“Being resilient in the face of difficulty is actually the norm, rather than the exception” says Heidi Grant Halvorson, Ph.D., is a social psychologist and author of Succeed: How We Can Reach Our Goals on http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/the-science-success/201011/if-it-does-not-kill-you-it-will-make-you-strongerbut-there-are-limit

Quoting her: Does that which does not kill us, really make us stronger? On the surface, it doesn’t seem like it. People who have experienced significant adverse events, like having to endure physical abuse, experiencing homelessness, or becoming the victims of a natural disaster, often suffer very painful long-term negative effects, particularly in terms of their mental health and well-being.

There has been little in the research on coping (until very recently, that is) to suggest that these individuals are likely to end up more resilient after being put through the wringer – not much evidence that they are better able to handle future difficulties with greater strength and adaptability, and to rebound emotionally faster and more effectively.

For the record, being resilient in the face of difficulty is actually the norm, rather than the exception. Most people report that they have had to cope with some significant adversity in their lives, and the majority of them do not permanently suffer for it. By and large, we recover faster and better from hardship than we expect to. But there is a big difference between returning to “baseline” after a negative event (to being “your old self” again) and ending up somehow stronger for it.

And yet many of us have a sense that adversity does indeed foster resilience – that people who have been through a lot are actually tougher, and better able to handle the curveballs that life may throw at them. Are we wrong?

New research suggests that we are right – but only when adversity strikes in moderation.

The research to which she refers is available on http://psycnet.apa.org/psycinfo/2010-21218-001/
Exposure to adverse life events typically predicts subsequent negative effects on mental health and well-being, such that more adversity predicts worse outcomes. However, adverse experiences may also foster subsequent resilience, with resulting advantages for mental health and well-being. In a multiyear longitudinal study of a national sample, people with a history of some lifetime adversity reported better mental health and well-being outcomes than not only people with a high history of adversity but also than people with no history of adversity. Specifically, U-shaped quadratic relationships indicated that a history of some but nonzero lifetime adversity predicted relatively lower global distress, lower self-rated functional impairment, fewer posttraumatic stress symptoms, and higher life satisfaction over time. Furthermore, people with some prior lifetime adversity were the least affected by recent adverse events. These results suggest that, in moderation, whatever does not kill us may indeed make us stronger

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