Post-traumatic growth (PTG) is a comparatively young framework addressing the transformations a person experiences following trauma. This paradigm was introduced in the 1990s, and scholars are still working on its development and further refinement (Kirkner & Ullman, 2019). Several definitions and even terms related to PTG exist, such as “positive illusions” or “benefit finding” (as cited in Grad & Zeligman, 2017, p. 190)., scholars agree that the concept implies positive psychological transformations resulting from a situation requiring considerable effort and struggle (Arabaci et al., 2018). Diverse situations can cause trauma, including but not confined to surviving natural disasters, military conflicts, physical or mental violence, and sexual violence.
It is noteworthy that the framework is effective in describing people’s coping strategies, which has placed PTG in researchers’ lenses. Researchers analyzing the implications of sexual violence and related trauma tend to report victims’ ability to achieve post-traumatic growth (Scott et al., 2017). Numerous empirical studies addressing diverse aspects of this framework have been implemented, but it is important to systemize the current knowledge base as there is a limited number of systematic reviews on PTG.
This concept is often compared to the well-researched post-traumatic stress disorder that is caused by traumatic experiences as well. However, the latter does not encompass positive changes in the victim, whereas PTSD is associated with maladaptive skills (Lahav et al., 2020).
Post-traumatic growth is also often linked to the development of resilience, but PTG is a different response to trauma (Clark, 2018). The former leads to positive changes enabling a person to reconsider their life agenda while the latter is confined to the ability to react properly in a certain situation (Khan & Chandiramani, 2018). Irrespective of the lack of a clear definition or appropriate conceptualization of the term, post-traumatic growth is the paradigm widely utilized by practitioners and researchers.
A number of aspects of trauma as related to PTG and PTG as a framework receive the most attention in academia. Since the focus of this systematic review is on sexual violence victims, other types of causes of trauma are not included in this review. One of the major areas of concern is the mechanisms of PTG, which is often considered a model to adopt when coping with trauma (Dawwas & Thabet, 2017). Diverse types of disclosure and their effects on the development of PTG have been analyzed. Disclosure is seen as an important milestone in the process of post-traumatic growth for sexual violence victims (Bogen et al., 2019). Various means of disclosure have been used by victims and considered by researchers and practitioners.
Language remains central to the achievement of post-traumatic growth in many contexts. Numerous studies explore the exact techniques that can be employed to achieve PTG in victims of sexual violence. For instance, Eiler et al. (2019) examined the peculiarities of the use of language to disclose the exposure to sexual violence and its influence on victims’ PTG. Language as a component of effective coping techniques is analyzed in the study by Ha et al. (2017). The researchers stated that forgiveness writing could contribute to building PTG in the victims of sexual violence.
Gonzalez-Mendez et al. (2020) also paid specific attention to linguistic elements of people’s responses and found that people with an attentional bias towards resilience-related words are more likely to reach PTG. Another study concentrating on the development of PTG is associated with language or rather victims’ ability to reflect on their experience and tell a story about their life, including the traumatic situations and their implications (Jirek, 2017). Narration is seen as an effective coping strategy, as well as the path toward PTG (Jirek, 2017). The studies mentioned above are also associated with the focus on different communication channels, including writing, social media, and face-to-face communication.
As far as social media are concerned, these platforms are seen as potent channels that have to be used by practitioners. Alaggia and Wang (2020) noted that sexual violence victims obtained the support necessary for building an understanding of the experience and achieving PTG. Bogen et al. (2019) also emphasized the role users’ support played in the process of building PTG. Notably, Twitter is one of the most analyzed social media.
Other techniques, instruments, as well as the necessary conditions for achieving PTG are also under consideration. Mattson et al. (2018) focused on the impact of personality traits on female veterans’ ability to achieve PTG. The researchers argued that positive traits (such as openness, extraversion, and others) contribute to the development of PTG, while the presence of PTSD symptoms and negative traits were significant barriers to PTG. Brooks et al. (2017) examined the role rumination and perceived control played in achieving PTG and found that these skills were instrumental in developing coping strategies and improving the victim’s psychological and emotional state.
It is necessary to note that qualitative research design prevails when exploring PTG and its mechanisms. Researchers try to elicit victims’ perspectives regarding their experience and its implications focusing on the coping strategies they utilized or factors preventing PTG (Pessoa et al., 2017). In their qualitative study, Hitter et al. (2017) identified some of the components of the PTG process and considered the impact of empowerment and the sense of agency on PTG. Wang et al. (2018) also highlighted the relevance of self-exploration in reaching post-traumatic growth. The researchers concentrated on people with mental health issues and managed to enrich the current knowledge base.
Regarding quantitative studies, they are mainly concerned with the prevalence of certain psychological states, the effectiveness of particular strategies and techniques, as well as the correlation between PTG and factors contributing to its development, as well as the association between traumatic experiences and PTG. For insource, Dawwas and Thabet (2017) analyzed the link between diverse traumatic experiences related to war and people’s resilience and PTG. Arabaci et al. (2018) analyzed the link between the resilience and post-traumatic growth of female victims of sexual violence. Ha, et al. (2017) evaluated the effectiveness of writing therapy aimed at contributing to PTG in female survivors of sexual violence.
