Reactions to Societal Trauma: Distress and/or Eustress

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Abstract

Social science approaches to the impact of severely stressful events on groups and communities have typically emphasized the vulnerability of affected populations and the need for intervention and assistance on their behalf. Without denying the importance of such help, this paper argues that communities—like individuals—are generally resilient and hardy. They are able to cope with widespread danger and disaster, to maintain rational and adaptive problem-solving behaviors, and even to use the experience as a source of renewed strength. Reactions to the Great Plague of the 14th century and the aerial bombardment of cities in World War II, and the adjustment of Holocaust survivors and the Southeast Asian Boat People, are analyzed to illustrate these points.

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