Nov 18

“Supersurvivors”: A Book About Resilience Beyond Trauma

Amazingly, even in midst of trauma, people continue to smile, to love, to celebrate, to create, and to renew. In making this observation, we absolutely do not mean to belittle the impact of traumatic times or the suffering many have endured and continue to endure. Suffering is real, but resilience is also real. It is an incredible and encouraging fact about human nature that, contrary to popular belief, after a period of emotional turmoil, most trauma survivors eventually recover and return to their lives. They bounce back.

Although much has already been written about the ability of people to get better and then thrive in the aftermath of trauma, this year’s Supersurvivors: The Surprising Link Between Suffering and Success by David B. Feldman, a psychologist, and Lee Daniel Kravetz hikes this up a notch by showing us we might be able not only to survive—but actually to “supersurvive.”   

As defined by the authors, supersurvivors “are those rare individuals who, in the aftermath of great tragedy and turmoil, reassess their priorities, redirect their focus, and accomplish extraordinary feats—they break records, win awards, and meet the seemingly unattainable goals they set for themselves.”

According to the publisher, the work of Feldman and Kravetz has led to a book that will help readers “discover why certain delusions can be healthy, why forgiveness is good for the body, and why reflecting on death can lead to a better life. And, perhaps counterintuitively, we learn how positive thinking is not always a strategy toward the good.”

You can watch the book trailer below:

What are the five factors that most serve to help trauma survivors experience “post-traumatic growth”?

  • hope
  • personal control
  • social support
  • forgiveness
  • spirituality

Publishers Weekly elaborates on some of these traits and the authors’ belief that they can actually help all of us:

[Supersurvivors]…believe in control over one’s own destiny; acknowledge the past, forgive, and let traumatic experiences go; have realistic expectations; and recognize their own mortality while making the conscious decision to live life to the fullest. ‘We intended to write a book about how a few extraordinary people had survived trauma,’ the authors claim, and ‘with the help of supersurvivors…we ended up writing about how every one of us can live more fully.’

Some reviews emphasize that whereas the book may be short on analysis, it’s long on true-life inspiration. Kirkus Reviews, in fact, concludes that Supersurvivors itself is(h)ope for the endurance of the human spirit in the face of tragedy. Artfully described…intensely powerful…riveting…uplifting.”

Oct 30

Watching Scary Movies: Why and What’s In It For You?

For some, Halloween means fright and terror, including watching scary movies. And watching scary movies means….what exactly? Besides the fact that it’s been labeled the “horror paradox.” As in, you think horror’s a good thing?! Really?!?

In order to study the why-people-watch-and-enjoy issue, it may be important to first look at what qualifies a movie to be scary. Cracked cites research results from Kings College, London, that actually puts the answer into a mathematical formula: (es + u + cs + t) squared + s + (tl + f) / 2 + (a + dr + fs) / n + sin x – 1.

Here’s the breakdown:

  • es is escalating music
  • u is the unknown
  • cs is chase scenes
  • t is the sense of being trapped
  • a is the character being alone
  • dr is how dark the film is
  • fs is the film setting
  • tl stands for true life
  • f stands for fantasy
  • n is for number of people
  • sin is blood and guts
  • s is shock
  • 1 stands for stereotype

At the top of the list for inducing scariness (via this formula)? The Shining.

Some Theories About Why People Enjoy These Movies

From BeliefNet:

  • Bessel A. Van Der Kolk, MD, and Matthew J. Friedman, MD: it’s about the release of endorphins. Friedman refers to “stress-induced analgesia.”
  • Mary R. Harvey, PhD: trauma survivors may experience “an almost hypnotic effect” and may want on some level to relive traumatic experiences via watching horror.

From WebMD:

  • James B. Weaver III, PhD, believes the disapproval of adults may make them more attractive to younger people.
  • Joanne Cantor, PhD: for adults, it may be about morbid curiosity.
  • Glenn Sparks, PhD: it’s a way to cope with actual fears.
  • Stephen King and others: “symbolic catharsis” (controls aggressive impulses).

