Electronic Theses and Dissertations

Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Ph.D. in Psychology

First Advisor

Stefan E. Schulenberg

Second Advisor

Alan M. Gross

Third Advisor

Laura J. Dixon

Relational Format



BACKGROUND: The literature suggests the relationship between posttraumatic growth (PTG) and posttraumatic stress (PTS) is curvilinear, and that type or severity of trauma may affect this relationship. The relationship between depression, anxiety, and PTG is understudied. It is well established that meaning in life predicts PTG, PTS, and resilience, yet most of the research has measured general perceived meaning rather than meaning beyond-the-self, specifically, which was initially theorized by mid-century Humanistic psychologists. Mixed findings about whether searching for meaning is beneficial or harmful suggests potential moderators of search for meaning should be explored. METHOD: Participants (N = 628) were emerging adult students at a southeastern United States university. Survivors of PTSD diagnostic criterion A events (n = 471) and other adverse life events (n = 54) comprised the subsample used (N = 525). Participants completed a cross-sectional survey with self-report scales on meaning in life, social support, resilience, posttraumatic growth, posttraumatic stress, depression, and anxiety. Participants were recruited for further timepoints but less than 30% completed the second wave one month later. Insufficient data were collected to conduct the longitudinal analysis proposed. RESULTS: In a multivariate regression, the quadratic term of PTS best predicted PTG. A different curvilinear relationship was significant for PTG and depression/anxiety/stress, with the quadratic term of PTG best predicting depression/anxiety/stress. Beyond-the-self meaning in life predicted posttraumatic outcomes (resilience, PTG, and PTS) above and beyond general meaning in life. The effect of search for meaning on posttraumatic outcomes (resilience, PTG, and PTS) was moderated by adaptive coping. CONCLUSIONS: The curvilinear model of PTS and PTG supported Park’s meaning-making model, that recovery from posttraumatic stress, through meaning-making, results in posttraumatic growth. The curvilinear relationship between depression/anxiety/stress and PTG replicated the minimal literature on depression and PTG, that many survivors experience PTG without clinically significant depression or anxiety. Also supporting Park’s model, meaning in life, more than social support, contributed to increasing PTG and resilience. The finding that meaning beyond-the-self outweighed general perceived meaning provides empirical support for older, yet understudied, humanist theories. Searching for meaning through adaptive coping appears beneficial, whereas search without adaptive coping may be harmful.



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