In yet another study that links mental and physical well-being, researchers from Brown University have found that people who experience adversity during childhood are more susceptible to stress throughout the rest of their lives. The study measured specific stress hormones and markers of inflammation in adults while exposing those adults to mentally and socially stressful situations. Participants who reported experiencing some level of abuse or neglect as a child had consistently higher stress indicators even before the stressful situation began; the elevation was even more drastic in the hours after they experienced that stress.
This particular study was looking at the physiological response to stress. Inflammation is suspected as a contributor to several types of physical illness. But the fact that emotional stresses can have a long-lasting physical affect on the body suggests that the emotional affect stays around through adulthood, too. “Hardships in Childhood May Lower Resiliency” writes PsychCentral.com when introducing this story. Resiliency is an increasingly common term. In ecological circles, “resilient” is usurping “sustainable.” Sustainable suggests maintaining an even keel indefinitely, while resilient speaks of strength, recovery, and the ability to heal and move on. A resilient landscape has the tools it needs to take care of itself and bounce back. People work the same way.
Psychological resilience does not mean that a person will never become depressed, never be overwhelmed by stress, or never need to find a therapist. But it does mean that a person is in a better position to work through these things, and possibly has more fully developed emotional tools that will help them do so. And as this recent study shows, resilience starts young. We know from existing research that kids who experience abuse, bullying, neglect, and trauma are more likely to struggle in school, become antisocial as a teenager, face depression and anxiety as an adult, and become addicted to drugs and alcohol. Certainly none of these outcomes is an absolute guarantee. But if kids face hard times and aren’t helped to heal—whether through therapy, counseling, familial support, social interventions, or whatever means necessary—they are likely to be less resilient, and are more likely to be harmed by the pressures they face as the grow into adulthood.
© Copyright 2010 by By John Smith, therapist in Bellingham, Washington. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to GoodTherapy.org.
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