From Babble:

Paul J. Patterson, PhD, offers several possible reasons:

  • A need for excitement, stimulation, or arousal.
  • A need to feel intense emotions or to be distracted.
  • To prove one can handle seeing the images and overcoming the fear.

And how about this for a simple explanation? Science Daily cites researchers Andrade and Cohen, who say that watchers simply enjoy feeling scared.

Want more theorizing? Click the link for a recent article by John P. Hess at Filmmaker IQ.

Some Effects of Watching Scary Movies

From WebMD:

  • Increased feelings of hostility.
  • Feeling haunted mentally by violent themes and images.
  • Sleep disturbances.
  • Fears of certain images, e.g., water or clowns or graphic violence.

But there’s also some good news. Much has been made of the 2012 U.K. study that found that watching horror burns calories, possibly the equivalent of a chocolate bar. Although this may not be enough to create new horror converts, the already-fans might now feel freer to have extra Halloween treats while freaking themselves right on out.

Dec 18

How to Be Resilient: Two Psychiatrists Help Us Cultivate This Trait

When we began our study, we assumed that resilience was rare and resilient people were somehow special, perhaps genetically gifted. It turns out, we were wrong. Resilience is common and can be witnessed all around us. Even better, we learned that everyone can learn and train to be more resilient. The key involves knowing how to harness stress and use it to our advantage. After all, stress is necessary for growth. Without it the mind and body weaken and atrophy. Steven M. Southwick, psychiatrist, in The Huffington Post

Trauma experts Steven M. Southwick and Dr. Dennis S. Charney, a professor of psychiatry and neuroscience, are the brains behind this year’s Resilience: The Science of Mastering Life’s Greatest Challenges. In other words: how to bend, not break.

The authors conducted their own research, studied important research from the last couple decades, and interviewed many survivors of severe trauma. From this work they came up with 10 factors that help people recover most effectively:

  •  Optimism
  •  Flexibility
  •  Core value system
  •  Faith
  •  Positive role models
  •  Social support
  •  Physical fitness
  •  Cognitive strength
  •  Facing fears
  •  Finding meaning in struggles

Southwick states in USA Weekend that a couple of these—social support and optimism—are particularly powerful.

In an interview in Time, Southwick says of the former: “It looks like social isolation has as powerful an effect on longevity as smoking and [heavy drinking] and lack of exercise. It’s very bad for you. There’s lots of neat connections between social connectedness and ability to handle stress.”

And of the latter, states Charney: “It’s important to note that it’s realistic optimism we’re talking about. You need to have a very clear eyed view of the challenges you’re facing.”

(On the opposite end of the spectrum, an example of realistic pessimism? Jim Gaffigan, comedian: “If there was an award for most pessimistic, I probably wouldn’t even be nominated.”)

Dec 12

“The Time Cure”: A Time-ly Approach to PTSD

The Time Cure: Overcoming PTSD with the New Psychology of Time Perspective Therapy is a new book by Philip Zimbardo, Richard Sword, and Rosemary Sword that applies the concept of time perspective (see yesterday’s post) to therapy with trauma survivors. The therapy approach used by the Swords helps those who get stuck in the Past Negative/Present Fatalistic place to shift to a more healing time perspective, including both the “past positive” and a more positive future orientation.

From Amazon’s Q & A with the authors of The Time Cure:

Q. How is this different from other approaches to addressing PTSD?

A. Time Perspective Therapy takes into consideration not only a person’s past and present, but also their future. Many approaches to helping PTSD sufferers focus on a person’s history and how past events affect their thought processes. Through our practice we’ve found that constantly reliving that past trauma can have extremely negative effects on a PTSD sufferer—we call it ‘being stuck in the quicksand of the past.’ A person with PTSD is stuck between their traumatic past experience (what we call ‘past negatives’) and their hopeless present (what we call ‘present fatalism’). If they do think about the future, it’s usually negative. In TPT we focus on balancing a person’s past negatives with positive memories of the past; their present fatalism with some present hedonistic enjoyment; and we make plans for a bright, positive future.

The video below provides further explanation: