The accepted measure of posttraumatic growth, the Posttraumatic Growth Inventory (often simply referred to as the PTGI), is available in over 25 languages. And research with these translated measures indicates that posttraumatic growth is reported by people in various cultures.
However, the degree to which it’s reported, and the type and magnitude of posttraumatic growth people experience, varies considerably according to culture norms.
For example, Japanese people are less likely to acknowledge a greater degree of personal strength following trauma compared to Americans. People in Colombia and Chile report more posttraumatic growth than Spanish people do. It is unclear why these differences exist, but researchers speculate that cultural norms shape the positive value a society (and individuals within the society) places on change in the aftermath of difficult life experiences.
For example, an important aspect of Japanese culture is interdependence. This is in stark contrast to the highly valued trait of individualism or independence seen within American culture. Simply, Japanese people do not value individual strength as much as Americans. As a result, compared to Americans, they may be less likely to see themselves changing in terms of personal strength.
Another example can be seen when we consider people from Colombia and Chile. Compared to people from Spain, Columbians and Chileans tend to be more religious, which may be why they are more likely to report posttraumatic growth in the spiritual area of life.
But it must be emphasized that at least some people in all cultures report posttraumatic growth. We find everywhere that some people report posttraumatic growth and others do not. It is likely that this is partially determined by how life experiences create fertile ground for posttraumatic growth in some people more than others. And within cultures, there can be key individual differences in life experience, and therefore the outlook of various people in the culture.
These differences reflect, in part, that culture is not simply nationality or ethnicity. Culture also has its very particular aspects and various subcultures that make up the whole. We can say that culture exists at the level of parts of countries, and geographical specifics down to the level of neighborhoods.
Cultures can be considered to exist within groups of people who share interests and preferences for certain types of activities, such as fishing, marathon running, playing the harmonica, or bee keeping.
Perhaps each of these activities lends itself to a particular perspective on life and tendency to respond to adversity in particular ways. That is an open question. Because culture is so vast and expansive it’s impossible for research to completely answer why some experience posttraumatic growth and others don’t.
There are differences between men and women in their tendency to report posttraumatic growth. Although not by very much, research tells us that women are more likely to report posttraumatic growth.
However, this research finding does not necessarily hold true across all cultures. Therefore, to make a blanket statement that women experience posttraumatic growth more frequently than men would be inaccurate and not take into account cultural influences.
There may be differences between the sexes on reports of posttraumatic growth because of culturally determined ideas about what are positive personal changes. For example, American men believe that successfully handling difficulties is most indicative of growth, while Japanese men believe that having more compassion for others is a more accurate barometer of positive change.
Bottom line, posttraumatic growth cannot be understood without proper cultural context. The culture we grow up in allows us to see life in a certain way. It can also restrict our vision. Traumatic events force us to reconsider what we have been taught, and what we have learned simply by being part of our communities. We reflect on what has happened and use our positive changes to benefit ourselves as well as those around us.
Cultures are always changing and developing. Those who survive trauma play important roles in guiding these changes.
*This article was adapted from Dr. Moore’s upcoming book, “Transformation after Trauma: Stories of Posttraumatic Growth.”