The direction of trauma research has taken an unexpected twist: an investigation into its positive effects.
Now, on the flip side of traumatic stress syndrome, we have something called "traumatic growth syndrome." That's to say, trauma might actually be good for us.
We'll explain. Back in the era of the Vietnam War, researchers were surprised to find out that the ex-prisoners of war who had suffered the most were actually living longer. In fact, almost two-thirds of those polled noted that they felt they'd benefited in the long run — in particular, those who'd received the harshest treatment in wartime.
As researchers recently looked at the last living Holocaust survivors, they noticed the same pattern: a correlation between those who had suffered most, and those who ended up living longest. In fact, any man alive during the Holocaust era has, on average, lived longer than men who weren't touched by it. (The study utilized tens of thousands of participants, with its lead researchers saying even they "have trouble" justifying the data.)
Post-traumatic growth isn't an exact science, and at present, it remains little more than a theory —though evidence is mounting. It places emphasis on spiritual recovery, and the strength found while overcoming challenges, and a renewed faith and appreciation for being alive.
Though chronic stress has long been tied to the quick development of diseases, Millennials, for example, are both the most stressed generation on record and the one most likely to live longest. In the post 9/11-era, as veterans continue to flock home and seek help to deal with the experience of war, a new definition of what it means to be traumatized could change the experience of millions.
That's not to say that the "growth disorder" is anything but speculative at present. The Holocaust-survivor researchers noted that, much like the Vietnam prisoners of war, those who survived may have been physically stronger than those who didn't — and, therefore, were more likely to live longer than their average peers. (The theory is controversial because of the delicacy surrounding mention of the Holocaust, particularly in countries like Israel: the researcher's university refused to include that theory in its press release.)
Of course, that theory doesn't totally hold either; as New York Magazine points out, "the Nazis killed both the strong and the weak." The lead researcher went on to say:
So then the question is: What, beyond selective mortality, could be another explanation? And it could just be the case that survivors developed extra mechanisms of resilience. Maybe they developed the desire to stay alive once it was over — to whatever mysterious extent it’s ever under our control.