Dr. George Bonanno
Resilience & Cognitive Flexibility
Loss, trauma, and grief are universal human experiences. Everyone, at some point, encounters loss and the accompanying emotional journey of grief. This inevitability is woven into the fabric of human existence. Trauma, on the other hand, presents a more complex picture. It's intriguing how different individuals can face the same adverse event, yet their psychological responses vary significantly. One person might develop posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), while another remains mentally and emotionally unscathed. Similarly, certain events that appear overwhelmingly traumatic to some may leave others psychologically unharmed. This variance raises a crucial question: what unites the experiences of loss, trauma, and grief? The answer lies in the fascinating concept of resilience. Dr. George Bonanno, a prominent researcher at Teachers College, Columbia University, has spent his career delving into these phenomena. His findings are enlightening, revealing a common thread: we possess a greater capacity for resilience than we often realize. Dr. Bonanno's work uncovers the nuances of how we respond to life's challenges, offering valuable insights into this shared human experience called resilience.
Dr. Bonanno shares, "I think of resilience as an outcome. I don't think people are resilient. Instead, I think there is a resilient outcome." However, how does one create resilient outcomes? In his book titled "The End of Trauma", he explains exactly those techniques. One that we discuss is the concept of cognitive flexibility. Also known as regulatory flexibility, he defines it as a set of skills that allow people to embrace an unusual challenge and figure out, in a sense, what they need to do to get past it. This seems to be the key ingredient within the concept of resilience. During our discussion, I was intent to dig deeper into this. What do these flexibility strateegies look like and are they innate or learned? Dr. Bonanno elaborates beautifully.
"I don't think people are resilient. Instead, I think there is a resilient outcome."
In order to investigate these interesting flexibillity strategies, Dr. Bonanno has been working diligently in his lab with a variety of populations, most recently including veterans. This work centers on understanding the transition of veterans from military to civilian life, a critical period that offers rich insights into their coping mechanisms. By studying how these individuals adjust to such significant life changes, he aims to uncover key aspects of flexibility strategies. He also shares a lively and amusing story about his experience with a groundhog at his Upstate New York home and the reveleations that occurred thereafter. Curious to know how they relate? You'll just have to listen.
During my conversation with Dr. Bonanno, you'll leave with an indepth understanding of the foundations of resilience and different cognitive and emotional flexibility strategies. He's not only an outstanding researcher but also an exceptional professor. He has a remarkable ability to simplify complex concepts, making them easily accessible and understandable
Recorded September 2023.
Books by Dr. Bonanno