In recovering from adversity, past adversity can fuel our resilience

Many readers find and follow this blog because they have had a difficult or even traumatic experience related to work, such as workplace bullying or a job loss.

If you are in this position and trying to cope with it, you may find helpful the information contained in this article by Benedict Carey for the New York Times, “On Road to Recovery, Past Adversity Provides a Map” (link here). It also may be helpful to those studying how to recover from bullying and violence at work.

Past adversity builds resilience, to a point

Carey examined research studies on the ability of people to recover from severe adversities or setbacks and found that “the number of life blows a person has taken may affect his or her mental toughness more than any other factor.”

However, it may come as a surprise that the most resilient individuals, overall, were those who had experienced some, but not too many, highly stressful events in their lives, such as severe illness, deaths in the family, and marriage breakups. According to a study by university researchers of personal resilience using 2,000 adult subjects:

It was those in the middle, those reporting two to six stressful events, who scored highest on several measures of well-being, and who showed the most resilience in response to recent hits.

It turned out, the study suggested:

…that mental toughness is something like the physical strength: It cannot develop without exercise, and it breaks down when overworked.

Most can recover

Carey concedes that “when people are truly sinking, because of job loss, illness, debt or some combination of ills, they have no idea what mix of character, connections and dumb luck will be enough to pull through.” Furthermore, the resilience study indicated that those who had experienced 12 or more adverse events faced an especially difficult road to recovery.

However, Carey notes that “(i)t is clear that with time, most people can and do psychologically recover from even devastating losses….”


For the abstract of the resilience study by researchers Seery, Holman, and Silver, go here.


Related posts

Adversity, resilience, and trust

Empathy AND resilience: Keys to combating workplace bullying

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