, in which 47 percent of respondents who were bullied reported that those events had positive impacts on their adult life. In other words, they grew as a result of their trauma also known as achieving post-traumatic growth. This post will dive deeper into this topic.

By definition, “Post-traumatic growth is the experience of positive change that occurs as a result of a struggle with highly challenging life crises.” After further examining the concept of post-traumatic growth, psychologists Richard Tedeshi and Lawrence Calhoun found that those who had overcome their respective trauma had:

• A great appreciation for life in general • A greater appreciation for relationships • A sense of increased personal strength • Changes in personal priorities • A richer spiritual life

It is important to note that this is a long-term process. Working toward these results is far from an easy task and can take anywhere from months to many years, if at all, to fully develop. However, through resilience and cognitive restructuring, this growth is very possible.

In May 2015, the husband of Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg, tragically passed away unexpectedly. Nearly a year later, on May 16, 2016 during her commencement speech at UC Berkeley, Sandberg addressed his death publicly for the first time.

As a coping method for this devastating event, Sandberg credited Martin Seligman’s “Three P’s.” Seligman, a University of Pennsylvania psychologist, famously known as the father of positive psychology, has devoted his life to uncovering the positive psychological intricacies behind resilience, learned helplessness, depression, optimism and pessimism. In his book, Learned Optimism (1991), Seligman breaks down the idea of explanatory style, or the psychological attribute in which people explain to themselves why they experience a particular event, either positive or negative. This style can be broken down into three steps, also known as the “Three P’s”:

Permanence — In order to achieve post-traumatic growth, avoiding permanence is key. This is the mindset that a bad situation will last forever. Those who view setbacks as temporary bouts of adversity are able to acknowledge these negative circumstances and adapt for the future. For instance, they might say, “I didn’t do well on that marketing test” rather than “I suck at marketing.” In Sheryl’s words, “We should accept our feelings — but recognize that they will not last forever.”

Pervasiveness — Pervasiveness is the belief that a negative experience is universal, or that it will impact all facets of life. Resilient people don’t let disappointments or bad events affect unrelated areas of their lives. For instance, they would say, “I can’t trust my old friend Cara” rather than “I can’t trust all girls.”

Personalization — Optimistic people don’t blame themselves in the wake of bad events. Instead, they credit external events, or other people, as the cause. By not assuming the blame for situations that are out of our control, we maintain a greater level of happiness compared to those who internalize the blame and believe they are worthless, talentless, and unlovable. For example, they might say, “The people who bullied me are losers,” rather than “I am a loser who deserved the bullying.”

During her speech, Sandberg shared an analogy that I thought perfectly highlighted the path of post-traumatic growth. “Just as our bodies have a physiological immune system,” she said, “our brains have a psychological immune system. And there are steps you can take to help kick it into gear.”

Over the course of the book, you will hear numerous stories citing ways in which entrepreneurs have grown as a result of being bullied. Through resiliency training, a shift in mindset, and the rest of the stories and tactics that you will find in this book, you can rebuild your psychological immune system and kick start your way to a happier, more rewarding life.