This study examined four research questions investigating relationships among the experience of trauma, identity development, distress, and positive change. There were 908 participants in the study, ranging in age from 18 to 24 which is known as the period of emerging adulthood. Participants completed an online survey regarding their exposure to trauma and reactions to these experiences. The first research question examined the experience of trauma for the sample. The second question examined group differences among the participant's identity status, gender, and posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) diagnostic status on the hypothesized variables. In general, comparisons among the four identity status groups found participants who experienced greater identity exploration (diffused and moratorium) experienced more distress, whereas the identity status groups that reported greater identity commitments (foreclosed and achieved) were associated with positive change. Similar findings were found for PTSD diagnostic status indicating more distress and identity exploration for participants with the diagnosis and more positive change and identity commitments for participants without the diagnosis. Female participants were found to experience more PTS symptoms, centrality of the trauma event, and positive growth than males. Examination of the relationships between trauma severity and posttraumatic growth revealed an inverted U-shaped relationship (quadratic) that was a significant improvement from the linear model. An S-shaped relationship (cubic) was found for the relationship between trauma exposure and posttraumatic growth. Regression analyses found the centrality of the trauma event to one's identity predicted identity distress above and beyond the experience of trauma. In addition, identity distress and the centrality of the trauma contributed to the variance for identity exploration, while only identity distress contributed to identity commitments. Finally, identity development significantly predicted positive change above and beyond, identity distress, centrality of the trauma event, and the experience of trauma. Collectively, these results found both distress and growth to be related to the experience of trauma. Distress within one's identity can contribute to difficulties in the psychosocial stage of identity development among emerging adults. However, the resolution of identity exploration towards commitments to goals, roles, and beliefs, can help trauma survivors experience resilience and growth after stressful experiences.
- Who am I now?: distress and growth after trauma