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“Survey Says….”: ‘Hardiness’ is the Key!

May 26

Top of the day to you all! I hope all is well in your part of the world. If not, remember it could always be worse. Do you remember where we left off? I think we were in some interesting work done on comparing combat veterans with their POW confreres and how they differed in their post-war display of post-traumatic symptoms. Interestingly the predictors of symptom severity were thought to include degree of trauma during imprisonment, resilience (individual) factors, and post-war social support. The severity of the trauma during imprisonment was related to distress experienced 40/50 years later. The amount of this distress was inversely proportional to the level of education and age at the time of the traumatic experience. This means the older and more educated the subject at the time of exposure, the less distress later in life.

In another related body of work a Person X Situation interactional analysis of the variables significantly associated with the persistence of post-traumatic symptomology was employed. These results as a whole revealed that approximately 55% of subjects reported post-traumatic symptoms 40 years after their WWII internment. Demographic variables suggested better outcomes were related to higher military status (e.g. Senior Non-Commissioned and Commissioned Officers interned) and education.

“Hardiness” as a personality trait has been examined in direct relation to coping, dealing with daily life problems and developmental life stressors. This work is directly related to traumatic exposure, and resilience in those characterized as “hardy”. Investigators found that “hardiness” predicted actual transformational coping better than statistically measured “optimism”. Those subjects who had been identified as “hardy” used more active coping and planning. The “hardiness” variable was negatively correlated with behavioural and mental disengagement, denial, and a proneness to use alcohol as a coping mechanism. “Hardiness” was also positively correlated with instrumental (“let me help you with that”) and emotional (“wanna’ talk about it?”) types of social support. The authors of these studies suggested that the phenomenon of “hardiness” was related to active problem solvers who had a capacity to organize resources (internally and externally) to achieve desired outcomes.

I feel for ya’ if you don’t have the patience to read research results; however, this is where the empirically supported “state of the art” lays. You won’t find it in well meaning articles (blogs) guided by sentiment, sensationalism, and sorrow. Let’s slog through one more body of research conducted on Israeli POWs of the Yom Kippur War. In this body of work “hardiness” was regarded as either a direct, or moderating, effect leading to long term positive (or negative) change as a result of exposure to war trauma. The work of two highly respected theorists (Antonovsky and Bernstein) provided a framework for this investigation. The role of “hardiness” in shielding POWs from long term negative consequences of internment and abuse was the focus of attention. In general it was discovered that “hardiness” was more active in protecting those exposed to extreme stress rather than those exposed to lower levels of stress. As we have come to see, “hardiness” played a role in moderating stress in POWs but not so much on controls who fought in the same war but experienced less exposure (e.g. to torture). There was an inverse relationship between “hardiness” and negative changes in both the POW and non-POW groups. (That is, the hardier the subject the less negative change experienced). Generally POWs reported more negative life changes following war-related trauma than did their non-POW counterparts; however, the “hardy” POWs were less effected by post-war negative life changes than were their less “hardy” fellow POWs.

Once again, enough for now. The research seems to be moving toward a generic model of resilience in response to psychological trauma. I think we will be able to identify key variables that interact dynamically in the determination of resilient behaviour triggered by traumatic experiences. I hope you are able to see how the study of resilience is a more fruitful scientific enterprise than the constant generalizing and sensationalizing around “PTSD”; and how it could shed light on the difference between a chronic stress response to bullying/harassment at work and an acute response to the e.g. horror, abuse, or torture during internment as a POW?


Dr. Mike Webster
Registered Psychologist

  1. I have an idea about what Traumatic might be (at least for me...) permalink

    My thoughts regarding the Surgeon exposed to blood and guts on a daily basis is that he is in a controlled, sanitary environment where he has the knowledge, tools and assistance at his disposal to help repair human bodies. In spite of all that, I would bet that Surgeons still encounter the occasional injuries that even they would consider Traumatic.

    Traumatic for a police officer on the other hand is when you are called out to the reserve at 4:00 am for a fight, find a guy dead on the ground and another guy barely alive with a knife sticking out of his back and slabs of meat hanging off his clearly exposed white bones. Traumatic is when the guy with the knife in his back is bleeding out so severely before your very eyes that you are amazed anyone can still live with that much blood loss. Traumatic is when there is nothing you can do for the guy while he grunts like a wounded animal and continues his attempt to scrabble across the ground in spite of his severed spine. Traumatic is wondering if the bad guy who barricaded himself in the house after causing this carnage who now has a rifle is going to put a round or two through you while you are trying to convince the ambulance attendants who do not want to risk being shot at to come to scene and try to save the guy with the knife sticking out of his back. Traumatic is trying to make rational sense out of this one Traumatic experience while dozens of other equally senseless violent and tragic experiences continue to fill up the inside of your head over the years.

  2. The little one asked, “Grandfather how do I become wise?” The old man paused and looked deeply into his Grandchild’s eyes and then said, “You become wise by not trying to change what is irrational to rational; or by changing senseless to what makes sense (to you); but by accepting it for what it is, and using your knowledge for the benefit of others. If you knew this was your last day on earth, would you waste it chasing a mirage? Or do something meaningful with it?”

    • I have an idea about what Traumatic might be (at least for me...) permalink

      Thanks Dr. Webster, that is good and very timely advice as I am learning a lot about the importance of acceptance right now. I find it interesting that for most of my life, I had no issue with acceptance and have for many years practiced the Stephen Covey mantra to “focus on my circle of control” as I knew that the things outside that circle would generally sort themselves out with or without me. I found it interesting (and extremely humbling to say the least…) that even when you think you have it all together as I did for many years, once you allow yourself to become physically run down and your daily stress level reaches a certain point, the mind can become self destructive and take you down a very dark path within a relatively short period of time. When that happens, your ability to think rationally is greatly diminished and all the values and beliefs that you held so dear, seem to simply disintegrate all around you.

      My therapist asked me the other day what I wanted most. I said I wanted to be normal again. We talked a lot about what I my previous normal consisted of. I learned that maybe my previous normal was maybe not as I good as I had recalled and in many aspects I now had an entirely new appreciation for a lot of simple things in life that previously were of no importance to me. My journey continues and while I would not wish my experience on anyone else, maybe I can share my journey with others along with the knowledge I have learned through this process. Maybe my experience can help others to avoid going down that same rabbit hole and maybe I can actually become a better person as a result of this experience. Or maybe people will just role their eyes and refer to me as the crazy guy behind my back when I eventually return to work : ) At least I now have hope that I can get through this and I am able to see a glimmer of light at the end of the tunnel. Again, thanks for your efforts in providing this blog and your valuable insight into matters of the mind.

  3. The little Grandchild looked at the once mighty old warrior and asked, “Grandfather, how do I become ‘a better person’?” The battle-scarred veteran thought deeply for a moment, then gathered the warrior-to-be upon his lap and deliberately stated, “You can never be a better person little one……………only better at being a person.”


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