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Conservation of Resources Theory: Its Implication for Stress, Health, and Resilience

Abstract and Keywords

Conservation of resources (COR) theory has become one of the two leading theories of stress and trauma in the past 20 years, along with the pioneering theory of Lazarus and Folkman (1984). COR theory emphasizes objective elements of threat and loss, and common appraisals held jointly by people who share a biology and culture. This places central emphasis on objective reality and greater focus on circumstances where clear stressors are occurring, rather than a focus on personal appraisal. Although originally formulated to focus on major and traumatic stress, COR theory has also become a major theory in the field of burnout and the emerging field of positive psychology. This chapter reviews the principles of COR theory and covers new ground by examining more closely aspects of resource gain cycles and how they might contribute to resilience.

Keywords:  resource loss, resource gain, engagement, resilience, major and traumatic stress

Conservation of resources (COR) theory has become one of the two leading theories of stress and trauma in the past 20 years, along with the pioneering theory of Lazarus and Folkman (1984). Although COR theory acknowledges that humans are appraising animals, COR theory departs markedly from Lazarus and Folkman’s personal appraisal theory. Rather than emphasizing individual, idiographic appraisals, COR theory emphasizes objective elements of threat and loss, and common appraisals held jointly by people who share a biology and culture. This places much greater emphasis on objective reality, and greater focus on circumstances where clear stressors are occurring. Although originally formulated to focus on major and traumatic stress (Benight et al., 1999; Freedy, Saladin, Kilpatrick, Resnick, & Saunders, 1994; Freedy, Shaw, Jarrell, & Masters, 1992; Hobfoll, Canetti-Nisim, & Johnson, 2006; Ironson et al., 1997; Kaiser, Sattler, Bellack, & Dersin, 1996; Norris, Perilla, Riad, Kaniasty, & Lavizzo, 1999). COR theory has also become a major theory in the field of burnout (Brotheridge & Lee, 2002; Buchwald & Hobfoll, 2004; Freedy & Hobfoll, 1994; Hobfoll & Freedy, 1993; Hobfoll & Shirom, 2001; Ito & Brotheridge, 2003; Neveu, 2007) and the emerging field of positive psychology (Bakker, Hakanen, Demerouti, & Xanthopoulou, 2007; Halbesleben & Bowler, 2007; Ito & Brotheridge, 2003; Jawahar, Stone, & Kisamore, 2007; Sun & Pan, 2008; Zellars, Perrewe, Hochwarter, & Anderson, 2006) as it has been applied to challenging work circumstances.

In this chapter, I review the principles of COR theory. I cover new ground by examining more closely aspects of resource gain cycles and how they might contribute to resilience. Although the (p. 128) concept of resilience has been around in psychology for decades, there is perhaps for the first time an empirical focus on thriving in the face of stress rather than on “not succumbing to stress.” At the same time, we must be careful not to romanticize this striving, as our research already shows that the initial optimism about how many people are resilient in the face of major stress (Bonanno, Galea, Bucciarelli, & Vlahov, 2007) is greatly exaggerated in circumstances where stressors are more massive or chronic (Hobfoll et al., 2009).

I will begin by detailing the principles of COR theory. Within this context, I will integrate these principles with our most current understanding of how people react to major stress and challenge, and potential processes of resilience. By resilience I mean two things. First, I refer to people’s ability to withstand the most negative consequences of stressful challenges, even the traumatic challenges they face. Second, I refer to the extent people remain vigorous, committed, and absorbed in important life tasks, even amidst significant challenge.

In the first instance, we are interested in who remains relatively free of depression, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and health problems in the face of stress and trauma. The second, question represents to me the more interesting question of who remains involved and committed in their life tasks, even if they might also be suffering from difficult emotions and experience health problems. That significant life challenges and losses cause psychological and physical distress is not surprising. That people with more resources experience less of such difficulty is important, but again not surprising. That people may experience distress and disease and yet remain committed and absorbed in their life tasks as parents, partners, workers, citizens, and friends is fascinating and something we know little about. I think it is nothing less than the next horizon for research in stress. I intend to theorize on this issue in this chapter and provide initial results from studies our research group have conducted in Israel and the Palestinian Authority, where people have been forced to survive and strive amidst war, terrorism, economic upheaval, military occupation, and a future that is not seen with great hope for peace.

Principles of Conservation of Resources Theory and Resiliency

COR theory is a motivational stress theory that broadly predicts a key axis that determines people’s behavior. It is especially relevant to stressful challenges as I believe that stressful challenges are a key part of people’s lives. Basic to COR theory is the premise that even when stress is not occurring, the knowledge of the future possibility of stress and challenge results in people being primed biologically, socially, cognitively, and culturally to attend to current, past, and future challenge as central to their experience in the world, their internal experience, and the biological development of the species itself. COR theory is based on several principles and corollaries that must be delineated to understand the theory and apply it to the context of stress and trauma. Unlike other stress theories, COR theory emphasizes the centrality of both loss and gain cycles, and that an understanding of both is critical to understanding how people respond to stress and their potential for resiliency.

COR theory begins with the tenet that individuals strive to obtain, retain, foster, and protect those things they centrally value. This tenet means that people employ key resources in order to conduct the regulation of the self, their operation of social relations, and how they organize, behave, and fit into the greater context of organizations and culture itself. This tenet suggests that this striving both is the normal course of human responding and occurs within the contexts of most behavior. It is critical at this juncture to state that what is centrally valued is universal and includes health, well-being, peace, family, self-preservation, and a positive sense of self, even if the core elements of sense of self differ culturally. Said another way, although psychology might emphasize individual differences, to the greatest extent behavior will be predicted by how humans are biologically, the context in which they find themselves, and the roles that exist within a certain cultural context. By extension, humans will exist in, build, foster, and protect social and societal systems that enable these same valued ends. COR theory next states several key principles that have been supported in literally hundreds of studies of stress and trauma (Hobfoll, 1988, 1989, 1998, 2001; Hobfoll & Lilly, 1993).

Principle 1: The primacy of resource loss. The first principle of COR theory is that resource loss is disproportionately more salient than resource gain. Resources include object resources (e.g., car, house), condition resources (e.g., employment, marriage), personal resources (e.g., key skills and personal traits such as self-efficacy and self-esteem), and energy resources (e.g., credit, knowledge, money). The disproportionate impact of resource loss is seen in both degree and speed of impact, as losses have large impact and typically also affect people at rapid and accelerating (p. 129) speed. It might appear counterintuitive to emphasize resource loss when this chapter largely focuses on resiliency. However, loss is primary in human systems, especially when objective circumstances signal loss, and past attempts to romanticize self-actualization and positive psychology, without attending to loss, threat, and stressful conditions, have had little real-world value. COR theory suggests instead that resilient responding must counteract or complement the powerful, usually rapid, and often long-term impact of resource loss.

The concept of resources risks becoming mundane and vague, as everything that might be helpful might be a resource, and indeed this is how Lazarus and Folkman (1984) defined resources. “Psychological stress is a particular relationship between the person and environment that is appraised by the person as taxing or exceeding his or her resources and endangering his or her well-being.” (g. 19). But then on page 167, “The extent to which a person feels threatened is in part a function of his or her evaluation [i.e., appraisal] of coping resources ” Hence, according to Lazarus and Folkman, stress occurs when resources cannot meet challenge and resources are those things we use to meet challenge, which I have argued is fully circular (Hobfoll, 1988, 1998). In order to move from individual appraisal to identify a general set of resources, we had numerous groups of people from many walks of life develop a list of resources that they found to be critical. Groups added, subtracted, and refined the list until future groups no longer added or subtracted resources that multiple prior groups had not already resolved (Hobfoll & Lilly, 1993). This became known as the COR-Evaluation (COR-E) and is included in Appendix 7.1. The list of 74 resources is seen as comprehensive but not all-inclusive. Clearly, if we use the scale to ask individuals about their experience of resource loss and gain, we are still relying on their appraisal, but even where the COR-E has been used for its most objective items on material loss following a hurricane, it was the single best predictor of psychological distress and immune compromise (Ironson et al., 1997).

