Fifteen Eighty Four

Academic perspectives from Cambridge University Press


Into the Intro: Resilience

Steven M. Southwick, Dennis S. Charney

Read or download the entire excerpt here.

What is resilience?

Most of us at some point will be struck by one or more major traumas: violent crime, domestic violence, rape, child abuse, a serious automobile accident, the sudden death of a loved one, a debilitating disease, a natural disaster or war. If you are very lucky, then you have never encountered any of these misfortunes; but most likely you will someday. It is estimated that up to 90% of us will experience at least one serious traumatic event during our lives (Norris & Sloane, 2007 ).

Traumatic events throw our lives into turmoil in unpredictable ways; no two people will respond to them in exactly the same manner. For some, the stress of the event will become chronic, lasting for years. They may undergo a dramatic change in outlook, becoming sullen, demoralized, withdrawn, cynical, and angry. Some will become depressed or develop post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Horrific, intrusive memories and nightmares will haunt them for days, months or even years, and they will feel unsafe in the world – hypervigilant – as if another serious danger lurks just around the corner. Some will take up drinking or drugs to numb their pain and dull their memories .

Nevertheless, many people will fi nd ways to meet the challenge and continue with purposeful lives. For a period aft er their ordeal, they may become distressed, but in time they will bounce back and carry on. For some, it will be almost as if the trauma had never occurred. For others, the distress will persist, but they will fi nd healthy ways to cope. Some survivors will even grow stronger and wiser because of their trauma. Th ese survivors may report that their tragedy has helped them to appreciate life more, to become closer to family and friends, to find greater meaning, and sometimes to embark on a new mission in life.

In the words of Elisabeth S. Lukas, a protege  of the neurologist;  psychiatrist and Holocaust survivor Viktor Frankl, “The forces of fate that bear down on man and threaten to break him also have the capacity to ennoble him ” ( 1984 ) .

Read or download the entire excerpt here.

About The Authors

Steven M. Southwick

Steven M. Southwick is a co-author of Resilience: The Science of Mastering Life's Greatest Challenges (2012). He is Professor of Psychiatry, Yale University School of Medicine and ...

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Dennis S. Charney

Dennis S. Charney is a co-author of Resilience: The Science of Mastering Life's Greatest Challenges (2012). Charney is Dean and Professor of Psychiatry, Neuroscience and Pharmacolo...

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