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Resilience: Chapter IV (A Paradigm Shift)

May 17

G’day all! It seems as if it hasn’t been that long since I wished you the last “g’day”? Just a handful of days? As this is your blog, I thought you should know the numbers (of readers)have fallen off considerably. It seems you prefer beating up on old “Bobbles” over reading the “straight goods” on this posttraumatic stress issue? Please remember I am not offering you therapy nor am I presenting my own opinions. I am reporting the “state of the art” in the area of resilience, trauma, and “PTSD”. What I am offering is the most objective perspective we have at the moment of a very contemporary psychological concern.

Up to date literature reviews done in the area are careful to point out that in terms of “PTSD”……… vulnerability, and resilience are opposite sides of the same coin. There are easily identifiable vulnerability factors involved in “PTSD”; including genetics, individual risk factors (e.g. parenting), personality adjustment (e.g. ego defenses employed, introversion vs. extroversion), cognitive style, and information processing. These findings are recognized as not directly addressing resiliency when confronted with a traumatic exposure; rather, they are thought of as an interrelated complex of psycho-biological processes that influence a number of other factors. The latter include: a genetic predisposition to trauma; likely protective factors developed through childhood; the mechanics and moderating functions of personality processes, and; the nature and cause of prolonged stress response patterns in the central nervous system (e.g. traumatic memories).

Another review of research in the area, concerned more with a broad range of contexts e.g. combat, natural and technological disasters, torture, the Holocaust, and duty-related trauma was reduced to seven factors associated with resilience (the other side of the coin). The researchers discovered that there were similar groups of variables across various studies that could be used to predict positive mental health and resilience in these survivor populations. They included: locus of control; self disclosure; a sense of belonging to a group; the perception of personal and social resources; pro-social behaviour; the ability to find meaning in the traumatic exposure; and, a connection with other survivors. It was suggested that it was the interaction of these factors that created resilience. The resulting combination was a conglomerate of internal factors (e.g. locus of control, cognitive attributions related to personal strength, and a sense of self as a survivor), coping skills (e.g. belief in one’s personal and social resources, and the capacity to find meaning), and behaviour in the recovery environment (e.g. self disclosure, altruism, pro-social behaviour, and bonding with other survivors) that stimulated resilience.

Putting it all together we could look at your situation and perhaps say something like this: effected members who have an internal locus of control (i.e. a sense of self efficacy) and who have found meaning in the traumatic experience might be able to start a set of processes that would allow them to create a self picture by bonding with similar others who are in turn seen as resources for coping with emotional, social, and cognitive needs. Moreover, within this group of survivors our members’ attachments might facilitate self disclosure and the opportunity to behave pro-socially and create positive emotional states as part of getting out of one’s own head and into a meaningful life. These pro-social behaviours have the potential to reinforce one’s personal systems of meaning (refer here to Dr. Viktor Frankl and his “Man’s Search for Meaning”) including the strengths and benefits of survivorship. (Several years ago I approached your employer to support such a therapy group but was denied, due to my refusal to “go along to get along”).

One last point before we shut it down for this go ’round. One’s symptom profile following a traumatic exposure could be the result of personal vulnerability or a type of pre-traumatic vulnerability (e.g. previous traumatic exposures or pre-existing psychological disorders). In some of us a series of traumatic exposures may increase our resilience; in others it could weaken our resilience. These processes have been referred to consecutively as the “steeling effect” and “prior vulnerability”, in relation to the avoidance or development of a chronic stress response.

So there it is, for this time. Are you beginning to get the picture? This posttraumatic stress response is not a “one size fits all” kind of thing. Just because you are, for example, exposed to the fire of Fort McMurray doesn’t mean that you are going to develop a chronic stress response and everyone’s symptom picture will be exactly the same. And if you do exhibit an acute stress response……maybe you should be…….you’re human aren’t you? How much experience have you had with raging infernos devouring your community? And what do you suppose will happen if you tell yourself you are “sick” and start fighting against your human response, rather than accepting it and gradually assuming more and more of your daily activities? Of course, it will fight back! And now who’s responsible for the problem? Moreover, we can never forget our hero “Freddy” Nietzsche’s take on things……..”IF IT DOESN’T KILL ME, IT WILL ONLY MAKE ME STRONGER”. We’ll talk again.

Dr. Mike Webster
Registered Psychologist

One Comment
  1. The mind is everything. What you think, you become.

    — “Sissy” T.


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