Principle 2: Resource investment. The second principle of COR theory is that people must invest resources in order to protect against resource loss, recover from losses, and gain resources. A related corollary of this (Corollary 1) is that those with greater resources are less vulnerable to resource loss and more capable of orchestrating resource gain. Conversely, those with fewer resources are more vulnerable to resource loss and less capable of resource gain.

There are several sub-principles that emerge with Principle 2 of COR theory. The first and foremost of these is that the process of resource investment requires that people must build a pool of resources or have resources at their disposal. This has led to the concept within COR theory of resource caravans (Hobfoll, 1988, 1998). As people develop, they are ideally offered circumstances that share resources with them, imbue them with resources, and teach them how to foster and maintain resources. Nurturance, family stability, family safety, neighborhood and community safety, and what became popularized as “it takes a village to raise a child” exemplify this. But many families are in dire circumstances—where safety cannot be assumed, where resources are scarce, where schools are poor or non-existent, and where survival is more the order of the day. In several key studies Rutter (2000) showed that neighborhood factors far exceed the influence of family factors in predicting childhood psychopathology—said another way, a bad neighborhood and school is far more powerful than a good family. Psychology would have us think quite the opposite.

For those with resource-enriching environments, their caravan of resources, starting with a strong, loving family, begins to develop. Many of these resources are bestowed on children, but in time they learn skills that enable them to develop resources. They also are placed in safe passageways for their caravans. For this chapter, I will for the first time use this caravan passageways concept, although it is inherent in much of my past writing on COR theory.

Caravan passageways

Caravan passageways are the environmental conditions that support, foster, enrich, and protect the resources of individuals, families, and organizations, or that detract, undermine, obstruct, or impoverish people’s resource reservoirs. Individuals and families are able to maintain and develop their resource caravans, or fail to develop and maintain them, mainly out of circumstances that are beyond their and their families’ control. The likelihood of physical safety, good schools, wealth or relative wealth, safe leisure activities, or the cleanliness of streets, the availability of good employment, or of first-class medicine, the degree of crowdedness, the extent of pollution, clean water, the availability of playgrounds, or green spaces is not something that is so much chosen as given.

(p. 130) Inheritance is the principal mechanism by which caravan passageways are created and preserved. This inheritance is not only directly financial, although it is centrally related to financial wealth. The first form of inheritance of these passageways is cultural capital. This takes the forms of linguistic style, access to certain social circles, and aesthetic preferences that de facto become the signs and signature of status (Miller & McNamee, 1998). The second form of inheritance is through family processes and is termed inter vivos transfers, meaning gifts between those living. These transfers are especially important as they facilitate advancement and prevent crises at critical junctures in life that are the essence of any stressful life events list. Thus, these inter vivos transfers include paying for children’s college, a first home, getting married, getting the right job, paying a critical bill that comes due, helping with childcare, buying a car needed for transport to work or school, paying for access to safe neighborhoods, assistance with health insurance or legal aid, or a much-needed vacation. Thus, if the best universities cost today over $200,000 for tuition and living expenses and people have two children on average, this represents a transfer of $400,000 of wealth. If a 2-year master’s degree is added to this, the cost rises to over half a million dollars. Some of this is in the direct purchase of these, but it is often in trading favors and expectations of exchange for persons who belong to the same country club, social class, religion, or ethnic group, and also the exclusion of those who do not. This may take the form of the “important phone call” of a contact who is an “insider.” The third kind of inheritance transfer is testamentary, occurring after a person has died, through the transfer of estates. As much as 80 percent of wealth in the United States is inherited, particularly if in vivos transfer is included, and much of the remaining wealth is assured through the process of cultural capital (i.e., the providing of the “right behavior, right family” for entrance to the “right club,” legacy acceptances at universities, etc.) (Kalmijn & Kraaykamp, 1996).

How such passageways are inherited on broader community levels is exemplified in school and neighborhood factors. Schools in the United States are deeply affected by local family income. Thus, the inter vivos transfer of wealth in the form of cultural capital is instituted by financing schools locally. In an important way, this passageway of good education that is vital for producing so many resources for children and their future is insured by families; the tax for schools is largely dependent on community wealth, and wealthy communities both highly value education and have the wealth to transfer to schools in the form of what is essentially a self-imposed tax. And of course schools also provide art education, music, team sports and quality coaching, supervised academic activities, mental health counselors, college preparation coursework, and college counselors. Hence, it is not surprising that the socioeconomic status (SES) of the school district and the typical class size are the best predictors of multiple school outcomes. Poorer neighborhoods have larger average classroom size, making the problem doubly bad for low-income schools (Fowler & Walberg, 1991).

These passageways have a clear influence on physical and mental health. SES is among the best predictors of mental health. Although the United States is the wealthiest large nation in the world, it ranks 50th in life expectancy (Central Intelligence Agency, 2009a) and 180th in infant mortality (Central Intelligence Agency, 2009b). This seeming contradiction is possible because, although the wealthy and middle class have very positive health attributes, the passageways related to poverty are so strong as to place the United States alongside many of the poorer nations in the world. The inheritance of these health passageways is a central explanatory factor in such outcomes (Dubner, 2008). As Gallo and Matthews (2003) note in their comprehensive review, low-SES environments not only are stressful, but they also reduce individuals’ reserve capacity to manage stress, and increase vulnerability to negative emotions and cognitions. As such, lower SES results in fewer resources and at the same time is linked to greater stressful experiences and fewer positive experiences in everyday life (Gallo, Bogart, Vranceanu, & Matthews, 2005). This pattern can be observed in disasters. For example, those who were poorer were less likely to be resilient in the face of Hurricane Katrina, and also less likely to be insured, which in turn was almost as highly related to psychological distress as was loss of loved ones (Lee, Shen, & Tran, 2009). This process can also be seen in dealing with everyday stress in adolescents. Specifically, adolescents whose parents have more education tend to be more optimistic and use more engagement coping than children whose parents have less education, and these factors combine to lower perceived distress in the adolescents whose parents have more education (Finkelstein, Kubzansky, Capitman, & Goodman, 2007).

