On resilience and trauma

Source: How bad do you want it, Mastering the psychology of mind over muscle, page 131/132

In 2013, Mark Seery, a psychologist at the State University of New york at Buffalo, tested the pain tolerance of college students by asking them to immerse one of their hands in frigid water and hold it there as long as they cold bear to. Afterward, the students filled out a questionnaire that elicited information about their childhood exposure to adversity. The results, published in Psychological Science, revealed that the students who had the fewest adverse experiences while growing up had a low pain tolerance. But so so did the students who had suffered through a whole slew of childhood traumas. The students who kept their hand in the ice water the longest where the ones who’s experienced neither heaven nor hell while growing up, but something in between.

These findings were greeted with little suprise by Seery’s fellow psychologists. similar results had come out of the research on the phenomenon of resilience. The mother of all coping skills, resilience is defined as a general ability to respond to adversity. Resilience is the quality that keeps a person engaged in challenging situations long enough to develop specific coping skills with which to overcome them, and, like pain tolerance, resilience is greatest in men and woman who as children experienced some but not too much adversity. In the aggregate, studies on the phenomenon indicate that a person with a high tolerance for pain is likely to also have above- average capacity to cope with the stress of a job layoff or a cancer diagnosis, and this same person is more likely as well to have experienced a moderate amount of psychological trauma in his or her past. It would appear that a certain amount of misfortune is needed to toughen the mind against suffering and hardship, but excessive trauma leaves scar tissue.

Elite sports competition features inherent challenges that demand great resilience from athletes, and resilience, again, requires past adversity. It’s not surprising then, that men and woman with psychological trauma in their personal history seem to be over represented at the hight level of many sports. In a 20112 paper titled “The Rocky Road to the Top: Why Talent  Needs Trauma” and published in Sports Medicine, sport psychologists Dave Collins and Aine MacNamara argued that “the knowledge and skills [that] athletes accrue from ‘life’ trauma’s and their ability to carry over what they learn in that connect to novel situations certainly appear to affect their subsequent development and performance in sport” If this is true, then having things too easy in life can actually put developing athletes at a significant disadvantage.