It May Not Be What Happens…..It May Really Be What You Think About What Happens
It’s not what happens; it’s how you perceive and respond to it. We’ve heard this adage for years. At least with regard to one’s ability to persevere through trials and bounce back from difficulties or trauma, it increasingly appears to be true. As the scientific article excerpt below notes: “It is quite possibly the positive evaluation of potentially aversive stimuli that is the central mechanism which ultimately determines an individual’s level of resilience.” (Another phrase used in the article for resilience is “mental stabilizing capacity.”)
In other words, can one discern the silver lining in the grey cloud? Can one find the opportunity in the crisis? Can one see something useful arising out of the consequences? Can one trust that God is good enough, sovereign enough, and loving enough toward one personally for God to be willing and able to redeem even disastrous events? (i.e., Job’s catastrophic loss of all he had.) Bottom line: Is there hope…..a confident expectation of a good outcome? I heard one comment lately about such a cognitive ability – to be able to set aside the old question of “is the glass half full or half empty” and, instead be able to recognize that “The glass can be refilled” (if that is the desired state that suggests satisfaction or security.) This is sort of the emotional/mental gymnastics equivalent of taking “lemons” one has been handed (unbidden) and being able to make lemonade of them.
Furthermore, if it is a cognitive processing issue, can one be trained through instruction or conditioning experiences to improve in the capacity for resilience?
This new theory of a mechanistic process responsible for resilience is being tested in a new long term study that goes by the acrostic “PASTOR” (Positive Appraisal Style Theory of Resilience). Sooooooo……how did they come up with THAT name for this study? And what does it say about a subconscious belief that a clergy person SHOULD be able to find the hope, the mental stabilizing capacity, the resilience to get through any stress inducing crisis intact and without missing a beat?
And how long must one observe the study’s participants to determine whether or not they have succeeded in demonstrating resilience? Is one resilient if there is not even a missed step in the face of catastrophe or trauma? Or if one is able to self-correct after a blow in a week or two? What if it takes 6 months? Is one still resilient? At what point is one said to have “failed” to show resilience? Does it vary from one kind of trauma to another?
All of this seems highly subjective to me, which makes it very difficult to pinpoint in a scientific, universally applicable, objective kind of way. Can some general principles be discerned? Maybe. But can every response to circumstances be predicted for someone deemed “resilient” or “non-resilient”? Or might resilience be present in one’s perception of one kind of circumstance but absent in another different kind? It seems to me that science is trying just a little too hard to discover, diagnose, and treat everything that one could conceivably find uncomfortable or difficult. I’ll be interested to see how PASTOR ultimately informs the care of those who are in the midst of suffering….
Excerpt from scientific research article:
Stress, traumatic events, and difficult life situations play a significant role in the development of many mental illnesses, such as depression, anxiety, and addiction. However, not everyone exposed to such circumstances develops a psychological disorder as a result. Every person has a greater or lesser mental stabilizing capacity and this inherent potential is called ‘resilience’ by psychologists. Resilience helps to effectively master challenges, stress, and difficult situations, thus maintaining mental health. The fact that some individuals either develop only short -term problems with stress or do not become ill at all on experiencing major psychological or physical pressures suggests that there are certain protective mechanisms – in other words, defensive, self-healing processes – which can prevent the development of stress-related illnesses.
The core concern…..is to identify these mechanisms…… “To date, research into resilience has tended to take into account a very extensive range of social, psychological, and even genetic factors that positively influence mental flexibility, such as social support, certain personality traits, and typical behavior patterns,” explained Professor Raffael Kalisch, one of the authors of the current publication and the director of the Neuroimaging Center, a central research platform of the Mainz University Medical Center and the Research Center on Translational Neurosciences. “We wondered whether there might be a common denominator behind all of these individual approaches and so we systematically examined various examples. As a result, in our new hypothesis we focus less on the already well-known social, psychological, or genetic factors and much more on cognitive processes happening in the brain. We thus consider that the appropriate way forward is to determine how the brain assesses each situation or stimulus. It is quite possibly the positive evaluation of potentially aversive stimuli that is the central mechanism which ultimately determines an individual’s level of resilience. The many already identified factors only impact on resilience indirectly by influencing the way the brain assesses a certain situation.” Assuming this theory is correct and it is the mental processes of evaluation that are of central relevance, this would mean that it is not necessarily the threatening situations or stimuli that decide whether stress develops but rather the manner in which the individual appraises the situation. A person who tends to more positively evaluate such factors would be protected against stress-related illnesses over the long term because the frequency and degree of stress reactions in that person would be reduced. The Mainz-based researchers call their new mechanistic hypothesis ‘Positive Appraisal Style Theory of Resilience’ (PASTOR).
The aim of future research activities will thus be to investigate the neurobiological processes that occur in the brain and that lead it to see a specific situation or potential threat in a more positive light. “We want to understand which mental processes enable people to protect themselves against the harmful effects of stress and unpleasant events, and how these protective mechanisms can be specifically promoted and reinforced,” added Kalisch.