Psychology has considered families the foremost purveyor of passageways for resource development. Although families are important in this regard, (p. 131) neighborhood factors greatly supersede the impact of family factors (Rutter, 2000). This is why safe neighborhoods, good schools, and activities for youth are so important. Most families now have both parents working, and single-parent families are largely working, which results in even less supervision of children. Strong schools educate well and provide nutritious meals, physical warmth, activities that build character, and safety from gangs, violence, and rape. Studies show that a positive mentor such as a team coach can have an enormous impact on a child (Holt, Bry, & Johnson, 2008), and of course a good school might afford several such mentors. To understand the concept of passageways in which resource caravans are developed and nurtured, it would be a mistake to think that only the most disenfranchised or the wealthiest are affected. Those who are middle class are also most likely to stay within a similar middle-class passageway for resource caravans. They will attend fair to good schools, have reasonable neighborhood safety, have fair to good health insurance and services, and have access to fair to good colleges and jobs. But statistics also show that they will largely neither slide into poverty, nor obtain wealth and advantage (Pew Center, 2009). If individual differences such as drive, intelligence, self-efficacy, self-esteem, depression, anxiety, optimism, and other key individual factors were actually key in these processes, then there would be much greater mobility across social classes and the passageways that resources travel within. Indeed, the percent of low- and middle-income children who are able to enter Ivy League universities is declining, not increasing (Austin, 2006; Bowen, Kurzweil, & Tobin, 2005; Lewis, 1990). A new graduate with a master’s of business administration (MBA) degree from the top 10 programs in the United States earn between $109,000 and $145,000 per year median pay (U.S. News and World Report, 2008). However, for the middle-class majority with MBAs, new jobs typically pay around $50,000 per year (Payscale, 2009). If one were to be ambitious, motivated, optimistic, and self-efficacious and have good social support, an evening or long-distance MBA program might be more common for the middle-class individual, and these of course pay less. So, even if achieving an MBA is one indication of white-collar, middle-class status, the passageways principle is seen as establishing rather robust, if not rigid, pathways for resource accumulation.

If the passageway to money is seen as too material an argument, one divorced from psychological or health outcomes (as might be assumed, as psychological studies more typically control for than examine SES), this argument is quickly countered with the findings for coronary heart disease—specifically, the worse off the neighborhood, the higher the incidence of heart disease (Diez Roux et al., 2001). Among Blacks who encounter many obstacles to resource passageways, the best Black neighborhoods have worse coronary heart statistics than the worst white neighborhoods (Diez Roux et al., 2001). In the well-known Whitehall studies of British civil servants, among white-collar, middle-class workers, none of whom were poor, mortality and morbidity rates ascended as social hierarchy levels descended (Marmot, Bosma, Hemingway, Brunner, & Stansfeld, 1997; Marmot, Shipley, & Rose, 1984). Of course, this still means that for Harlem in 1990, only 37 percent of Black men survived to age 65 if they reached the age of 15, compared to 77 percent for white men nationally (Geronimus, Bound, Waidmann, Hillemeier, & Burns, 1996). These statistics show that although the extremes of the effects of resource caravan passageways reveal shocking differences, at all levels of SES the passageways in which resources travel are key.

Caravan passageways and psychosocial resources

The impact of social support is one of the most robust single markers of resiliency resources, after SES and race are accounted for (Schumm, Briggs-Phillips, & Hobfoll, 2006). Indeed, in our own work in Israel and in the Palestinian Authority, we found that when stress is extreme and chronic, personal resources such as self-efficacy are outstripped (Hobfoll et al., in preparation; Palmieri, Galea, Canetti-Nisim, Johnson, & Hobfoll, 2008) but that the beneficial impact of social support remains robust. Social support contributes to the structure of resource passageways for children (Elias & Haynes, 2008; Warren, Jackson, & Sifers, 2009), adult members of the family (Schwarzer & Knoll, 2007), and the elderly (Fiksenbaum, Greenglass, & Eaton, 2006; Tomaka, Thompson, & Palacios, 2006). It does so through material support, instrumental support, good advice, and emotional support (Haber, Cohen, Lucas, & Baltes, 2007; Uchino, Cacioppo, & Kiecolt-Glaser, 1996).

The passageways concept also helps explain the high correlation among resources and why they tend to travel in resource caravans. Although there are quite different theories, for example, for self-esteem, (p. 132) self-efficacy, and optimism, these three key resources are highly inter-correlated (Luszczynska, Gutierrez-Dona, & Schwarzer, 2005; Xanthopoulou, Bakker, Demerouti, & Schaufeli, 2007). Indeed, the correlation is so high as to suggest that they are intimately tied to one another developmentally. Perhaps more surprising is that they are also substantively correlated with social support (Brissette, Scheier, & Carver, 2002; Miyamoto et al., 2001; Rogers, McAuley, Courneya, & Verhulst, 2008; Verhaeghe, Bracke, & Bruynooghe, 2008), further buttressing the argument that they are developed together and that the passageways in which these resource caravans travel tend to sustain their aggregation.

Principle 3. Principle 3 is paradoxical. Although resource loss is more potent than resource gain, the salience of gain increases under situations of resource loss (Wells, Hobfoll, & Lavin, 1999). This principle suggests that as people experience more resource loss, resource gain processes accelerate in speed and increase in magnitude of their effect. This paradoxical increase in resource gain saliency is accentuated during traumatic situations, as well as when stress begins to take its toll in the even slower, creeping process of burnout. This transformation in the strength and speed of gain cycles is critical to understanding the process inherent in resiliency efforts. This follows because under conditions of high loss, efforts that result in small gains may nevertheless elicit positive expectancy and hope, and reinforce and encourage further goal-directed efforts. In this manner, resource gains that under less stressful circumstances might be viewed as inconsequential become lifelines for survival and recovery.

New insights in this process are offered through the highly creative emerging work in engagement theory (Schaufeli, Salanova, Gonzalez-Roma, & Bakker, 2002), which I will address later in this chapter in some depth. Engagement may be the companion process to investigations on stress that has been missing since the inception of stress and coping theories. Engagement is certainly implied in some of the pioneering work of Lazarus and Folkman (1984) on coping, but their groundbreaking work may be advanced significantly by an understanding of engagement as both a process and an outcome. Like resiliency, I caution against romanticizing engagement, as it often occurs in conjunction with a difficult coping process that may on balance be more negatively experienced than positive. Nevertheless, it is engagement that may keep people “in the game,” especially when major resource loss is experienced or anticipated.

Resource gains and family processes

The vital nature of resource gain can be used next to emphasize the critical role played by families in fostering passageways for resource caravans. The above-detailed argument posits that families are positioned within a certain sociocultural ecology in which the stage is largely set for resources external to the family. Some such ecologies are resource-rich and lend their resources to families generously. Other sociocultural ecologies are poor in social and financial capital and can afford families few resources. Worse, many sociocultural ecologies are dangerous and absorb many of the efforts of families just to stay afloat.

Because resource gains have greater impact amidst resource loss, this suggests that even poor families with few sociocultural resources can play a significant role in creating resource passageways for their children. After the early years when children are mainly home-centered, the tasks that children and adolescents face are how to succeed in school, with peers, with sports, and with moving into the employment world. Families are not the sole influence here by any means, but families play a major role in supporting children for these life tasks and fostering self-esteem, self-efficacy, optimism, and social skillfulness (Cooper, Holman, & Braithwaite, 1983; Frodi, Bridges, & Grolnick, 1985; Grolnick & Ryan, 1989; Openshaw, Thomas, & Rollins, 1984). This central role of families holds true for the adult members of the family as well. In this regard, families filter and translate the meaning of challenges faced in the world. Is a job seen as a sign of success or “not good enough”? Is the money available seen as enough, even if truly never enough, or are financial concerns (shortfalls) seen as a sign of failure? Are the pathways to aging seen as normal, or a sign of decline and invalidity?

