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Of Trauma and Psychological Resilience: The Cleveland Tragedy

Allan Schwartz, LCSW, Ph.D. was in private practice for more than thirty years. He is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker in the states ...Read More

We seem to have an ability to endure lots of adversity. But, how much? How much can you endure beyond the daily and expected stresses that life brings with it?

As more information comes out about the three kidnap victims in Cleveland, Ohio, many people are asking a number of pertinent questions. For instance, how do people survive such a situation? In fact, these three are only the latest of others who have suffered through and endured such intolerable and overwhelming circumstances as that. In recent history, there have been other women who have been kidnapped and abused for months and years. In addition to those, there are the cases of being held as a prisoner of war and of having suffered through the holocaust. Another question is what are the possibilities for a return to physical and mental health after having been dehumanized for ten years? Can people recover and return to health? What about PTSD?

One of the concepts used to answer or guess at the answers to these questions is “psychological resilience.”

What is psychological resilience?

According to Wikipedia, it is “an individual’s tendency to cope with stress and adversity. This coping may result in the individual “bouncing back” to a previous state of normal functioning, or simply not showing negative effects.” Why is it that some people seem better able to bounce back than others?

According to the Resilience Resource Center (RRC) there are several factors that contribute to some people having more resilience than others. For example, coming from a strong family background where emotional needs were met and where there are still strong ties, help victims focus their attention on those relationships for strength while they are living through the trauma or captivity. In addition, an individual’s ability to focus on goals and not give up hope for achieving those goals help strengthen resolve to get through the ordeal. Despite the horror of what is happening, the ability to maintain a sense of optimism regardless of how hopeless a situation may be is an important ingredient of resilience. Perhaps most important of all is the ability to tolerate uncertainty, ambiguity or lack of clarity about the future helps bolster people in these types of situations.

One of the most controversial issues connected with resilience is the notion that even trauma, including Complex PTSD, can provide the opportunity for growth. Many people find this idea to be absurd because, as with these three women, there can be nothing about ten years of captivity, rape and brutality that can promote growth.

In addition to trying to understand how these women and others have gotten through, is the question of how they will cope in the future? Will they be able to bounce back, function and even thrive? A lot will depend on how many of the factors mentioned above that were discussed. We can only hope that they will return to normal functioning. Part of that will also rest upon their ability to trust other people again.

Your comments and questions are encouraged.

Allan N. Schwartz, PhD

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