Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Girl Kidnapped Eight Years Demonstrates Psychological Resilience

Eighteen-year-old Natascha Kampusch reminds me that human beings are exceedingly resilient. Even those facing horrible captivity still have their minds. Viktor Frankl brilliantly covers this territory. Man's Search for Meaning is a must read, especially for those who believe their lot in life justifies their unhelpful behavior. No doubt psychologists wiill look for signs of pathology with this young lady and she'll carry scars forever because of her experience.

But when she says this, I believe she is right:

She revealed a complex relationship with her captor, Wolfgang Priklopil. "I think I was stronger than he was, after all. I had parents that loved me, but he was a very unstable person who never had any friends.
She is considering many different occupations. Might I make a suggestion Ms. Kampusch? Your tribulation will be a huge wellspring of first-hand knowledge into both serious psychopathology but also the positive psychological traits like resiliance that have helped you survive. Your offerings would be highly valued with all the survivors of kidnapping (think Iraq and the rest of third-world countries) and abuse in "captive" situations like children with monster parents (Dave Pelzer comes to mind--"A Child Called It").

It is my feeling that too little research has delved into positive psychology. What works, and how do you build a mind not just intellectually but psychologically? Martin Seligman's work is a start. Some research has been done with fMRIs and studying Tibeten Monk's minds at times of stress and they recover quicker from negative stimuli which is attributed to meditation. The results of this research supports the notion of neuroplasticity. Even people like Vietnam Vets who suffered combat stress and then the stress resulting from societal scorn and marginalization recovered amazingly well.

What I have gleaned over the years is this: the example the parents set in dealing with stressful situations teaches children how to handle difficulty, too. A child is born with a level of resilience--genetics determine that, but it is not a life-sentence. Shy children, for example, often grow up to have many meaningful relationships and work success.

Religious beliefs can fill in the gaps of parent's weaknesses--giving the child a moral framework for acceptable and unacceptable behavior. Even in the face of horrible or abusive behavior, a child can at least make the judgement "this is not right" and choose differently.

Love, or the belief that one is loved, confers tremendous psychological and health benefits. It only takes one person to confer this love. It might not even take that. If someone believes in a loving, omniscent, omnipresent God, psychological resilience is almost guaranteed.

Hope is, afterall, the helmet of salvation. Hope protects the mind. I still would like more research as to why.

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