These questions are critical to COR theory and are a potential bridge-points between COR theory and appraisal theory (Lazarus & Folkman, 1984). Because much of what occurs to us is ambiguous and many threats are vague, key loved ones (i.e., parents, spouses, adult children) become the translator of meaning. It is far beyond this chapter to discuss the aspects of families that operate here, but they have much to do with the culture or climate of the family. Is the family optimistic, do they back family members in a supportive, loving manner, are most efforts “good enough,” “not good enough,” or “great, wonderful”? Key elements of this include family stability, flexibility, positivity, clarity (Henry, 1994; Mathis & Tanner, 1991; (p. 133) Sokolowski & Israel, 2008; Windle & Jacob, 2007). There is good evidence that families that are characterized by conflict, aggression, coldness, lack of supportiveness, and neglect are vulnerable and have poor stress responding (Repetti, Taylor, & Seeman, 2002), but less is known about how the reverse of these attributes serves to produce resiliency in children who they carry on in their lives.

Here we see the crux of the difficulty for many families. In a chapter several years ago, we argued that the psychological study of hope had little to do with hope (Hobfoll, Briggs-Phillips, & Stines, 2003) but instead was a matter of “betting the odds.” What I mean by this is that if things have always gone well and resources are ample, it is not a sign of hope to be hopeful; rather, it is simply betting with the odds. For families who lack resources, the question of whether the future is bright or threatening takes on a completely different meaning. For middle-class children, it is reasonable to believe that with family resources, the future should look bright, or at least positive, given even significant challenges. For many families, however, this is a much more difficult appraisal to make, as the reality of their world may paint a much different picture, making this a much more challenging family culture to create. We still know little about how families shape stress resiliency, but we know much about what resources do need to be shaped, and the study of families and individuals nested in their socioecology would be an area of enormous research potential.

Resource loss and gain spirals

The first two principles of COR theory concerning loss primacy and investment of resources, in turn, lead to two key corollaries pertaining to resource loss and gain spirals (Hobfoll, 1988, 1998). Understanding these principles changes the approach to stress and trauma from a static process to an active process of striving to fulfill important roles, achieve important goals, and offset a sense of despair.

Corollary 2 of COR theory states that not only are those who lack resources more vulnerable to resource loss, but that initial loss begets future loss.

Corollary 3 mirrors Corollary 2, stating that those who possess resources are more capable of gain, and that initial resource gain begets further gain. However, because loss is more potent than gain, loss cycles will be more influential and more accelerated than gain cycles.

Research on stress has tended to look at stressors singularly or additively. COR theory suggests, however, that resource loss cycles tend to occur because stress entails resource loss and because resources must be invested to offset further resource loss. These loss cycles not only are seen as momentous, but also have accelerating speed (Ennis, Hobfoll, & Schroder, 2000; Norris & Kaniasty, 1996). Further, these loss cycles extend across the life cycle for decades and lifetimes (Schumm, Stines, Hobfoll, & Jackson, 2005). These cycles occur both because the emotional impact of major and traumatic stress is long term and because major stress and trauma eat away at key resiliency resources and limit the establishment of new resource reservoirs (Schumm et al., 2005).

These loss cycles can be seen in the lives of women who were abused as children. Not only are these women more likely to suffer from PTSD and depression decades later (Gibb et al., 2001; Schumm et al., 2005), but also they have also been found to be about five times more likely to be raped as adults (Schumm, Hobfoll, & Keogh, 2004). Further, abuse results in a continued loss of key resources, the very resources needed for resiliency (Johnson, Palmieri, Jackson, & Hobfoll, 2007). As adults, they are more likely than women who were not abused to suffer more life stress, and to react more negatively to those stressors (Schumm et al., 2005). Also, those women who had “only” experienced child abuse or adult rape were 6 times more likely to have probable PTSD as adults, whereas women who experienced both child abuse and adult rape were 17 times more likely to have probable PTSD than women who had experienced neither (Schumm et al., 2006), suggesting the multiplicative element of loss cycles. Further, women with PTSD symptoms were found to have over three times the likelihood of incident coronary heart disease than women with no PTSD symptoms (Kubzansky, Koenen, Jones, & Eaton, 2009), illustrating that trauma history cross-cycles into a critical health domain.

Traumatic Growth and Where it Did not Lead Us

In recent years, there has been an increased interest in positive psychology and who might do well amidst stressful environments (Peterson, Park, & Seligman, 2006; Peterson & Seligman, 2003; Seligman & Csikszentmihalyi, 2000). Thus, even where resource loss is omnipresent and where individuals exist within passageways where it is difficult to foster and protect resources, many individuals still do “well enough.” To examine the positive impact of resource gains, we began several years ago to explore traumatic growth in our work on war and terrorism (p. 134) with the full expectation that it would be linked to resiliency. We conceptualized post-traumatic growth (PTG) as finding benefits in terms of psychosocial resource gains following exposure to the threat of war and terrorism. PTG is defined as “positive psychological change experienced as a result of the struggle with highly challenging life circumstances” (Tedeschi, 2004, p. 1). PTG is thought to be more than a return to pre-trauma functioning following a traumatic event, but rather to achieving an enhanced level of functioning, sense of meaning or spirituality, and closer relationships than before the traumatic event occurred (Linley & Joseph, 2004).

Using a modified form of the COR-E, we framed our questions similarly to Tedeschi and Calhoun (Calhoun & Tedeschi, 2006; Tedeschi & Calhoun, 1995) in their pioneering work on traumatic growth. We asked respondents, “As a result of the Intifada [terrorist uprising], do you have more …: “intimacy with one or more family members,” “intimacy with spouse/partner,” “intimacy with at least one friend,” “hope,” “feelings that your life has purpose,” and “more confidence in your ability to do things.” This short scale essentially captures growth in the three domains of self-perception, interpersonal relationships, and philosophy of life posited by Tedeschi and Calhoun (1995) and has been shown adequate psychometric properties (α =.82) in studies we conducted in Israel (Hobfoll et al., 2006). Further, this scale also correlated at.85 with the full version of the Post-Traumatic Growth Inventory by Tedeschi and Calhoun (Hall & Hobfoll, 2008).

Leading theorists on PTG posited that PTG and psychological distress are orthogonal, and some studies support this viewpoint (Tedeschi, 2004). However, in their own research of war survivors where they argued this orthogonal viewpoint, different factors derived from their scale told a very different story. Specifically, one subscale was positively correlated with PTSD, one was negatively correlated, and one was not correlated (Powell, Rosner, Butollo, & Tedeschi, 2003). Moreover, a recent meta-analysis of many of the best studies on PTG to date found that PTG was related to greater symptoms of PTSD, particularly re-experiencing symptoms (e.g., intrusive thoughts and images) (Helgeson, Reynolds, & Tomich, 2006).

Hence, it is not altogether clear whether PTG has positive benefit, or whether, at least in some instances, it is a defensive attempt to find some good where benefit has not in actuality occurred. As Zoellner and Maerchker (2006) have written, the relationships of PTG to mental health is paramount because “If posttraumatic growth is a phenomenon worthy to be studied in clinical research, it is assumed to make a difference in people’s lives by affecting levels of distress, well-being, or other areas of mental health. If it does not have any impact [on these], PTG might just be an interesting phenomenon possibly belonging to the areas of social, cognitive, or personality psychology.” (p. 631). As they argued, if PTG does not have adaptive significance it is questionable whether it should be promoted. We find it is reported in a vast majority of those who experience trauma, but that does not mean it is a good thing because we have, by naming it so, described it as beneficial.

