Healthy Memory, Healthy Mind, and a Sense of Coherence

The research of Dr. Martin Seligman has  documented the benefits of optimism on health.  Unfortunately, I am a congenital pessimist, but I am using mindfulness to change.  Fortunately, Dr. Seligman has started a positive psychology movement.  I have often wondered how can people in extremely adverse circumstances maintain a positive outlook.  How do they cope?

Dr. Aaron Antonovsky has researched people who have survived extreme, almost unthinkable stress, such as prisoners in Nazi extermination camps.  I’ve thought that if I ever found myself in a similar circumstance I would thrown myself on an electrified fence (which is what Stalin’s son did when he was captured by Nazis).

Dr. Antonovsky also wondered what allowed some people to resist these very high levels of stress even as their resources for coping with stress and tension are constantly being disrupted during their imprisonment in these concentration camps.  He found that these people have an inherent sense of coherence about the world and themselves.  It is characterized by three components: comprehensibility, manageability, and meaningfulness.  People with a high sense of coherence have a strong feeling of confidence that they can make sense of their internal and external experience, and that they have the resources available to meet and manage the demands they encounter.  These demands are challenges  in which they can find meaning and to which they can commit themselves.

These attitudes are summarized in a famous statement of Victor Frankl; a survivor of Auschwitz (and a neurologist and psychologist):  “Everything can be taken from a man but one thing:  the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given circumstance, to choose one’s own way.”  This is a statement worthy of committing to memory.

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2 Responses to “Healthy Memory, Healthy Mind, and a Sense of Coherence”

  1. russvane3 Says:

    Thanks, I knew of Frankl’s work. Has there been a study on how North Koreans view their situation when assigned to camps? or how the Albanians reasoned their way out of their draconian dictatorship?

    • healthymemory Says:

      Unfortunately, I am not aware of any studies. The only information to which I know is that North Koreans who have escaped find it very difficult to beli.eve that North Korea started the Korean War. Apparently propaganda can be effective and long lived. I would be very much interested in such studies you asked about. Readers aware of any such studies or related studies, please reply.

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