PTSD & Resilience

What makes one soldier suffer from PTSD and another one not have symptoms? Why do some people never recover from catastrophic grief while others do?

In the movie “What Dreams May Come” with the late Robin Williams, a physician dies in a car crash and ascends into heaven, his distraught wife commits suicide and descends into hell or Hades. The physician embarks on an epic journey to save his wife.  He descends into hell.  This is based on the presumption that we create our own hells and heaven with our own thoughts and memories (a theme in the Tibetan Book of the Dead as well). The couple had lost both of their children in a tragic car accident-the father was able to carry on through focusing on work, but the mother had much difficulty moving forward.  When she looses the love of her life, she commits suicide.

Why is it that some can carry on through immeasurable grief and others break down and can no longer function? How can one be resilient?

An article called Trauma, PTSD and Reliance by Christine E Agaibi, , states that “Theoretical models of  PTSD have established that there is a wide range of outcomes in how persons cope with traumatic experiences.”

Children cope more effectively with adversity if they receive nurturing and love, even those children exposed to chronic stress such as war trauma, refugee status, civil violence and extreme poverty. Self-esteem and self-confidence help protect against traumatic experiences.

A study of former prisoners of war and veterans, examined PTSD symptoms and they found that the greater the torture and weight loss experienced while imprisoned, the greater the PTSD symptoms. They noted that pre-military trauma, personality, age, and post-military social support determined the severity of the PTSD symptoms.

“To understand the plasticity of behavior in response to traumatic life events, it is necessary to recognize the multidimensional nature of traumatic experiences. Traumas are not equal in their impact to the psyche and vary greatly in their stressor dimensions. “

Support of others, childhood, pre-existing conditions, self-esteem, assertiveness, personality, intelligence, use of left brain and right brain and other cognitive styles, all play parts in how one survives and reacts to grief and trauma and whether they are vulnerable to PTSD or pathological disorders such as dissociative disorder.

Robin Williams retrieves his wife from hell through his love. She in the end decides to no longer blame herself for the death of her children, the hell she created, and to let go. She loves herself enough now and she loves her husband. She chooses to join her husband in heaven.

What is truly ironic about this film, is the late Robin Williams, who tragically committed suicide in real life. Perhaps his risk factors where far too high even for his magnificent creative mind to transcend, for he was battling both Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s.

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