In our first study of PTG in Israel, we examined the impact of the Al Aqsa Intifada on Israeli Jews and Arabs (Hobfoll et al., 2006). We nationally sampled Israelis using random digit dialing during September 2003. Our sample included 720 Jewish and 185 Arab citizens of Israel (Arab citizens of Israel constitute 19.6 percent of the Israeli population [not including the West Bank and Gaza]) (Central Bureau of Statistics, 2002). We relied on structured telephone interviews to assess post-traumatic symptoms (PTS), terrorism exposure, the perception of PTG, and several constructs related to outgroup biases, including ethnocentrism, authoritarianism, and support for extreme political violence. We included the political variables as they are potentially important psychological outcomes, at least in terms of how they might relate to support for continuing conflict. We especially wanted to examine how these political attitudes and beliefs related to PTG. We argued that if PTG represented growth as its humanistic theoretical base has framed it (Frankl, 1959), it would be related to a less authoritarian, less ethnocentric, and less aggressively violent approach to the self and the conflict. If, in contrast, it represented a more fundamental, primitive form of coping, it would be positively associated with this violent and retaliatory triad.

We found that those who experienced greater exposure to terrorism also reported greater psychosocial resource loss and greater PTG. In turn, those who experienced greater psychosocial resource loss and greater PTG reported greater PTS and depression symptoms. We further found that greater PTG was related directly or indirectly to greater ethnic exclusionism, greater support for political violence, and greater authoritarianism. Because the study was cross-sectional, it is possible that greater PTG was a response to greater PTS. However, the fact that PTG was related to greater ethnocentrism, (p. 135) authoritarianism, and support for extreme political violence is more difficult to justify as indicating a process of resiliency. Said another way, even if we had found PTG to be related to lower psychological distress, its relation with the promotion of hatred and extreme violence would demand revision of wholly positive models of PTG.

We continued our research during August and September 2004 on a sample of 1,070 Jews and 392 Arab citizens of Israel, essentially replicating our earlier telephone interview methodology (Hobfoll et al., 2008). In this study, we examined several additional questions. Specifically, we examined whether those who were directly exposed to greater terrorism and who reported PTG might experience lower rates of probable PTSD. This was a logical step in our program of research, as directly exposed individuals were more deeply traumatized by events, and therefore might benefit more from PTG. Second, we examined whether our findings for PTG held for both those directly and indirectly exposed to terrorism, as others have argued that PTG has more positive impact for those with high levels of trauma exposure (McMillen, Smith, & Fisher, 1997).

In this study we found that rates of probable PTSD were high for Jews (6.6 percent) and extremely high among Arab citizens of Israel (18 percent). For Jews, we found higher rates of PTSD for those with higher income, traditional religiosity (as opposed to secular or highly religious), greater economic loss due to terrorism, greater psychosocial loss, greater PTG, and less social support. So, once again, PTG was among the vulnerability factors. For Arabs, lower education and greater psychosocial loss were related to higher rates of probable PTSD. Analyses for the entire sample and those directly exposed to terrorism revealed quite similar results. That is, among Jews who were more directly exposed to terrorism, higher PTG was also related to higher rates of probable PTSD. Although few variables in the model were significant for Arabs, many of the same trends existed among Arabs, and would likely have been significant if their sample size was equivalent to that for Jews.

This study supported our prior findings for a positive association of PTG with PTSD diagnosis in models that controlled for other key factors. That PTG was associated with a greater likelihood of probable PTSD diagnosis may indicate that PTG is a response to PTS symptoms, but not one that shows either an orthogonal or a palliative association. Also, because we controlled for exposure, economic resource loss, and psychosocial resource loss, it cannot be interpreted that the relationship of PTG with PTSD is an artifact of PTG being more common among those more highly exposed.

In the next study, we wanted to explore these questions in a stronger, prospective design and look more carefully at resiliency (Hobfoll et al., 2009). That is, we wanted to examine whether PTG was related to not developing symptoms of PTSD and depression or, if developing symptoms, of early recovery. This can be contrasted to what virtually all research on trauma has looked at, which is whether people develop the disorder—that is, high levels of symptoms. We interviewed 709 Israeli Jews and Arabs at two time periods during the Intifada, in 2004 to 2005, in a similar manner to what I have already described. At the time of the initial assessment, terrorism was quite active, whereas at the second time point terrorism had subsided to a significant degree, albeit still to a level that was objectively threatening.

A sizable minority of individuals in this study displayed what we called a resistance trajectory (22.1%), having no more than one symptom of depression and no more than one PTS symptom at either time point. A second group (13.5%) of individuals showed what we termed a resilience trajectory. Specifically, these individuals were not initially resistant, but became relatively free of symptoms over the period of study. Unfortunately, the most common trajectory was that of chronic distress (54.0%), whereby individuals reported experiencing more than one symptom of depression and/or PTS. That is, they were not necessarily in the clinical range of symptoms (although some were), but they had significant symptomatology. Finally, an additional group of individuals displayed what we called a delayed distress trajectory. These individuals were initially resistant (i.e., rather symptom-free), but developed symptoms over the period of study (10.3%).

Thus, our results for resiliency compare well to those of Bleich et al. (Bleich, Gelkopf, & Solomon, 2003), who found that 14.4% of an Israeli sample were resistant, as defined by an absence of symptoms assessed at one time point. They contrast, distinctly, however, with research by Bonanno et al. (Bonanno, Galea, Bucciarelli, & Vlahov, 2006), who found that resistance of Manhattan residents following the World Trade Center attacks, defined by an absence of symptoms assessed at one time point, was not less than 50% for most groups and never fell below one third for even the most exposed groups. This suggests that the more optimistic levels (p. 136) of resiliency found by Bonanno and colleagues may hold for individuals exposed to a single traumatic episode, but that chronic and ongoing exposure of the type found in Israel takes an increasing toll on resiliency.

As COR theory predicted, those who experienced less psychosocial resource loss at either time point were more likely to report being resistant or resilient, and resource loss was the strongest and most consistent predictor of outcomes. Further, men, those with higher income, those with higher education, and those from the majority group (Jews) also were more likely to be in the resilient or resistant trajectory groups. Those who had greater social support from friends also were more likely to be in the resistance and resilience trajectories. As we had also found for PTG in earlier studies, those reporting greater PTG were more likely to be in the chronic or delayed distress groups, and less likely to be in either the resistant or resilient trajectory groups. This means that not only did PTG relate to greater distress, it also related to not becoming relieved from distress, and increasing in distress over time. We further examined the trajectories for those who reported consistent PTG over time, as some have theorized that this is a more genuine form of PTG. The same negative findings held for this group.

Although we had not found PTG to have a positive impact on mental health in several of our studies, we continued to believe that for some, PTG would be a more genuine, salutary process. In line with theorizing of Viktor Frankl (1959) and more recently of Deci and Ryan’s self-determination theory (Deci & Ryan, 1985, 1991, 2000), we looked for an opportunity to test what we saw as “action growth.” That is, when such individuals reported PTG, it would be represented in a course of action, not just a cognitive view of themselves. We hypothesized that those who could assert PTG cognitively, and act upon their beliefs behaviorally, might find PTG protective.

During 2005, Israel decided upon a policy to disengage from Gaza, directly against the will of the Jews that settled there and had lived “reclaiming the Biblical land of Israel,” against a background of constant threat and violence. To enact this policy, the Israeli government was put into the position to have to forcibly remove the settlers in Gaza. For the settlers, this policy was to destroy the dream they had worked so hard for and for which they had risked so much. It was also terribly upsetting because this policy was being enacted by the same leadership that had encouraged and engineered the policy of their settlement, so it was also a betrayal. Those who stayed to resist the forced evacuation could be seen as practicing growth-related actions, as they were taking actions for a cause amidst threat. Further, as a united group, we also argued that their actions fit Frankl’s and Deci and Ryan’s models by virtue of their actions being collective, thus reinforcing the attachment aspects of PTG.

