Now, in the midst of the sirens, rockets, thrown stones, abductions and world condemnation against Jewish Israeli self-defense, now is the perfect time for a small lesson in the psychology of resilience. In the study of trauma resilience is a major component. Resilience is roughly defined as the ability to deal with trauma or to have a positive rather than negative emotional adaptation to traumatic events. About 30% of all individuals exposed to major traumas manage to avoid the significant negative consequences that can and usually occur to the other 70%. These emotionally robust people are not likely to develop shock or anxiety or depressive symptoms or any of a plethora of physical maladies or other long term consequences. They seem to rise to the occasion and despite the stress and pressures of the moment they seem to rapidly recover from it.
What distinguishes this robust group from the larger population that can have the symptoms and signs of their traumas for decades after? Recent research as to why some people have this skill makes it very clear that there is no relationship between personality and resilience. Extraverted individuals are no more or less likely than introverts in having resiliency. Similarly people who are conscientious are just as likely to develop trauma as those who are impulsive and distracted. Essentially, being resilient is not genetic or preprogrammed. What makes a person resilient seems to be an acquired characteristic. In the face of trauma resiliency is best conceptualized as a mindset that can be attained and usually is at a young age and most often within the context of a supportive family and community.
Following a narrative that provides a framework for long term stability in the face of life’s challenges is the general formula for teaching resilience. Saying that we are always under attack and that is our destiny in life as a people or as a family is not a productive approach to a feeling of emotional success. But, neither is a narrative that focuses on an unrealistic history that is always successful and positive. Being too positive is just as bad as being too negative when it comes to long term emotional well being. To create a narrative that teaches resilience requires an acknowledgement of the traumas we have been exposed to along with the successes we have achieved. Combining the positive with the negative and capping them with ultimate statement of success, mainly – in spite of it all we are here, we have survived – is the method that seems to work best. Propagandizing, subverting or straight ahead lying about success is little more than hyperbole. Stating that life is tough, we are here for one another, we support one another, somehow we will manage to get through this stressful situation works best.
In this time when so many rockets are being launched and unrest has returned to a level not seen in 10 years we can do a simple intervention to help our families and communities. We need to be realistic and honest. We need to be balanced and aware of our reactions and we need to balance our fears with our achievements. If we are capable of doing this we will help increase our resilience and long term health.