Cultivating Resilience

According to Dr. George Bonanno, a growing body of evidence suggests that the personality trait of hardiness helps to buffer exposure to extreme stress.

The work of Kubler-Ross about death and dying is well known, especially the five stage model of the grieving process. The five stages, denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance are a part of the framework that makes up our learning to live with the one we lost. They are tools to help us frame and identify what we may be feeling. But they are not stops on some linear timeline in grief.

Dr. Bonanno is proposing something radically different.  He says that resilience is the most common, natural reaction to loss or trauma. And he explains that natural resilience is the main component of grief and trauma reactions in people who face major losses, such as the death of a spouse, the loss of a child, having suffered sexual abuse as a child, or losing a loved one in severe stressor events, such as the World Trade Center collapse of 9-11-01

He says that hardiness consists of three dimensions:

  1. Being committed to finding meaningful purpose in life,
  2. Believing that one can influence one’s surroundings and the outcome of events, and
  3. Believing that one can learn and grow from both positive and negative life experiences. (Post Traumatic Growth)

Armed with this set of beliefs, hardy individuals have been found to appraise potentially stressful situations as less threatening, thus minimizing the experience of distress. Hardy individuals are also more confident and better able to use active coping and social support, thus helping them deal with the distress they do experience.

His 2004 article Loss, Trauma and Human Resilience provides an  introduction to his theories. For a more extensive explanation you can read his book The Other Side of Sadness: What the New Science of Bereavement Tells Us About Life After a Loss.


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