This literature review suggests that there is a need for a systematic review of the current literature on PTG of female victims of sexual abuse. Numerous studies provide both quantitative and qualitative data addressing different aspects of the issue. However, there is no sufficient systemized information on the recent knowledge base on the matter. Only a few systematic reviews were located in terms of this analysis, but they were not concerned with the target population. For instance, Wu et al. (2019) explored the prevalence of PTG in victims of violence irrespective of demographics and types of experiences. Therefore, there is a specific gap to be filled as it is important to systematize the current knowledge on PTG in female victims of sexual abuse to identify the available findings and areas of specific interest.
Alaggia, R., & Wang, S. (2020). “I never told anyone until the #metoo movement”: What can we learn from sexual abuse and sexual assault disclosures made through social media? Child Abuse & Neglect, 103, 1-10. Web.
Arabaci, L. B., Dikec, G., Buyukbayram, A., Uzunoglu, G., & Ozan, E. (2018). Traumatic growth and psychological resilience status of female victims of violence inpatients in a district psychiatric hospital. Archives of Psychiatric Nursing, 32(4), 568-573. Web.
Bogen, K. W., Bleiweiss, K. K., Leach, N. R., & Orchowski, L. M. (2019). #MeToo: Disclosure and response to sexual victimization on Twitter. Journal of Interpersonal Violence, 1-32. Web.
Brooks, M., Graham-Kevan, N., Lowe, M., & Robinson, S. (2017). Rumination, event centrality, and perceived control as predictors of post-traumatic growth and distress: The cognitive growth and stress model. British Journal of Clinical Psychology, 56(3), 286-302. Web.
Clark, J. N. (2018). De-centering trauma: conflict-related sexual violence and the importance of resilience discourse. The International Journal of Human Rights, 22(6), 801-821. Web.
Dawwas, M. K., & Thabet, A. A. M. (2017). The relationship between traumatic experience, posttraumatic stress disorder, resilience and posttraumatic growth among adolescents in Gaza Strip. JOJ Nurse Health Care, 5(1), 1-11.
Eiler, B. A., Al-Kire, R., Doyle, P. C., & Wayment, H. A. (2019). Power and trust dynamics of sexual violence: A textual analysis of Nassar victim impact statements and #MeToo disclosures on Twitter. Journal of Clinical Sport Psychology, 13(2), 290-310. Web.
Gonzalez-Mendez, R., Yagual, S. N., & Marrero, H. (2020). Attentional bias towards resilience-related words is related to post-traumatic growth and personality traits. Personality and Individual Differences, 155, 1-7. Web.
Grad, R. I., & Zeligman, M. (2017). Predictors of post-traumatic growth: The role of social interest and meaning in life. The Journal of Individual Psychology, 73(3), 190-207. Web.
Ha, N., Bae, S. M., & Hyun, M. H. (2017). The effect of forgiveness writing therapy on post-traumatic growth in survivors of sexual abuse. Sexual and Relationship Therapy, 34(1), 10-22. Web.
Hitter, T. L., Adams, E. M., & Cahill, E. J. (2017). Positive sexual self-schemas of women survivors of childhood sexual abuse. The Counseling Psychologist, 45(2), 266-293. Web.
Jirek, S. L. (2017). Narrative reconstruction and post-traumatic growth among trauma survivors: The importance of narrative in social work research and practice. Qualitative Social Work, 16(2), 166-188. Web.
Khan, W., & Chandiramani, K. (2018). An exploration of resilience, spirituality and post-traumatic growth in the face of trauma. Acta Salus Vitae, 6(1), 4-17.
Kirkner, A., & Ullman, S. E. (2019). Sexual assault survivors’ post-traumatic growth: Individual and community-level differences. Violence Against Women, 26(15-16), 1987-2003. Web.
Lahav, Y., Ginzburg, K., & Spiegel, D. (2020). Post-traumatic growth, dissociation, and sexual revictimization in female childhood sexual abuse survivors. Child Maltreatment, 25(1), 96-105. Web.
Mattson, E., James, L., & Engdahl, B. (2018). Personality factors and their impact on PTSD and post-traumatic growth is mediated by coping style among OIF/OEF veterans. Military Medicine, 183(9-10), e475-e480. Web.
Pessoa, A. S. G., Coimbra, R. M., Noltemeyer, A., & Bottrell, D. (2017). Resilience processes within the school context of adolescents with sexual violence history. Educação Em Revista, 33, 1-25. Web.
Scott, J., Mullen, C., Rouhani, S., Kuwert, P., Greiner, A., Albutt, K., Burkhardt, G., Onyango, M., VanRooyen, M., & Bartels, S. (2017). A qualitative analysis of psychosocial outcomes among women with sexual violence-related pregnancies in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo. International Journal of Mental Health Systems, 11(1), 1-10. Web.
Wang, X., Lee, M. Y., & Yates, N. (2018). From past trauma to post-traumatic growth: The role of self in participants with serious mental illnesses. Social Work in Mental Health, 17(2), 149-172. Web.
Wu, X., Kaminga, A., Dai, W., Deng, J., Wang, Z., Pan, X., & Liu, A. (2019). The prevalence of moderate-to-high posttraumatic growth: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Journal of Affective Disorders, 243, 408-415. Web.