What is it about?

Veterans with posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) are haunted by memories of traumatic past events, like watching their fellow service members perish in combat. In the present study, we were curious about how veterans narrate their most stressful military experiences and whether their particular styles of narration were associated with their posttraumatic stress symptoms. We discovered that two styles of storytelling predicted lower levels of posttraumatic stress symptoms: whether the veterans’ articulated a sense of growth from the events, and whether they expressed a sense of agency, or mastery, during the events.

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Why is it important?

These findings demonstrate the importance for veterans of reflecting back on distressing military events in productive ways that highlight avenues for self-growth and for mastery, control, and initiative. Narratives characterized by high levels of growth and agency may serve as a protective force against common maladaptive behaviors associated with postraumatic stress symptoms such as ruminating about how the event could have gone differently, avoiding thoughts of the event entirely, or developing negative views of the self or of the world. It may be possible for therapists working with patients with PTSD to help them think about ways that they grew following their traumatic experiences, rather than trying to eliminate their negative thoughts about the event or paint their thoughts in a positive (but not growth-oriented) light. Even if patients experienced a loss of control during traumatic military experiences, it may be possible to help them find ways of narrating their lives in more agentic terms in the present through the process of therapy.


I am excited that our study provides intriguing evidence that veterans' individual ways of telling the stories of their most stressful experiences may help them recover better from those experiences. Our findings suggest that it may be the meaning that veterans create in their narratives about their traumatic experiences that is crucial for their recovery, and this provides an important source of hope.

Dr. Rebecca Shiner
Colgate University

Read the Original

This page is a summary of: Linking narrative identity with schizotypal personality disorder features in adolescents., Personality Disorders Theory Research and Treatment, March 2021, American Psychological Association (APA),
DOI: 10.1037/per0000414.
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