Adversity, Trauma May Boost Mental Toughness

Living through difficulty -- up to a point -- can build resiliency, study shows

TUESDAY, Dec. 27 (HealthDay News) -- New research finds some truth in the old saying that whatever doesn't kill you will make you stronger.

While extremely harrowing experiences such as being assaulted or surviving a hurricane can cause psychological damage, less drastic life challenges can help you develop psychological resilience, according to Mark Seery of the University at Buffalo.

In one study, he and his colleagues found that people who suffered many traumatic events were more distressed in general, but they also found similar problems in people who had not experienced any such adversity.

People who had experienced some negative life events had the highest level of mental toughness.

In another study, the researchers looked at people with chronic back pain and found that those who had experienced some serious life challenges had better mobility than those who'd faced a lot of adversity or none at all.

The findings appear in the December issue of the journal Current Directions in Psychological Science.

People who have been through difficult experiences have had an opportunity to develop their ability to cope and to learn how to get help from family and friends when they need it, Seery said.

But he stressed that parents shouldn't intentionally make life difficult for their children in the belief that it will help them grow up to be well-adjusted adults.

"Negative events have negative effects," Seery said in a journal news release. "I really look at this as being a silver lining. Just because something bad has happened to someone doesn't mean they're doomed to be damaged from that point on."

More information

The U.S. National Institute of Mental Health has more about coping with traumatic events.

Robert Preidt SOURCE: Current Directions in Psychological Science, news release,

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