Positive Emotion & Terrorism

Resilience Jung

We now have research about the role of positive emotions in survivors of terrorist attacks.

Researchers found that the presence of positive emotion within a person is “linear.” This means that it is a kind of reservoir that we can draw upon in the face of negative events, in fact for ANY event in our lives.

Building this reservoir of positive emotions is exactly what we teach in our “Emotional Gym,” where the stress is on the importance of “positive emotional muscle” as a buffer against persistent, routine negativity, or any sense of threat.

However, I never considered it in the face of terrorist attacks, but it holds true even there. A group of researchers applied their skills to survivors of the terrorist attacks in Madrid, Spain, where El Qaeda terrorists placed bombs in 3 subway stops, killing 190 people and wounding 1500 others.

This is what the researchers wrote in The Journal of Positive Psychology in the article, “Perceived benefits after terrorist attacks; The role of positive and negative emotions:”

“Analyses showed that positive emotions experienced on the same day or immediately following the day of the attacks (gratitude, love) fully accounted for the relation between pre-attack resilience and post attack growth, which suggest that positive emotions experienced in the after math of the terrorist attacks increased perceptions of psychological growth.”

What this means is that positive emotions residing in the person before an attack or experienced afterwards increases resilience and diminishes any likelihood of post traumatic stress reactions and related illnesses.

This is very significant stuff.

Positive emotion, what we call “positive emotional muscle,” has great power to be a buffer to negative emotion and events.

It also speeds up recovering from negative emotion: you just don’t spend as much time being fearful, worrying, and being anxious.

If that can happen in the face of terrorist attacks, consider what positive emotion does in the face of our everyday encounters with the things in life that cause us fear and worry and dread.

* The research cited from the Journal of Positive Psychology appeared in an article by Carmelo Vazquez and Gonzalo Hervas., Volume 5, Issue 2, March 10, 2010.

© Dr. William K. Larkin 


About the author

Dr. William K. Larkin
  • James

    Carl Jung’s statement, “I am not what happened to me, I am
    what I choose to become,” when internalized, is an empowering and destructive
    force. A force that, when internalized, destroys the power of the internal
    victim and fuels the engine of the internal victor. One mindset weakens, another triumphs. It’s
    all about choice.

    Over time, if an individual uses neuroplastic techniques to
    focus the brain on this empowering statement that’s clearly in the UpSpiral,
    the confidence that comes from knowing this statement to be true can give that
    person an increased sense of well-being and resilience. Herein lies the inter
    connectedness of the UpSpiral and the Emotional Scale – what a person chooses
    to focus his or her thinking on can impact his or her feelings and vice versa.

    However, the next stage of resiliency begins to be
    experienced when a person can decipher between a feeling and a thought. A
    person with this higher capacity can understand that when they are in a place
    of fear is not the ideal time to make decisions that impact the rest of their
    life. From a place of fear,
    decision-making will be difficult, complex, and poor decisions will be made.

    Rather, a person who is experiencing a particular fear whose
    developed a higher level of resiliency, will step back from the situation,
    recognize the fear, go to a positive emotion, and through the lens of one of
    their personal strengths brainstorm a way out of their challenge, obstacle, or
    situation. The fear will not only be hurdled, but absolutely vanquished.

    The research presented in the article above is powerful,
    because as NeuroPositive coaches we realize that not everything in life is
    going to be positive, everyone is going to have times in their life that are
    challenging; however, what the research is demonstrating is that when positive
    emotions are emphasized this broadens and builds an individual’s resiliency and
    makes even painful terrorist attacks a scenario where more positive emotions
    are experienced and a person is psychologically strengthened, rather than
    weakened. In other words, what was meant
    to weaken an individual can make that person even stronger.

    That is the power of this work!

    • jeris hollander

      Well said James!

  • Sandra Lintz

    The ways I’m training my brain in positivity have put the past in perspective, help me in the present and are preparing me for the future come what may. Learning that the work in the emotional gym builds an emotional muscle reservoir that can keep me afloat through a crisis is hopeful news and it is also something I feel builds my confidence. When we see or hear of terrorist attacks, war, and natural disasters I think it’s natural to wonder how we would handle it if it happened in my community. The scientific research suggests we have a choice to stay positive. Bad things happen in life. If it happens I can choose resilience and thrive. “Post traumatic growth” (PTG) is positive change experienced as a result of the struggle with a life crisis or traumatic event(s). In the mid 1990’s psychologists Richard G. Tedeschi and Lawrence G. Calhoun at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte coined the phrase. They found that as many as 90 percent of trauma survivors report at least one aspect of PTG such as a renewed appreciation for life. Knowing this and that I am regularly working out in the emotional gym increases my confidence that I will be able to face any threats to my well being and stay afloat in the aftermath of any crisis or trauma. Confidence feels good.

  • jeris hollander

    This is an incredibly important topic at this particular time in our lives. As I have been applying the methods of positive neuroplasticity such as the emotional gym, zeno focus and being strength smart, I have noticed a vast improvement in a part of my life that was previously in crisis for several months. As things stabilized in my personal life, I began to wonder how all of this would be useful in the face of something truly terrifying, such as a terrorist attack. My concern was that although I understand the positive neuropsychological impact this work has on my day to day life, would I be able to apply this on a much larger scale. Would I be able to maintain this direction of growth if confronted with something that ignites such deep fear, sadness and pain? I thought, If I had been in the Bataclan Theatre in Paris the night of the attacks, would everything I have been practicing perish, only to be overshadowed by the trauma of such tragedy? This led me to also wonder about the Jews in Nazi Germany…how can anybody survive such atrocity and not crumble under the weight of what they have suffered through?

    I have given these types of questions quite a bit of consideration recently. Then a scenario came to mind that seemed to put things into perspective. I imagined myself on a long, arduous journey by foot. On this journey, I would be met with many physical obstacles, some fairly easy and some requiring more strength, speed, and endurance. In one scenario I am in poor physical health – undernourished, weak, and sluggish. I have not properly cared for myself prior to embarking on this journey. In the second scenario I am healthy, fit, well nourished, and strong. It is clear which “me” is more likely to overcome the most challenging physical obstacles is this metaphor. Positive emotions play a crucial role in our mental fortitude, just as healthy food and exercise play an equally crucial role in our physical durability. Through burgeoning positive neuroplasticity, we are empowering ourselves with the strength and resiliency to not only survive, but to thrive in the face of extreme adversity.

  • Audrey Sloofman

    Though the number of terrorist attacks increases in our world, it is more likely that we will encounter an emotional terrorist who shakes our sensibilities. Without a reservoir of positive emotion to tap into, it can be a challenge to recover from an an emotionally negative attack from another. If we merge our thoughts and feelings in conjunction with the intent of the attacker, we fuel it into a downward spiral. By tapping into one’s personal strengths, consciously reaching for gratitude and pulsing the Emotional Gym it makes more sense that one can disassociate from the negative trigger of the attack and reconstruct the internal physical reactions (including the brain) to that attack.

    If you are already in a Downspiral when attacked, the automatic and unconscious reactions to that attack would feed the Downspiral. (“My life really does stink.” or “I really am a looser.”). But if you are grounded in your strengths and have built up those reservoirs of strength and positive resources, you can better hold the attack in perspective and not take on the attackers intent for us to be upset.

Copyright © 2015 The Applied Neuroscience Institute