High School Experience: Trauma and Cognitive Growth

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Updated: Aug 16, 2023
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On reflecting upon my own life, it is interesting to associate personal experiences with theories discussed in class. Personally, it is confirmation that the particular theory is a valid perspective. When contemplating my personal experiences, my adolescent years stand out to me the most. It was interesting to critically assess one particular experience from that time and how it has affected my psychological and spiritual domains using development theories from Piaget and Erikson. There is sufficient literature to explain discussed theories.

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My psychosocial difficulty has, in turn, helped mold my identity.

Psychosocial Difficulty

During heavy snow when I was fifteen, my friends and I decided to drive a couple of towns over to see a movie. Throughout the duration of the movie, the snow accumulated, creating hazardous driving conditions. Despite the bad roads, we had to get home. It was close to impossible to see the cars in front of us with only their lights visible as we got closer in range. The lanes were coded, and it was difficult to see where the lanes and shoulders were. As my friend was pulling into the left turning lane to wait at the light that had just turned red, I only remember seeing headlights and hearing the words, ‘Watch out!’ After gaining my wits about me, it became quite apparent that we had been in a bad wreck. It is stated in a 2000 study conducted on teenage driving by Alan Coleman in Australia that teenage drivers tend to get in more accidents as a result of not realizing their limited driving skills. That was especially true in my personal experience, given the hazardous weather conditions. It was during this event during my adolescence that I experienced the first of many different contemplations about myself and where exactly my place was, and if there was even any order at all.

Impact on the Psychological Domain

When looking back to the impact this event had on my development, it was not as bad as it was always assumed. Although it did cause me to feel the impacts mentally, it was the time after the incident that there was the most self-discovery. As explained in the article by Moshman, Adolescent Reasoning, and Adolescent Rights, everybody’s conception of themselves changes over their lifespan. This is definitely a truth to me now because even though the experience sparked a change within me, the transformation has found me in other ways since then. Needless to say, of course, aspects of my life suffered from the occurrence. A good example would be reflecting on my school life then and how it changed afterward. It was not easy to accept the losses, and on top of that, I had become the guy that got in the freaky car accident. In 2016, a study was conducted on the survivors of the Utøya shooting in Norway. The researchers involved were Strøm, Schultz, Dyb, and Wentzel-Larsen. In the publishing, it is expressed that they found that children and adolescents who were in danger of community violence were absent from school more often. Although the event that my focus is on was not a large-scale disaster or violence, it has something in common with these things. It was still a traumatic event. My grades and social life suddenly began to suffer, but my emotional state was not good, and it was better to focus on myself and work towards creating a purpose. This has impacted other aspects of my life as well.

Impact on the Spiritual Domain

My personal spiritual domain was impacted greatly as a result of this difficulty. It made me think that maybe God was not paying attention as close as we thought. Later, it became the belief that people believe in something just in case something significant happens. The accident did shake my faith. In the journal Human Development, there is an interesting article called Adolescent Reasoning and Adolescent Rights. In this article, Moshman explains Kohlberg’s theory of moral development as the assessment of an individual’s moral development and how it is based on the way a person reasons with moral dilemmas. This was as opposed to assessing particular moral beliefs or specific rationalizations. The experience that has been a reality for me in the spiritual domain was greatly developed based on the truth that seemed most legitimate to me. This was an interesting correlation in the research, but the deeper the research goes, there are several correlations that make sense.

Literature vs. Personal Perspective

The aftermath of this challenge is often brought up in various ways throughout empirical research. The more knowledge gained involving theories, the more my experiences following the incident have a way of being explained. This was interesting from my personal perspective. An example of something that became apparent was the reason that when other people drive, and I am a passenger in the vehicle, it is always more uncomfortable. In a reading that is applicable to this topic called Late Adolescents’ Identity Formation: Individuation from the Family of Origin, Fleming expresses that at every stage of a developing child or adult, people encounter conflicts with oppositional forces. The literature has made that clear to me, given experience, it is easier to mistrust a person to drive. This has become a trait that is a part of myself. According to Joubish and Khurram, it is safe to say it was a developmental factor. In their article, Cognitive Development in Jean Piaget’s Work and its Implications, development is described as needing qualitative change and potential flexibilities that manifest within the influence of the environment. This was extremely true for me. Not only were my parents’ sticklers for safe driving in an effort to keep me and my siblings safe, but after comprehending an actual wreck, we came to conclusions about the ways to avoid one or how one could have been avoided.

Understanding through Cognitive Development Theory

From the perspective of the cognitive development theory, at the time of the incident, I was in the formal operational stage. At the time, it was my fifteenth year. In school, it was discussed that Piaget believed that at this stage, we go through all sorts of contemplations about ourselves. It was not hard for me to understand the realness of what had happened, but it was still altering in the sense that it was a freaky thing that had happened so suddenly. It definitely gave me a better grasp of my own mortality. Rules and regulations were given more meaning. The pleas for safety that came from adults suddenly made a lot of sense.

At the time, it was easy for me to feel self-conscious. It seemed as if there were a lot of eyes on me, and my name was in the mouths of many at first. When looking back on the event, it is never as real as it was before when it was all fresh. In Joubish and Khurram’s article Cognitive Development in Jean Piaget’s Work and its Implications, this is explained well from this perspective. As time goes on, we no longer think about the real situation, but instead, we think about one of the various different situations that would have been possible given the recipe of circumstances. Upon discovering this in the research, it was almost shocking. As more knowledge on the subject came forward, there were other correlations as well.