We conducted telephone interviews with 190 settlers (Hall et al., 2008) in the days prior to the forced evacuation. Placing this in historical context, most settlers, the government, and the media thought it would be a period of marked violence, and included threats of civil war. As might be expected, the rates of probable PTSD increased markedly from 6.5% to 26.3% and probable major depression rose from 3.2% to 27.4%, compared to earlier, separate samples we had from this region. Also, as we had found previously, and supporting COR theory, the highest rates of probable PTSD and depression diagnosis were found among settlers who reported the greatest psychosocial and economic resource loss. In examining the impact of PTG, we found that PTG was related in a stepwise fashion to PTSD diagnosis and depression diagnosis, with each increase in levels of PTG bringing a decrease in disorder. Indeed, an increase in one standard deviation below the mean to one standard deviation above the mean on PTG decreased the relative odds of probable PTSD diagnosis by 63%. We have no other explanation for this difference in these findings from those we found previously, except the differences in the communal action of these settlers, versus the cognitive stance of those in the prior studies.

We have come to believe that rather than PTG being a kind of benefit-finding for the purpose of growth, it may be better explained by terror management theory (Greenberg, Pyszczynski, & Solomon, 1986; Hall, Hobfoll, Canetti-Nisim, Johnson, & Galea, in press). Terror management theory argues that people are sensitive to cues that remind them of the inevitability of their own death and nonexistence (Becker, 1973; Greenberg et al., 1986) and that when these thoughts are evoked, they produce existential terror and anxiety. Cultures counter these anxieties with worldviews that “consist of humanly constructed beliefs about reality shared by individuals in groups that provide a sense that one is a person of value in a world of meaning” (Solomon, Greenberg, & Pyszczynski, 2004, p. 17). In this manner, individuals may lower their sense of anxiety and terror (p. 137) by finding greater meaning in their worldview, but these worldviews are counters to their fears. When the fear is of an enemy or outgroup, then PTG would take the form of affiliation with groups and messages that form a defense against the outgroup; even if that defense is violent and full of hate, the hatred is justified as a good, as hatred of one’s enemies is often construed as a form of patriotism. Linked with our finding that in most cases PTG is related to greater PTSD and depression symptoms, and decreased resiliency prospectively, we believe that the evidence is that outside of the possible effects of growth-related actions, at least in the context of war and terrorism, PTG is related to more negative outcomes and more rigid, aggressive coping (Hall et al., in press; Hobfoll et al., 2006).

Engagement and Resiliency

Although we have found little beneficial impact of PTG, our continued interest in positive psychology led us to interest in engagement as the inverse of burnout and other distress-indicative processes (Schaufeli et al., 2002). Schaufeli et al.’s (2002) conceptualization of engagement is instructive and informs the potential for understanding the resiliency process, even extending to engagement in the face of traumatic stress. Engagement is defined as a persistent, pervasive, and positive affective-motivational state of fulfillment in individuals who are reacting to challenging circumstances (Schaufeli et al., 2002). Engagement is further conceptualized as a product of three dimensions—vigor, dedication, and absorption.

Dedication is depicted within the engagement framework as the commitment to key life tasks. In the case of major and traumatic stressors, it includes dedication to family, work, organizations, society, and the preservation of the self. Absorption is defined as the sense of full involvement and even excitement over life tasks. It also implies a process where one is so absorbed that one loses sense of time. This level of absorption is seen both as satisfying to individuals, as well as aiding the problem-solving process. This raises an important insight from the engagement conceptualization that has often been absent from the stress and coping literature—that is, how successful individuals behave (or function) in the face of stress at accomplishing the life and work tasks that they and life set before them. When people are absorbed in a major challenge, they often lose the sense of time and problem-solving is maximized. This links back to earlier work on test anxiety, which focused both on anxiety and test-taking success (Sarason & Stoops, 1978). To the extent that people are worried about what might happen or has happened, they become less absorbed in the task before them and likely less capable of performing complex tasks.

Vigor, in turn, refers to high levels of energy and mental resilience when meeting life challenges. Shirom (2006) suggests that vigor is the fundamental element of this process and that, if it occurs, the issues of absorption and commitment are secondary, and even an artifact of vigor. We have argued that when addressing the consequences of terrorism and war, however, absorption and commitment may be more fundamental, as it is critical that individuals and the society at large continue their involvement and sustaining of key life tasks (Hobfoll, Hall, Horsey, & Lamoureux, in press).

The critical nature of loss in engagement

What has so often occurred in the current and prior positive psychology movements is a mirror image of what they criticize—that is, forgetting that both growth and psychopathology are interlinked, co-occur, and affect each other. Moreover, the most interesting phenomenon in positive psychology is the existence of positive, energetic processes amidst difficult challenges where people are often quite distressed. Engagement requires the very resources that are often being lost or are already overcommitted in facing difficult life challenges.

The attendant principle from COR theory for the engagement side of the continuum is that people must have the personal and environmental capacity to invest if they are to navigate and succeed at their engagement while they are dealing with life’s everyday or more major vicissitudes. This suggests that they need a strong armamentarium of material, social, personal, and energy resources, and they must have the capacity to attend to the engagement process in terms of time and access. If stressful demands are too high, people often must choose to exit engagement processes in favor of meeting survival demands, or even the demands of a serious challenge. Hence, for example, people often must leave work to care for an ill parent, may not have the money or wardrobe to go to work, or must leave school and stay with a mundane job in order to meet financial responsibilities. Time with potential supporters may need to be sacrificed, not because people want to be socially isolated, but because any free time must be dedicated to addressing stressful environmental circumstances. COR theory also suggests that these steps are taken in a strategic way before resources are drained in order to conserve resources for future demands.

(p. 138) Nevertheless, it is important to highlight that COR theory suggests that gain cycles, as embodied within the engagement framework, also build on themselves. Hence, as people make resource gains and successfully experience the rewards of dedication and absorption, they experience more positive health and well-being and become more capable of further investing resources into the engagement process. With few resource reserves, people will naturally take a conservative investment approach, but as their resource reservoir strengthens they will be more likely to take resource investment risks. But again, as protecting against loss is always more powerful and salient than developing resource gains, this process will remain a conservative one, especially where there is a history of resource loss or where environmental conditions continue to be threatening.

Supportive environments create passageways for engagement

Families, workplaces, schools, and neighborhoods play a crucial role in increasing the likelihood of sustained engagement, especially where individuals may be lacking their own resources or where they have undergone rapid or chronic resource loss. A supportive environment often provides essential conditions for fostering people’s engagement. Supportive environments provide such conditions as meaningful goals, share resources that may be lacking, give guidance on how to successfully engage, and potentially include individuals in the shared opportunities for success of the social unit (Csikszentmihalyi, 1997; Sonnentag & Lange, 2002). Hence, organizations that share high levels of work resources are likely to have higher levels of individual and team engagement (Bakker, van Emmerik, & Euwema, 2006).

