It may seem that wise, strong people typically have gone through a few hard times in their lives. By comparison, those who have led a very sheltered and privileged life often appear to crack more easily under pressure. But is it really true that some degree of pain and trauma can make us stronger? And if so, at what point does it destroy us?
Seriously traumatic events – such as accidents or terrorist attacks – can evoke fear and helplessness in the face of a threat to life or serious injury. Fear responses are often more extreme if the trauma is unsystematic and random. That’s because the utter senselessness of the situation makes it difficult for individuals to interpret what is happening around them. How does one explain the mindless murder of the innocent, for example?
These events corrupt the sense of confidence, stability and trust we have in the world. But miraculously it turns out they can actually help us be stronger – although not everyone. Indeed, psychologists have long been interested in why some individuals appear to overcome traumatic events and thrive while others appear unable to recover, continuing to suffer from post traumatic stress disorder or other mental-health problems.
Research on victims of serious trauma has found that about 75% of them do not appear to be significantly impaired after the incident, despite being stressed and traumatised at the time of the incident.
So what characteristics do those individuals have that are different?
First and foremost it is a quality that psychologists call resilience, the ability to cope and adapt in the face of hardship, loss or adversity. It is the capacity to deal effectively with stress and pressure and to rebound from disappointments and mistakes. A person with psychological resilience is able to solve problems and meet life’s challenges with confidence and purpose, demonstrating impressive self-renewal skills when necessary.
Whether it’s chronic illness, sexual, physical or emotional abuse or fear and threat of violence, resilient individuals have better coping success when under psychological distress, higher self-efficacy and self-esteem as well as more optimism and hope. They also tend to have fewer psychological and health-related problems. Resilient individuals are typically also internally consistent, assertive, cognitively flexible, autonomous and have a personal moral compass and an ability to face their fears.
When studying the personality traits of resilient holocaust survivors, who had suffered extreme trauma and watched their families and friends die in the camps, we found that they were characterised by optimism, creative problem solving and acceptance of their situation. These people typically reported that they always had hope that they would somehow endure and that the story of their lives would one day be told.
However, resilience does not have to come from extreme emotional and physical trauma. More than two-thirds of the general population will experience events they find traumatic in their lifetimes. Life experiences such as poverty, dysfunctional families and bullying can also have lasting impacts – it’s a dynamic interaction of a variety of influences such as personalty, coping responses and our appraisal of the trauma that shape us.
Nature versus nurture
It’s not entirely clear to what extent we are born with resilience and to what extent it is something that we learn. But it is certainly a construct that can be improved and built upon. Positive emotions help to establish a building block that broadens the domain of effective behaviours in regards to stress and trauma. However the building of resiliency must occur before a stressful situation – just like immunity to an infection or disease.
But that’s not the whole story. Actually going through a trauma can provide us with the opportunities to become more resilient to the next life-impacting event. When going through tough times we get to know ourselves and learn about the behaviours that we exhibit when stressed – and how to best manage them. This in turn also helps build confidence.
So does that mean that people with an “easy life”, who may not have had the opportunity to learn how to be resilient, are worse at it? While this could be the case, there isn’t any research on this, probably because it isn’t exactly straightforward how to define an “easy” life. What’s more, psychologists tend to study people who are traumatised – they are the ones that actually need our help. Having said that, there are people who may not have suffered much trauma but are nevertheless able to suddenly stand up and rescue 20 people from drowning instead of only saving themselves in a crisis – and this is showing a type of resilience.
Ultimately, resilience is a complicated mix of personality and experience. Each of us has the capability to get back up and carry on, whether we use it or not. Having a sense of one’s own meaning is probably the most important characteristic of building resilience – everyone has something to contribute, everyone has extraordinary possibilities and strengths. Understanding your uniqueness is the first step to recognising your worth and is one way of beginning to improve your psychological resiliency. Hopefully, just knowing that it is something we can improve can help some of us move in the right direction.
Saturday, August 20, 2016
Saturday, August 13, 2016
“I do not fear death. I had been dead for billions and billions of years before I was born, and had not suffered the slightest inconvenience from it" - Mark Twain.
And if the universe is eternal, you were dead for an eternity before you were born.
Do you feel marooned?
Are you marooned?
Or is it just a feeling?
Labels: Thanissaro Bhikku
Friday, July 15, 2016
Every situation is like food.
The ingredients you put in food determine the final product.
The ingredients you put in a situation determine the final product.
Would you like to put negativity into the food of the future? [Relationships]
All negativity generated within you, you have to see the causes. And find healthy ways to either transmute the negativity or employ it as fuel for something good. Don't put it into food of the future, i.e. relationships.
Wednesday, June 29, 2016
Dealing with the critical inner voice:
Keeping a Journal© psychalive.org
Keeping a journal can be an effective tool for helping you identify and challenge your critical inner voice. Divide a page in half by drawing a line down the middle of the page from top to bottom. On the left side of the page, record negative thoughts toward yourself that you experience during the day. Be sure to write these thoughts as your critical inner voices in the second person, “you,” that is, as though someone were talking to you.
It is helpful to devote 10 to 15 minutes at the end of your day to recalling the negative thoughts you experienced that day. Just let these thoughts flow. Don’t censor yourself. Give full expression to your negative thoughts. Don’t be afraid of them. You don’t have to believe them or act on them. Getting them out in the open, writing them down, will actually give you more control over them. Get to know all the aspects of your negative thinking. Also don’t worry if the thoughts are not logical. Remember that the voice is irrational and the thoughts often contradict each other. After you have finished writing your critical thoughts on the left-hand side of the page, take some time to go back over them. Check to make sure you have written them all in the second person.
Next, on the right-hand side of the page, in relation to each attack, try to express a more friendly, compassionate and realistic view of yourself, your qualities, and your reactions. What would a close friend or an objective observer say or see about you and about the situation? Write this more accurate view of yourself on the right-hand side of the page. Make sure to write it in the first person, as “I” statements. This is not meant to be an exercise where you buoy yourself up with self-affirmative statements, but rather where you look at yourself from an objective but compassionate point of view. How do you see yourself?
If you do this exercise on your computer, follow the first step and write down your critical inner voices (in the second person). When you are done, go back into your document and, after each attack, write your objective view of yourself (in the first person).
Throughout the week, continue to keep a record of the negative thoughts you experience each day, always in the second person, followed by a more compassionate view of yourself written in the first person. At the end of the week, review your journal. Look for any areas in which attacks recur. In the future, you can be aware that these areas are vulnerable to attack by your critical inner voice. Were any of your attacks triggered by specific events? Now when these events occur, you can be on the look out for self-attacks.