Book Chapter

Pathways to Personal Transformation: Theoretical and Empirical Developments

January 1, 2012
The human quest for meaning: Theories, research and applications (2nd Ed.)

This chapter discusses personal transformations resulting from intense emotional experiences that lead to revisions in beliefs and life narratives. It highlights the power of negative events but also acknowledges the impact of positive experiences, spiritual encounters, and other forms of change.

On the road to wisdom and virtue, trauma can be a provocateur.
Dr. Tedeschi et al.

Personal transformations can be set in motion by intensely affective experiences that lead to revisions in the way individuals think of themselves, their worlds, the future, the universe and their place in it, human nature, good, and a variety of other matters. All of these diverse assumptions and beliefs are bound together in a narrative that can be revised at various times in life.

Some experiences can challenge fundamental beliefs and the life narrative, and sometimes those experiences can also produce major revisions of this narrative. What are the characteristics of these transformative experiences, and how do they change the sense of the meaning of one’s life?

We have focused much of our work on the power of intensely negative events to change the life narrative in ways that incorporate these events as turning points in life. Life narratives also change through other experiences, however, whether positive experiences, spiritual experiences, or something else. Those experiences that are designed to create changes (e.g., therapeutic encounters), those that contain some form of initiation (e.g., in military training, religious groups, youth gangs), or simple maturation may also produce positive change.

In this chapter we will consider some of the similarities and differences among these kinds of transformations. We will focus on apparently positive transformations that yield more meaningful living, a sense of purpose, wisdom, or similarly described outcomes. But we recognize that experiences that lead to negative transformations (e.g., gang initiations) may have elements similar to those of the experiences that lead to positive transformations. In this chapter we will also add comments and suggestions regarding the current state and future of posttraumatic growth research.

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