Journal of Primary Prevention

, Volume 15, Issue 3, pp 209–246 | Cite as

The life course of psychological resilience: A phenomenological perspective on deflecting life's slings and arrows

  • Norman F. Watt
  • James P. David
  • Kevin L. Ladd
  • Susan Shamos


Notably lacking in the promising new literature on psychological resilience are longitudinal studies of adults who have not only survived extreme early life stresses, but have actually thrived in the face of them. The present study compared 31 resilient adults who were middle-aged, upper-middle class and well educated with 19 controls from comparable life circumstances who had not been exposed to severe early adversity. The experimental group reported exceedingly high scores for early life stress, with emotional abuse by parents being the most pervasive compliant. They felt and showed extreme signs of emotional oppression as children, but normal (or even superior) intellectual development. The majority sought and received substantial support outside the family, including religious counseling and formal psychotherapy, but healing was tediously slow and probably not entirely complete. Most attributed their success to relentless effort and self-reliance, but the groups did not differ significantly on psychological measures of internal locus of control. “Transcenders” appeared remarkably normal as adults, showing significant improvement in interpersonal relations. Their self-descriptions of exceptional fortitude may have been slightly exaggerated but probably contributed to their growing self-esteem. There was only limited support for the hypothesis that resilient people become scrupulously appropriate in their own parenting attitudes and behavior. Their enthusiasm to promote disclosure about their stressful early lives, and about the possibilities for successful outcome seemed to fulfill altruistic needs to counter the popular myth that extreme adversity in early life inexorably leads to adult patholog, and also provided some validation for themselvesas people.

Key Words

Resilience adulthood social support 


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Copyright information

© Human Sciences Press, Inc. 1995

Authors and Affiliations

  • Norman F. Watt
    • 1
  • James P. David
  • Kevin L. Ladd
  • Susan Shamos
  1. 1.University of DenverDenver

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