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Traumatic resilience: avoiding ptsd

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Isolating specifics that identify resilience to trauma is complex. In essence, this article likely raises more questions than answers, which I look forward to discussing. One must note that--due to the complex, individualistic nature of humans--science on resilience is only a hypothesis and not empirically proven. There are many important questions we need try and understand in relation to resilience, though these are impossible to fully cover in a short article.

Let's look at the overall basics that define resilience to traumatic events.

What is resilience and what constitutes resilient behaviour?

Above lies simple question to ask, yet it is complex when translated to a psychological and behavioural process. The Oxford dictionary defines resilience as "the activity of rebounding or springing back; to rebound; to recoil." It further defines resilience as "elasticity; the power of resuming the original shape or position after compression, bending, etc." It is the ability "to return to the original position." More interestingly is that the linguistic use of the term refers to a property, "an ability of an object to restore its original structural form, despite being temporarily altered by external forces that bend or compress its shape."

Consider this analogy: the external force of compounding stress bends and compresses the mind, which may form fractures. In those who are resilient, the mind has more elasticity to rebound back to normal, without ongoing symptoms or longevity concerns.

To summate, you could view resilience as a quality of character, personality, coping ability, strength, flexibility, capacity for mastery and resumption of normal functioning after excessive stress.

What are the basics for traumatic resilience?

If you want to keep things simple, the following list is a basic outline for building resilience:
  • Maintaining an optimistic but realistic outlook
  • Facing fear (ability to confront one’s fears)
  • Relying upon one’s own inner moral compass
  • Turning to religious or spiritual practices
  • Seeking and accepting social support
  • Learning from and imitating sturdy role models
  • Staying physically fit
  • Staying mentally sharp
  • Cognitive and emotional flexibility (finding a way to accept that which cannot be changed)
  • Looking for meaning and opportunity in the midst of adversity
What defines a person's ability to be resilient?

Research suggests that competence in one's positive ability to solve problems, perform tasks and self regulate Link Removed, a resiliency trait. When reviewing risk factors of impoverished children, competence is compromised due to often lacking resource access such as social and community support, not being financially impoverished itself. This 1999 study shows that adolescents with maladaptive behavior tend to be reactive to stress and have a history of low resource utilisation, subsequently lacking competence in coping with stressor demands. Competence, even during extreme stress, can develop positively when resources are accessible. To state simply, good parenting is associated with the development of cognitive skills that facilitate competence dealing with diverse stressors. IQ is a significant predictor of social competence. The aforementioned study found few differences between competence and resilient individuals.

In fewer words, psychological resilience is a consequence of positive human development and the capacity to cope with stressors.

What are resilient factors?

In studies of trauma, PTSD and coping with extreme stress, the personality variable--internal locus of control--has been associated with effective adaptation to stress. Persons with an internal locus of control tend to exhibit less PTSD and psychopathology and have better overall adjustment than persons with an external locus of control. What is locus of control? "The extent to which individuals believe that they can control events that affect them; internal locus of control meaning individuals believe they can control events that happen to them, and external locus of control meaning that individuals believe they are powerless to control outside events."


The task of predicting resiliency is complicated because there is no universally defined concept of what constitutes resilient behavior . There are cases where resiliency is defined by the absence of psychopathology, prolonged stress response or maladaptive coping. In other cases, resilience is defined by having superior coping over a life-span combined with personality variables, such as locus of control, hardiness and ego resilience. The problem is that person to person you find some attributes yet not others, all attributes or none, and those affected by PTSD still vary between groups. Statistics demonstrate those with fewer attributes have higher outcomes for PTSD than those with stronger self states, yet what is very clear is that every person has a breaking point and that nobody is immune.

Much of the research today comes down to how much, or little, social support a person has from birth through their lifespan. The better support and communication available to a person, the more resilient that person through developmental stages and ongoing adulthood, reducing their risk for developing mental health disorders when exposed to traumatic events.
Hmmm. Donald Meichenbaum, Ph.D. identified over 100 items and subcategories in his Appendix A and seemed to define quite clearly (for me at least) what constituted “resilience”. Though written simply/for the PTSD brain I found his Roadmap to Resilience: A Guide for Military, Trauma Victims and Their Families particularly helpful. I was able to attend a live webinar with him and found him and his views to be very assistive.
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