As mentioned in the article What is Trauma Anyway, trauma is an strong emotional reaction to an adverse event that happens to over half of adults in their lifetimes. Not everyone has Post Traumatic Stress Disorder which usually is around 6% of the population. There are many theories and educated guesses as to why. The National Institute of Mental Health NIMH calls “protective factors” the variables present that allow for some to have a sense of resilience, purpose, connection or courage to overcome adverse and distressing events.
Protective factors in general can be nearly anything that allow for someone to cope with a difficult situation. It can be abstract like an idea/value or concrete like a behavior. Protective factors can also be a relationship or one's faith. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Association SAMHSA model for trauma informed care groups traumatic reactions as three E’s;
Event: something happens that is adverse, difficult, shocking, or stressful.
Experience: how an individual interprets and gives meaning to the event.
Effect: the length of time strong emotional or physical reactions linger after the event.
The 3 E’s present the risk factors that are involved in a person developing symptoms related to day to day stress or trauma. Anxiety, depression, addiction, hypervigilance, isolation, being on edge, chronic stomach problems, fatigue issues, and many other symptoms can emerge. Awareness, mindfulness, and self-compassion are three protective factors that can contribute to reducing the likelihood of reduced symptoms and increased well-being. Each of these protective factors have a specific meaning and definition that can be used as frames of reference for building coping strategies.
Awareness is defined as the perception or knowledge of something. Accurate awareness of something perceived or known is considered conscious awareness. However, it is possible to be aware of something without being directly conscious of it.
Mindfulness is defined as focusing attention on the present moment experience with an attitude of curiosity, openness, and acceptance.
Self-compassion has been defined as an attitude that involves treating oneself with warmth and understanding in difficult times and recognizing that making mistakes is part of being human.
Awareness of events, mindfulness of experiences, and self-compassion of how things affect you create a strong framework for resilience, wellbeing, and mental health. Each of these concepts hold strong evidence based practices that allow for different degrees of restoring capacities to grow, connect with others or change.
Psychodynamic therapies focus on increasing unconscious awareness mostly of past life events. A meta-analysis of 17 high-quality randomized controlled trials of short-term psychodynamic therapy reported an effect size of 1.17 for psychodynamic therapy compared with controls (Leichsenring, Rabung, & Leibing, 2004). The effect size was 1.39, which increased to 1.57 at long-term follow-up, which occurred an average of 13 months posttreatment.
Mindfulness based interventions introduce exercises that teach and practice embodied and somatic ways of presence and acceptance. Mindful interventions have been proven to reduce stress, anxiety, and depression associated with physical illness or psychological disorders (Baer, 2003, Bohlmeijer et al., 2010, Chiesa and Serretti, 2010, Chiesa and Serretti, 2011, Cramer et al., 2012, de Vibe et al., 2012, Eberth and Sedlmeier, 2012, Fjorback et al., 2011, Grossman et al., 2004, Hofmann et al., 2010, Klainin-Yobas et al., 2012, Ledesma and Kumano, 2009, Musial et al., 2011, Piet and Hougaard, 2011, Sedlmeier et al., 2012, Zainal et al., 2012).
Self compassion has been conceptualized to questionnaires and practices that have in those who with higher degrees of self-compassion appear to predict the reduction of symptoms in people with unhealthy perfectionism (Mehr and Adams 2016), thought rumination (Svendsen et al. 2017), depression (Krieger et al. 2016). anxiety, and stress symptoms (MacBeth and Gumley 2012), and greater self reported psychological well-being (Zessin et al. 2015)
Awareness, mindfulness and self compassion are not the only protective factors as many exist with backing from evidence based research and have practical techniques. However these factors seem to have a strong correlation to the events, experiences and effects of adverse situations in a way that can produce a holistic sense of wellbeing and mental health. How these practices and ways of coping with stress can be used in specific circumstances will be a topic for another day.
American Psychological Association. (n.d.). Awareness. In APA dictionary of psychology. Retrieved from https://dictionary.apa.org/awareness
Bishop, S.R., Lau, M., Shapiro, S., Carlson, L., Anderson, N.D., Carmody, J., Segal, Z.V., Abbey, S., Speca, M., Velting, D. and Devins, G. (2004), Mindfulness: A Proposed Operational Definition. Clinical Psychology: Science and Practice, 11: 230-241. https://doi.org/10.1093/clipsy.bph077
National Institute of Mental Health. (2019). Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.
Neff, K. (2003). Self-Compassion: An Alternative Conceptualization of a Healthy Attitude Toward Oneself. Self and Identity, 2, 85-101
Shedler, J. (January 01, 2010). The efficacy of psychodynamic psychotherapy. American Psychologist, 65, 2, 98-109.
Substance Abuse and MentaHealth Services Administration (US). (2014). Trauma-Informed Care in Behavioral Health Services. Rockville (Treatment Improvement Protocol (TIP) Series, No. 57.) Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK207192/