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Recovering from and Overcoming Trauma

Preventing the Development of PTSD


Updated January 25, 2010

It is important to understand what factors contribute to a person overcoming trauma, especially given that many people are exposed to traumatic events at some point in their lives. However, not everyone who has experienced a traumatic event has developed or will develop PTSD. So, what differentiates those people exposed to a traumatic event who do not develop PTSD from those who do?

Resiliency and Recovery

Many people have conducted research that attempts to identify what characteristics increases the likelihood that someone will develop PTSD following a traumatic event. A number of risk factors have been identified, including the type of traumatic event, history of mental illness, and a person's response at the time of the event.

Fewer people have examined what characteristics protect someone from PTSD and other problems after the experience of a traumatic event. These researchers have been interested in identifying characteristics that promote resiliency and recovery.

A Review of Characteristics Linked to Resiliency

In a review all of the research on resiliency and recovery following a traumatic event, a number of factors connected with resiliency and recovery in the face of and following a traumatic event were identified. These factors are:

  • The ability to cope with stress effectively and in a healthy manner (not avoiding).

  • Being resourceful and having good problem-solving skills.

  • Being more likely to seek help.

  • Holding the belief that there is something you can do to manage your feelings and cope.

  • Having social support available to you.

  • Being connected with others, such as family or friends.

  • Self-disclosure of the trauma to loved ones.

  • Spirituality

  • Having an identity as a survivor as opposed to a victim.

  • Helping others.

  • Finding positive meaining in the trauma.

All of these characteristics distinguished those who were able to recover from a traumatic experience and those who may have developed PTSD or other problems following a traumatic experience.

Building a Foundation for Recovery

Think of these protective or resiliency factors as a foundation for recovery. The stronger these factors, the more likely they will be able to shore you up during times of extreme stress.

It is important to realize that the majority of the factors identified above are under your control. That is, you can develop these characteristics. Establish close and supportive relationships with others. Learn new healthy ways of coping with stress. Start helping others in your community. Seek help for any difficulties you may be experiencing.

Experiencing a traumatic event can have a major disruptive impact on a person's life. You can be a survivor and start taking the steps to take your life back.


Agaibi, C.E., & Wilson, J.P. (2005). Trauma, PTSD, and resilience: A review of the literature. Trauma, Violence, and Abuse, 6, 195-216.

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