Psychological hardiness, stress and trauma: A look at how these three constructs are intimately related.

02 Nov

Hardiness was first assessed as a mediator of resilience during a decade long experiment (1975-1987) at the Illinois Bell Telephone (IBT) company (Maddi, 2006). The purpose of the study was to explore why people remained healthy despite experiencing immense stress (Maddi, 2006). As such, Dr Salvatore Maddi and his team of researchers studied 430 employees of IBT using a series of questionnaires, interviews, projective tests (Maddi, 2006). At the completion of the 12-year study, Dr Maddi reported that approximately 65% of the employees studied demonstrated significant performance (poor performance reviews), leadership, and health deficits (heart attacks, strokes, obesity, depression, anxiety, burnout etc) as a result of exposure to extreme stress. The other 35% of employees however remained happy, healthy and productive and appeared to thrive despite the immense stress.

This study reported that the other 35% that remained happy managed to thrive despite their immensely stressful circumstances because they shared three key beliefs which allowed them to transform stress and adversity into advantage and growth. These three beliefs were commitment, control and challenge.

  • Commitment refers to the belief that social involvement, social integration and social harmony are always important regardless of stressful situations and regardless of how stressed one is either now or in the future. Its opposite, alienation, refers to beliefs that social isolation, withdrawal and alienation is preferable (Maddi, 2006).
  • Control refers to the belief that it is important to always maintain influence and control over events surrounding and involving oneself regardless of how difficult things become whereas its opposite, powerlessness, refers to submission and passivity and a surrendering of control and influence (Maddi, Kahn & Maddi, 1993).
  • Challenge refers to viewing and interpreting stress as a consequence of being alive and as something which was not malevolently designed to break one down but rather was designed to encourage learning, development, mastery and growth with its opposite, security, being the belief that comfort and security should be embraced and stress and challenge avoided and shunned (Kardum, Hudek-Knezevic & Krapic, 2012).

The ‘3C’s’ of psychological hardiness (commitment, control, challenge) supplies an individual with the courage and the willingness to dedicate oneself to transforming stressful events and situations from unwanted and feared catastrophes into needed and desired opportunities for learning, development and growth (Maddi, 2004). This conscious and proactive mental and behavioural coping style, along with courage and motivation, are fundamental to the development of resiliency (Maddi, 2004). Resiliency is thus defined as the ability to recover quickly from setbacks, misfortunes, stress and adversity all the while maintaining a degree of happiness, optimism and positivity (Pulley & Wakefield, 2002). Additionally, the ability to remain resilient and hardy positively enhances performance under stress (Bartone, Roland, Picano & Williams, 2008). Several studies examining the role of psychological hardiness have confirmed the validity and utility of psychological hardiness as a predictor of increased stress resilience (Florian, Mikulincer & Taubman, 1995), self-esteem (Eschleman, Bowling & Alarcon, 2010), spiritual and religious well-being (Kamya, 1997), social support (Ganellen & Blaney, 1984), emotional stability (Orme & Kehoe, 2014), life satisfaction (Taheri, Ahadi, Kashani, & Kermani, 2014), acculturation strategies (Han, Berry & Zheng, 2016), and as a buffer against depression, anxiety and trauma (Omeri, Lennings & Raymond, 2004).

It should be easy to see now how much our beliefs shape our responses to stress and, ultimately, our responses to trauma. Trauma is always the response to external or internal events. External and internal events in and of themselves are not traumatic. This is why not all people become traumatised even though they may have had similar experiences. It is also the reason why traumatic responses to external events during childhood, before a child has developed the necessary emotional and mental capacity to understand what occurred, lead to such ingrained personality disorders such as NPD, ASPD, and BPD for example. Typically, these disorders are only overcome once the adult has satisfactorily resolved their childhood trauma, healed their inner child and learnt new healthy and socially acceptable ways of coping and managing difficult emotions and experiences.


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Eschleman, K. J., Bowling, N. A., & Alarcon, G. M. (2010).  A meta-analytic examination of hardiness. International Journal of Stress Management, 17(4): 277-307. doi: 10.1037/a0020476

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Taheri, A., Ahadi, H., Kashani, F. L., & Kermani, R. A. (2014). Mental hardiness and social support in life satisfaction of breast cancer patients. Procedia- Social and Behavioural Sciences, 159(1): 406-409. doi: 10.1016/j.sbspro.2014.12.397

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