Coping with Trauma Traumatic stressors are ones that either threaten or expose individuals to loss of life and major physical damage to themselves, loved ones, or large numbers of individuals. Surprisingly, the trauma literature is much clearer in demonstrating the efficacy of coping strategies. In general, how individuals cope with trauma and its sequelae are better predictors of the development of posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) than simply exposure to trauma. There are four ways in which coping with trauma differs from coping with less severe stressors. First, traumatic circumstances are often uncontrollable and many people fall back on the use of unconscious defense mechanisms, such as denial and repression. For example, depersonalization may be the only possible response to being tortured. Second, disclosure and seeking support from others appear to be especially important in traumatic situations. However, if the disclosure evokes negative responses from others, PTSD symptoms may become worse. Some individuals are relatively successful at ‘‘partitioning off’’ their trauma experience and rebuilding their lives. Third, the process of coping with traumatic events and their sequelae is much longer and may take years. Finally, the coping strategy of meaning making is particularly important in dealing with trauma. Whether an individual is able to make some sense out of traumatic events can determine whether those events lead to positive or negative mental health outcomes.
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