An example of this comes from the respite literature for families who are caring for an individual who has chronic needs and thus makes chronic demands on the families. Respite care steps in to responsibly provide care, allowing the family to meet other task demands, or just rejuvenate themselves with rest and leisure (Lund, Utz, Caserta, & Wright, 2009). Even for those employees who are high in engagement, the ability to detach from work to “recharge their batteries” during non-work time was related to positive affective states. Often, in high-demand environments, it is the greater social unit that must provide support that is beyond individual or family capacity. For example, following Katrina, the state government of Mississippi took legal action against large insurance companies who were not responding properly within the terms of their policies with those affected by the disaster. How critical this is can be seen from earlier research by Ironson et al. (1997), who found that time to insurance payment was one of the strongest predictors of mental health outcomes after a hurricane.

There are instances when loss cycles and engagement cycles co-occur, and if the loss cycle is not contained it will undermine the engagement cycle. For example, Bakker, Hakanen, Demerouti, and Xanthopoulou (2007) found that teachers with high resources were engaged whether or not they were coping with high levels of misbehavior in the classroom. In contrast, those with low resources were engaged only if children were well behaved. Engagement was overwhelmed when demand was high and resources low. That these loss and engagement cycles are intertwined is illustrated in a study of platinum mine workers in South Africa (Rothmann & Joubert, 2007). Here it was found that job resources such as autonomy, good communication, and organizational support were related to lower levels of worker burnout and higher engagement, and that burnout undermined worker engagement. Similarly, a recent study in the automotive industry found that an abusive supervisor virtually cancelled out the positive impact of workers’ engagement on their work performance (Harris, Kacmar, Zivnuska, & Shaw, 2007).

How these multiple resource loss versus engagement pathways operate is illustrated in one of the few studies that examine stress and engagement over time in an organization (de Lange, De Witte, & Notelaers, 2008). Employees with low resources from work and low autonomy in their job were disengaged and tended to move out of the company. Those with high engagement tended to move into areas of their company with even higher available resources and tended to seek environments that were richer in resources.

In an entirely different context, positive psychological states have been studied in terms of how they affect caregivers’ recovery after the death of their partner from AIDS (Moskowitz, Folkman, Collette, & Vittinghoff, 1996). They found that the ability to attain the positive psychological states of productivity and focused attention shortly after bereavement had a significant impact on shortening the course of depressive mood and recovery of positive mood states. As suggested by Fredrickson’s (1998) broaden-and-build theory, positive emotions are linked to greater exploration and goal-setting and more flexible thinking and generally (p. 139) broaden thinking. However, as Zautra, Reich, and Gaurnaccia (1990) note, it may be positive events that sustain positive affect—hence the importance of resource gain cycles. COR theory also places secondary emphasis on gain cycles, but would emphasize that positive emotions have difficulty being sustained when resource loss is severe or chronic, especially where other key resources, such as social support, cannot be brought to bear. Further, resource lack or loss over time will impair people’s ability to find and sustain positive environments that provide positive affect-enhancing experiences.

Although to date most studies on engagement have occurred within organizational and work environments, it is likely that these findings would extend to other environments where there is high challenge and demand. The link between engagement and positive emotions might then be explored to better understand how some individuals manage to be engaged and experience vigor, dedication, and absorption, leading to sustained problem-solving, and something we know even less about—creative problem-solving of major life challenges. The link to positive emotions and supportive environmental contexts should generalize to other contexts, as Fredrickson found in the aftermath of September 11 (Fredrickson, Tugade, Waugh, & Larkin, 2003) and Moskowitz et al. (1996) noted for caregivers to dying individuals with AIDS.

We have begun to explore this in the high-stress-and-trauma environment of the Palestinian Authority. Israel occupation, internecine warfare, and severe economic and infrastructure destruction have made this a highly stressful environment for decades, and both the Israel response to the Intifada and the increase in internal political struggle have made it worse in recent years. We conducted face-to-face interviews of 1,196 individuals in the West Bank and Gaza from September 16, 2007, to November 1, 2008, in a three-wave panel study. We hoped to explore how trauma exposure and resource loss directly reduced engagement, and how they reduced engagement via their influence on PTS and depression symptoms. At the same time, we wanted to study the more positive pathways, such that social support and self-efficacy might contribute to reduced PTS and depression symptoms and increase engagement.

Our findings (Hobfoll et al., in preparation) were illuminating and support our theorizing in a number of ways. First, many people do continue to be engaged, even amidst the chaos and trauma of this environment. So, engagement was fairly evenly distributed, and as many people were in the high range on the scale as in the low range. The average level of engagement was slightly above what would be the halfway score on the scale, so it can be said that on average more people fell on the engaged end of the continuum than the disengaged. We also found that psychosocial resource loss was the primary predictor of PTS and depression symptoms. Further, psychosocial resource loss directly related to lower-level engagement nearly 2 years later, and resource loss indirectly reduced engagement through its influence on depression. Social support also influenced engagement, as we had theorized, and the effect of social support on engagement was both direct and through its influence on limiting later depression. Notably, engagement was principally a function of depression and the depressive aspects of PTSD and not the other aspects of PTSD.

It was also notable that self-efficacy did not play a significant role in influencing engagement. It is possible that Arabs, having a more communal culture, find self-efficacy less important. However, we found that in severe and chronic circumstances, self-efficacy tended to have a limited influence among Jews in Israel (Palmieri et al., 2008), who are more individualistic in culture. It is possible that self-efficacy is outstripped in circumstances where individualist effort is thwarted by such overwhelming political circumstances. We of course must be cautious about making any conclusions, as we believe this is the first study of these processes.

It is critical to note that depression and engagement were not highly related, with less than 10 percent overlap, suggesting that many people who are depressed remain engaged. This is a critical finding as it indicates how people stay committed and involved in life tasks, even amidst significant trauma exposure and chronically stressful environmental conditions, where many believe there is little hope for this to change. This is quite the opposite of the original hopelessness formulation, and it is interesting that Seligman (2000) has revised his thinking on the hopelessness concept, placing much greater emphasis on optimism.


COR theory emphasizes the real things that occur in people’s lives that challenge them, and the real things that result in their accumulation of resource reservoirs. Yet continued emphasis in the stress literature is placed on the perception of stress and on individual differences. It is my belief that this stems largely on the fact that stress, challenge, and (p. 140) resources are measured through questions rather than direct observation. Moreover, these observations would have to be long term, multi-perspective, and from all viewpoints. When we ask people their perceptions that is largely what they will give us, because people are good if imperfect cataloguers of events. One could similarly argue that if we filmed people, that life film is the best predictor of stress. If we solely ask their appraisals, then we will conclude that appraisals are key.

People with different resources will view threats and their likely success in meeting challenges differently. However, as I argued here and elsewhere, the resources upon which such appraisals are based are largely the result of real occurrence in their lives and the caravan passageways that were given them. Those who are optimistic usually have reason to be optimistic based on the realities that mark their lives.

Nevertheless, it is fascinating that some people, given a modicum of support, will continue to remain vigorous, absorbed, and committed to the tasks that face them, even while they are challenged with chronic, traumatic conditions. What interests me in Frederickson’s (1998) broaden-and-build theory is not that positive emotions lead to positive ends. Rather, COR theory would ask: To what extent can people who face trauma and generally lack resources remain creative, engaged, and hopeful? The answer here may be that positive emotions will be common among those with the most resources or who have experienced the least resource loss. But it is at least possible that a glimmer of hope and positive emotion may have a germinal effect on creativity, a search for building on that positive emotion, and a reaching out to others.

