Recognizing Resiliency in Maladaptive PTSD Behaviors

Resiliency is seen as one’s ability to adaptively cope with stressful events. Individuals who have survived childhood traumas learn how to cope in various ways. Some engage in dissociative behaviors to protect themselves from emotional distress during childhood. Other children rely on different strategies to survive. But when these children reach adulthood, the once adaptive coping methods can become maladaptive in the absence of ongoing abuse. The resilient behaviors of childhood can become pathological, and, conversely, pathological behaviors exhibited during traumatic times may evolve and develop into resilient techniques that allow survivors to function in a healthy way. It is this “braiding” of behaviors that was of interest to Nicola R. Brown of the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health in Canada. She theorized that clinicians could better serve trauma survivors, specifically those struggling with posttraumatic stress (PTSD), if they could disentangle maladaptive coping strategies and those that promoted resiliency by listening to client narratives more closely.

Brown led a study examining the resiliency of 20 individuals with symptoms of PTSD. After hearing their narratives, Brown found that their stories indeed supported previous research that suggests resiliency is multi-dimensional. Specifically, Brown discovered that many of the participants had developed resiliency as a result of maladaptive coping strategies used in childhood, while others exhibited traces of childhood resiliency that were intertwined with maladaptive techniques employed in adulthood. Brown stated that therapists who treat clients with PTSD do not always see the resilience in the maladaptive behaviors or see the maladaptive behaviors within the resilience. Listening thoroughly to a client’s narrative will give the clinician the opportunity to identify client strengths that may be hidden within pathology. Once recognized, the clinician can help the client maximize these strengths to build better, more adaptive behaviors. Brown said, “Finally, as with the braiding phenomenon, client strengths can be wrapped with pathology.” She added, “We must respectfully balance our attention to both if we are to make the most significant therapeutic gains possible.”

Brown, N. R., Kallivayalil, D., Mendelsohn, M., Harvey, M. R. Working the Double Edge: Unbraiding Pathology and Resiliency in the Narratives of Early-Recovery Trauma Survivors. Psychological Trauma: Theory, Research, Practice and Policy 4.1 (2012): 102-11. Print.

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  • Archie


    February 7th, 2012 at 4:29 PM

    I am a firm believer in the resiliency of the human spirit. Maybe part of the treatment for PTSD patients would be to stress the hidden resilience that we all posess and show them how uitlizing this could be helpful in their ongoing process of recovery.

  • RV


    February 8th, 2012 at 12:47 PM

    SO its like an extra weapon in the client’s arsenal that needs to be be discovered so that it could be used in the fight against the present problem? sounds really interesting.

  • Cuirisse


    May 8th, 2013 at 5:21 PM

    Something I’ve noticed about my own ability to be resilient and my own maladaptive behavior is that I have developed techniques to deal with the negative results of that behavior. So, not only do I have to unlearn the behavior, I have to unlearn the adaptations to it, too.
    This makes me wonder about adaptations to maladaptive behavior and how that would affect this study or treatment in general.

  • Nancy


    December 20th, 2017 at 10:37 PM

    Can you give me more information on PTSD I think I have know this. I been through a lot of trauma in my life as a child into adult hood please help.

  • The Team

    The Team

    December 21st, 2017 at 9:44 AM

    Dear Nancy,

    If you would like to consult with a mental health professional, please feel free to return to our homepage,, and enter your zip code into the search field to find therapists in your area.

    Once you enter your information, you’ll be directed to a list of therapists and counselors who meet your criteria. From this list you can click to view our members’ full profiles and contact the therapists themselves for more information. You are also welcome to call us for assistance finding a therapist. We are in the office Monday through Friday from 8:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. Pacific Time; our phone number is 888-563-2112 ext. 1.

    Kind regards,
    The Team

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