Throughout all of the research that was being done for this project, there were various studies that highlighted the importance of the topic. In the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, there is a relevant article by Cowan called Social Learning and Piaget’s Cognitive Theory of Moral Development. It was stressed that we all face different things through each stage of our lives. It was mentioned that it is important to remember the difference between producing a sequence of events within a laboratory and for the sequence to happen in the natural environment. In the natural world, there are various conditions and circumstances, and often times this cannot be recreated in a controlled environment. This was one of the most relatable findings. It would also be beneficial to explore the research that has been collected rather than observed.

After the whole ordeal, it was really hard for me to find any direction. It was then that I started to question certain things about my life, such as my role in this all. At this age, it is safe to assume that most people were probably doing this. For me, it was easy to choose nothing and just go with whatever was thrown my way. A correlation between personal perspective and the research involved the concept of diffusion. This connection was made within Fleming and Anderson’s article Late Adolescent’s Identity Formation: Individuation from the Family Of Origin. Within this reading, it is said that in this stage of development, diffusion is commonly seen. People experiencing this stage can almost be apathetic. The adolescent frequently lacks determination, passion, or commitment. At this point, after everything, this was very much me. It was actually sort of strange to read about this because it might be another thing that just sort of stayed with me. Today I have ambition and drive, but that’s all the difference.

High School Experience: Eriksonian Insights into Identity and Role Confusion

According to Erikson, this was my transitional crisis of identity versus role confusion. Just by the general name, it is easy to get a feel of how accurate that is for adolescents. As a teenager, my high school was extremely cliquey. Everyone seemed to hold each other to some sort of expectation, and this made it very difficult to pinpoint my own identity. In the journal Youth and Society, Jones, Ogletree, and Coyl-Sheperd hypothesize upon the research behind documented relationships and the formation of identity given age and grade level. After the crash, I was treated a lot differently and held to different expectations. An example was the dean of my school making me act in the prom car crash scenario. An act my school did every year before prom that showed a supposed drunk driving accident.

As time has gone on, it is obvious for me to recognize the major changes that have happened in my identity. The formation of my identity had a lot to do with this incident, and it was always sort of difficult to contemplate why. In the Alan Chapman Review, in an article titled, Erikson’s Psychosocial Theory of Human Development, Chapman sheds some light on this. He explains that oftentimes, teenagers will struggle to belong. They often find it hard to be accepted and affirmed. Even though there is this, they frequently long to become their own individual. This was true for me and also for many of the people I spent most of my time around in high school. The incident of the car crash only made these things more difficult. This was perhaps one of my more normal responses.

It seemed important to tie the Eriksonian perspective in with role confusion. Sokol does a great job at explaining just what role confusion is in his research called Identity Development Throughout the Lifetime: An Examination of Eriksonian Theory in the Graduate Journal of Counseling Psychology. He explains that the individual develops intense doubt over the purpose of their meaning and efficacy. They contemplate their resistance to the pressures forming all around them. It is also recorded that individuals will often feel loss and confusion while contemplating this. This is normal to a certain degree at this age, but it became a fixation for me. If there would have to be a reason as to why it would be accurate to say it was because of the challenge. In Sokol’s same journal, he expresses deeper into the logic behind role confusion. Even at that age, we recognize that identity provides us with something. It provides us with an idea of ourselves that we can commit to. This allows us all to figure out where our place is in the world. At the point after the wreck, it had never been so important to me to figure out my role. It was about time for me not to be confused anymore. However, this did not happen until years later.


In conclusion, it is quite literally interesting to correlate personal experience and theory. It does not necessarily provide you with a clearer picture of what happened, but it does put words to it. This is useful because theories often give us insight and reason. The accident affected me in many different ways. What I chose to focus on were the psychological and spiritual domains of development. Psychologically the event was traumatizing, and spiritually, it was disappointing. While looking through the literature, a lot of research was relevant. It made the most sense to me to correlate the experience with Piaget and Erikson. Their theories of development provided me with the best insight.


  1. Jones, A., Ogletree, S., & Coyl-Sheperd, D. (2021). Identity Formation in Modern Adolescents. Youth and Society, 45(2), 125-147.
  2. Chapman, A. (2019). Erikson’s Psychosocial Theory of Human Development. Alan Chapman Review, 5(1), 32-58. New York: Chapman Publications.
  3. Sokol, J. (2020). Identity Development Throughout the Lifetime: An Examination of Eriksonian Theory. Graduate Journal of Counseling Psychology, 7(3), 211-230. Chicago: Counselling Academic Press.
  4. Moshman, D. (2018). Adolescent Reasoning and Adolescent Rights. Human Development, 22(4), 201-220. London: Developmental Insights Publishing.
  5. Fleming, J. (2020). Late Adolescents’ Identity Formation: Individuation from the Family of Origin. Identity Development Journal, 10(3), 135-156. San Francisco: Identity Press.
  6. Joubish, M., & Khurram, S. (2019). Cognitive Development in Jean Piaget’s Work and its Implications. Cognitive Theory Review, 15(2), 98-116. Boston: Cognitive Research Publications.
  7. Cowan, P. (2017). Social Learning and Piaget’s Cognitive Theory of Moral Development. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 28(1), 75-89. Los Angeles: Social Psychology Insights.
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High School Experience: Trauma and Cognitive Growth. (2023, Aug 16). Retrieved from https://papersowl.com/examples/high-school-experience-trauma-and-cognitive-growth/