How Do You Handle Adversity?
By John Thurman
Did you know individuals typically respond to adverse events in one of three ways?
I do not know about you, but the past three months have been deeply troubling to me. Between the floods, hurricanes, the massacre in Las Vegas and the terrible firestorms in Californian not to mention the egregious behavior of Harvey Weinstein, as well as one of the team physicians for the Women’s Olympic Gymnastics team. It is getting to the point where the 24-hour news cycles of CNN, FOX News, and MSNBC seem to bombard us with nothing but toxic news.
Regarding the Weinstein story, I have been amazed by the courage of how many of his victims have come forth to share their stories. I am deeply touched and encouraged by the courage of seeing how many of my friends have shared in the #MeToo tag. I cannot even begin to imagine what some of these women have been through, but also know this issue occurs in the workplace, churches, schools, and God only knows where else.
Well, let's jump into the three ways people respond to adversity, trauma, or natural disasters.
Dr. George S. Everly Jr., Ph.D. is an author and researcher who is ranked as the number one published author in the world in two fields: Crisis Intervention and Psychological First Aid. He has spent his adult life studying people’s reaction to adversity, in the U.S., Korea, the Middle East and Europe.
I have had the privilege of being one of his students over the years and believe his findings can help you, and me understand more about how we react to adversity. In the following posts, I will talk little about some of the neuroscience behind his findings. My goal is to give you hope and understanding as you look into how you handle adversity.
In 2017 Dr. Everly published A Field Guide, Psychological Body Armor®: Lessons From Neuroscience That Can Save Your Career, Your Marriage, and Your Life.[i] (Ordering info at the end of post). The three patterns come directly from this resource.
According to the National Center for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, “Going through trauma is not rare. About 6 of every ten men (or 60%) of men and 5 of every ten women (or 50%) experience at least one trauma in their lifetime.
Women are more likely to experience sexual assault and childhood sexual abuse.
Men, on the other hand, are more likely to experience accidents, physical assaults, combat, disaster, or to witness death and injury.
As stated earlier, Everly has revealed three responses. Keep in mind these reactions are not always crisp, neat, and separable.
The first response is almost a form of behavioral immunity. This pattern has been called resistance. This resistance refers to the ability of an individual, a group, an organization, or even an entire population, to resist manifestations of clinical distress, impairment, or dysfunction associated with critical incidents, terrorism, and mass disasters. Everly suggests we think of this as immunity.
The second pattern of response is characterized by significant distress but is usually short-lived. There is a natural rebound from the incident wherein behavioral health returns to its pre-incident levels or, may even reach higher levels than before the event. This is called post-traumatic growth or thriving. Everly calls this phenomenon reactive resilience. Therefore, resilience refers to the ability of an individual, a group, an organization, or even an entire population, to rapidly and efficiently rebound from psychological and behavioral issues related to critical incidents, terrorism, and mass disasters.
These people indeed experience distress and perhaps temporary dysfunction. They may not be able to think clearly or in a focused manner. They may even become temporarily overwhelmed with fear, anxiety, or sadness. They may act impulsively, even experience impulsive or aggressive inclinations, or the desire to “escape.” They may experience acute stress-related physical complaints. Lastly, they might question their faith. Never the less, they rebound. They are reactively resilient. Sometimes this can occur naturally. Other times it happens with the support of family, friends, fellow strugglers or a crisis interventional specialist.
One of my friends puts in this way; ‘Pain shared is pain divided. Joy shared is yoy multiplied.”
There is a third pattern of responding to adversity. It is replete with behavioral and psychological dysfunction (the ability to do what one needs to do). In this pattern, people are significantly impacted by the event, experiencing significant distress and dysfunction. The inability to think clearly and solve problems is protracted. Emotional reactions are intense and sometimes overwhelming. People will often describe themselves as “being divested,” or “crushed” by the experience. They will often add, “I was never the same after the incident.” Often a lasting psychological and disability arise. The ability to work is impaired, marital relationships are strained if not terminated, and behavioral and mental health seem to chronically vacillate. Sometimes these section to adversity is hidden or subtle such as the ability to function at work but not at home. Sometimes these behaviors show up shortly after the event other times these feelings, emotions, and behaviors may lay dormant for a season.
I hope this information has been helpful in understanding how people respond to adversity. The good news is out of these three patterns, only a small percentage of individuals, some models suggest as 7.5 to 12 percent develop these types of enduring symptoms.[ii]
As a person of faith, I sincerely believe as you and I grow in our understanding of human behavior and the application of robust, time-tested biblical principles we can experience dynamic personal growth, in addition, we can become more compassionate in helping others.
How does this passage relate to responding to adversity?
2 Corinthians 1: 3-5 NLT “ 3All praise to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is our merciful Father and the source of all comfort. 4He comforts us in all our troubles so that we can comfort others. When they are troubled, we will be able to give them the same comfort God has given us. 5For the more we suffer for Christ, the more God will shower us with his comfort through Christ.”
Thanks for taking some of your busy days to read this article. I would love to hear your comments.
[i] George S. Everly, Jr. Ph.D., Psychological Body Armor®: Lessons from Neuroscience That Can Save your Career, Your Marriage, and Your Life. (Ellicott City, MD: Crisis Intervention & CISM Resources, LCC, 2017), 13-15. For ordering information email email@example.com
[ii] Matthew Tull, Ph.D., 9/11 and PTSD Rates .https://www.verywell.com/911-and-ptsd-rates-2797198. Accessed October 2017.
John is a Counselor, Author, Speaker and Photographer that helps people "Get a Grip on Life."