Of all our recent research, I am most intrigued by that fact that although depression and engagement are correlated, they are not highly correlated. This means that despite experiencing traumatic or major life stress, people are seldom helpless, and helplessness is an unlikely course, even when stress is major and chronic (Folkman, 1997). At some basic level, people have to know that they must be committed to their work, their families, and the tasks that they or life has set before them. A recent novel by Steven Galloway, The Cellist of Sarajevo, tells the true story of Vedran Smailovic, the principal cellist of the Sarajevo opera, when the city was under siege in the 1990s.

At 4:00 pm on May 27th, 1992, a long line of starving people waiting in front of the only bakery in Sarajevo that still had enough flour to make bread were shelled. Twenty-two people died as Vedran Smailovic stood at his window a hundred yards away and watched.

The next day hungry people lined up again to beg for bread—certain they would die if they didn’t come to the bakery and convinced they could die if they did. Then it happened. Vedran Smailovic arrived. He was dressed in the black suit and white tie in which he had played every night until the opera theater was destroyed. He was carrying his cello and a chair.

Smailovic sat down in the square and, surrounded by debris and the remainders of death and the despair of the living, he began to play the mournful Albinoni “Adagio,” the one music manuscript that had been found whole in the city after the carpet bombing of Dresden.

What’s more, shelling or no, he came back to the square every day after that for 21 consecutive days (one day for each of the people that had died) to do the same thing, a living reminder that there is a strength in the human spirit that simply cannot be destroyed. Today, where he sat, there is a monument of a man in a chair playing a cello. But the monument is not to his music, as good as it is. It is to his refusal to surrender the hope that beauty could be reborn in the midst of a living hell. Even more important, perhaps, is the fact that that small sound of hope rings on still around the world.

(Chittister, 2009).


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                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    Appendix 7.1:


                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    We are interested the extent to which you have experienced actual loss or threat of loss in any of the list of resources listed overleaf in the last 6 months. Resources can include objects, conditions, personal characteristics, or energies.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    Actual loss of resources occurs when the resource has decreased in availability to you (e.g., actual loss of personal health or actual loss of intimacy with spouse or partner). If you have experienced “actual loss” in any of the resources in the last six months, you would rate that “actual loss” from 1 to 4 (1 = actual loss to a small degree, to 4 = actual loss to a great degree) and write your response in the “actual loss” column. If the availability of the resource has not changed, or the resource is not applicable, you would rate “actual loss” as 0 (zero = not at all / not applicable).

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    Threat of loss occurs when you have been threatened with the loss of the resource but no actual loss has occurred (e.g., there has been a chance that you may lose your job and therefore your stable employment has been threatened with loss). If you have experienced “threat of loss” in any of the resources in the last six months, you would rate that “threat of loss” from 1 to 4 (1 = threat of loss to a small degree, to 4 = threat of loss to great degree) and write the number in the “threat of loss” column. If there was no “threat of loss” of the resource, or the resource is not applicable, you would rate “threat of loss” as 0 (zero = not at all / not applicable).

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    IMPORTANT: DO NOT RATE the availability of the resource to you. We are only interested in the CHANGE in the availability of the resource (i.e., actual loss), OR if there has been a “threat of loss” to that resource. FOR EXAMPLE:RESOURCE item 26 - Status / Seniority at work: If the status / seniority of your job 6 months ago is still the same as today then you write a “0” in the actual loss column. If you had experienced no “threat of loss” in the status / seniority of your job during that time then you would also write a “0” in the threat of loss column. If you had experienced some doubt as to whether you may be demoted in your job, but it hasn’t happened yet, then you would rate the “threat of loss” between 1 (threat of loss to a small degree) and 4 (threat of loss to a great degree). (p. 145) (p. 146)

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    My Resources

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    To what extent have I experienced actual loss during the past 6 months?

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    • 0 = not at all / not applicable

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    • 1 = to a small degree

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    • 2 = to a moderate degree

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    • 3 = to a considerable degree

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    • 4 = to a great degree

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    To what extent have I experienced threat of loss during the past 6 months?


                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    EXTENT OF ACTUAL LOSS

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    EXTENT OF THREAT OF LOSS


                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    Personal transportation (car, truck, etc.)




                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    Feeling that I am successful




                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    Time for adequate sleep




                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    Good marriage




                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    Adequate clothing




                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    Feeling valuable to others




                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    Family stability




                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    Free time




                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    More clothing than I need




                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    Sense of pride in myself




                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    Intimacy with one or more family members




                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    Time for work




                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    Feelings that I am accomplishing mygoals




                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    Good relationship with my children




                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    Time with loved ones




                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    Necessary tools for work








                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    Children’s health








                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    Necessary home appliances




                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    Feeling that my future success depends on me




                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    Positively challenging routine




                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    Personal health




                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    Housing that suits my needs




                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    Sense of optimism




                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    Status/seniority at work




                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    Adequate food




                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    Larger home than I need




                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    Sense of humour




                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    Stable employment




                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    Intimacy with spouse or partner




                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    Adequate home furnishings




                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    Feeling that I have control over my life




                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    Role as a leader




                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    Ability to communicate well




                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    Providing children’s essentials




                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    Feeling that my life is peaceful




                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    Acknowledgement of my accomplishments




                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    Ability to organise tasks




                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    Extras for children




                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    Sense of commitment




                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    Intimacy with at least one friend




                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    Money for extras








                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    Understanding from my employer/boss




                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    Savings or emergency money




                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    Motivation to get things done




                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    Spouse/partner’s health




                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    Support from co-workers




                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    Adequate income




                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    Feeling that I know who I am




                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    Advancement in education or job training




                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    Adequate financial credit




                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    Feeling independent








                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    Financial assets (stocks, property, etc.)




                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    Knowing where I am going with my life




                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    Affection from others.




                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    Financial stability




                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    Feeling that my life has meaning/purpose




                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    Positive feelings about myself




                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    People I can learn from




                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    Money for transportation




                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    Help with tasks at work




                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    Medical insurance




                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    Involvement with church, synagogue, etc




                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    Retirement security (financial)




                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    Help with tasks at home




                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    Loyalty of friends




                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    Money for advancement or self-improvement (education, starting a business, etc.)




                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    Help with child care




                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    Involvement in organisations with others who have similar interests




                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    Financial help if needed




                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    Health of family/close friends



                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    (p. 147) We are also interested if you have experienced gain in any of the following resources in the last 6 months.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    Gain of resources occurs when the availability of a particular resource has increased for you (e.g., you and your family have spent more time together in the last 6 months so you have experienced gain in the resource of “time with loved ones”). If you have experienced “gain” in any of the resources in the last 6 months, you would rate that “gain” from 1 to 4 (1 = gain to a small degree to 4 = gain to a great degree) and write your response in the “gain” column. If the availability of the resource is unchanged to you, or the resource is not applicable, you would rate “extent of gain” as 0 (zero = not at all / not applicable).

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    IMPORTANT: DO NOT RATE THE AVAILABILITY OF THE RESOURCE. We are only interested in the GAIN you have experienced in the resource. FOR EXAMPLE: RESOURCE item 4 – Good Marriage: If you had a good marriage 6 months ago and you still do now, then you would rate the extent of the gain as “0”.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    My Resources

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    To what extent have I gained them during the past 6 months?

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    • 0 = not at all / not applicable

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    • 1 = to a small degree

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    • 2 = to a moderate degree

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    • 3 = to a considerable degree

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    • 4 = to a great degree


                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    EXTENT OF GAIN

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    1. Personal transportation (car, truck, etc.)


                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    2. Feeling that I am successful


                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    3. Time for adequate sleep items continue as on the list of resource loss


                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    4. …items continue as on the list of resource loss