Exploring Resilience through Personality Type

One of 2010’s psychology and therapy buzzwords was “resilience.” Resilience is the ability to naturally get through difficult situations with a lesser degree of psychological baggage than others. In 2011, counselors and researchers alike will continue to explore traits and experiences that foster resilience. From there, we’ll likely see these elements incorporated in training courses for veterans and first responders, counseling sessions for trauma survivors and those facing grief, and general individual therapy for those who can benefit from it. But for now, we’re still in the building block stage: gathering information on how people respond differently to difficult situations, and trying to learn from those responses. Here are overviews of two such studies published this week.

Though plenty of studies have assessed combat veterans returning home, this Michigan State University study is the first to look at soldiers who are actively fighting in combat zones. They found that soldiers who held a positive outlook and thought in “less catastrophic terms” about what they experienced fared better, psychologically, combat. These soldiers experienced less anxiety and depression both on the ground and back home. In the future, training sessions for military combat troops and civilian first responders may incorporate an emphasis on less catastrophic thinking to help their personnel deal with the trauma they experience.

It’s not just external experiences such as war that can be traumatic: an internal experience, such as battling a serious disease, can also be very difficult. A new study of breast cancer survivors who’ve undergone reconstructive surgery finds that differing personality traits mean differing quality of life after reconstruction. The surprise here? It’s not “positivity” that yields the most improvement. Those who were “apprehensive and doubtful” saw great improvement after reconstruction, presumably because it resorted their body image and reduced insecurity. Those who were “vindictive and self-centered” also had higher-than-normal quality of life after reconstruction, presumably because the surgery symbolizes completing “revenge on cancer.” In the future, these insights can be used to help determine which breast cancer patients are most (and least) at need for psychotherapy as they go through the process of treatment and/or reconstruction.

© Copyright 2011 by By Noah Rubinstein, LMFT, LMHC, therapist in Olympia, Washington. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to GoodTherapy.org.

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by GoodTherapy.org. Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

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  • zane


    January 8th, 2011 at 2:09 PM

    Is this really any big surprise here? Naturally someone who has a far better outlook on life would have to do much better in stressful situations. They are able to look at the bright side of things instead of focusing on what is sure to be a harrowing living environment. Honestly there has to be better ways to spend research money instead of throwing it waay on something that anyone with half a brain would already know anyway.

  • Frankie


    January 8th, 2011 at 7:33 PM

    I asked a military friend how he copes with the stress of being in a combat zone. He told me it’s simple when you remember you have a choice. Either you don’t think about how bad it could get and get on with your job or you lay in your bunk every night thinking about it until you drive yourself crazy. According to him it’s often the paranoid guys that get hurt more because their mind is so distracted.
    I marvel at how anybody has the guts to be a soldier.

  • Kaye


    January 8th, 2011 at 8:39 PM

    Yes it is surprising Zane because everything you read about cancer says to think positive for the best possible outcome. Nowhere does it recommend being doubtful or apprehensive for optimal quality-of-life results after surgery. I for one am pleasantly surprised by those results. I don’t think if I were a cancer sufferer that I could go under the knife feeling anything but apprehensive.

  • Jacquie


    January 8th, 2011 at 10:00 PM

    I think that the biggest factor isn’t personality type so much as a change in surgical practices.

    “More women are undergoing breast reconstruction immediately after mastectomy, which seems to reduce the psychological impact of treatment.”

    That wasn’t always the case. Having immediate breast reconstruction has to make you feel more resilient. You don’t have to physically look at how the cancer and resulting mastectomy ravaged your body. That stage was skipped.

  • phoebe


    January 8th, 2011 at 10:14 PM

    My gran had breast cancer and because of her age her doctor didn’t feel reconstructive surgery was necessary after her mastectomy. I swear to this day that decision speeded her demise. She was so upset every time she had to get the dressings changed and see the wound. It was heartbreaking. She died within months. I wish immediate reconstruction had been the standard practice back then. It was almost twenty five years ago and to this day I can see her anguish as clear as day. Age should not be or have been a consideration. The final decision on reconstructive surgery should be down to the individual, assuming there’s no medical reason to withhold the procedure.

  • RYAN


    January 9th, 2011 at 11:11 AM

    It’s all a part of the person’s psychology isn’t it? And if I’m not wrong then there is not much thatcan e changed in this regard. Every person is born with a different level of resilience and there is not too much that can be done to ‘train’ someone tm increase thee resilience.

  • sandy


    January 9th, 2011 at 1:32 PM

    The power of positive thinking never will let you down.

  • Timmy


    January 10th, 2011 at 5:50 AM

    A variety of things can determine the resilience levels of a person in my belief…And most of these are things that happen in the early years of a person’s life…things like family structure and the way the person is treated as a child and various other things are what determine the level of resilience…

  • Kelli


    January 10th, 2011 at 6:12 AM

    I think that like in so many other situations the stronger the personality the better equipped that you are bound to be with dealing with countless situations. There are just some people who have an easier time coping because they are able to maintain a stronger outlook on life. I don’t mean to say that there are people who are weak but there are just some who can handle things better than other people can.

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