A traumatic event can often lead to two things, it could either make the person stronger or it could break the person into pieces. Psychologists, however, believe that there is an even bigger and better result, which could arise from a traumatic experience, and that is growth.

A number of psychologists found that post-traumatic growth (PTG) is more than simply being resilient after an encounter with a disastrous event. In a CNN report, Lawrence Calhoun, a psychologist and professor emeritus at the University of North Carolina (UNC) in Charlotte, stated that PTG "represents a positive change that goes beyond the baseline." Calhoun, together with another Emeritus professor at UNC, Richard Tedeschi, used the Post-traumatic Growth Inventory, an instrument that assesses the positive outcomes that are reported by individuals who had bouts with traumatic events.

Based on Calhoun and Tedeschi's research, PTG manifests itself in different ways. People who were able to grow after trauma show a better appreciation for life. They also foster deeper and more loving relationships and are able to better understand their own personal strengths. Summarising what PTG is, the duo described it as "a richer existential and spiritual life."

Eranda Jayawickreme, Wake Forest University associate professor of psychology in North Carolina stated that women experience PTG more than men do. Although this would still need more research, he surmised that the reason behind it might be linked to cultural factors. He also added that it's also possible that women experience more stress compared to men, and tend to reevaluate stressors as something that leads to positive results.

Aside from gender, researchers are also looking at the idea that genetics plays a role in this experience as well. A 2014 study of more than 200 survivors of Hurricane Katrina showed the prevalence of the RGS2 gene. Although this does not prove a direct relationship between PTG and the said gene, it could offer an avenue for learning how "gene-environment interactions" could provide a new perspective in understanding factors underlying the variability of psychological responses after traumatic events.

Ana Claudia, 37, smiles as she poses for pictures. She was helped by an NGO of volunteer dentists that provides abuse victims with dental implants under the condition they leave their violent partners Photo: AFP / Carlos FABAL

Jayawickreme noted that the most important and contributory factor for individuals to be able to experience PTG is post-trauma social support. This would include meeting support groups, talking with a therapist. With the right support, people may find a way to turn a negative experience into something that they could use to improve their lives.