Searching for and Finding Meaning in Collective Trauma: Results From a National Longitudinal Study of the 9/11 Terrorist Attacks

Department of Psychology, Kent State University, Kent, OH 44242-0001, USA.
Journal of Personality and Social Psychology (Impact Factor: 5.08). 10/2008; 95(3):709-22. DOI: 10.1037/0022-3514.95.3.709
Source: PubMed


The ability to make sense of events in one's life has held a central role in theories of adaptation to adversity. However, there are few rigorous studies on the role of meaning in adjustment, and those that have been conducted have focused predominantly on direct personal trauma. The authors examined the predictors and long-term consequences of Americans' searching for and finding meaning in a widespread cultural upheaval--the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001--among a national probability sample of U.S. adults (N=931). Searching for meaning at 2 months post-9/11 was predicted by demographics and high acute stress response. In contrast, finding meaning was predicted primarily by demographics and specific early coping strategies. Whereas searching for meaning predicted greater posttraumatic stress (PTS) symptoms across the following 2 years, finding meaning predicted lower PTS symptoms, even after controlling for pre-9/11 mental health, exposure to 9/11, and acute stress response. Mediation analyses suggest that finding meaning supported adjustment by reducing fears of future terrorism. Results highlight the role of meaning in adjustment following collective traumas that shatter people's fundamental assumptions about security and invulnerability.

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    • "disorder among children and adolescents found that poor family functioning (largely measured by relationship quality between parents and children) was one of the strongest predictors of PTSS, producing a larger effect size than parental psychological problems, social economic status, and even severity of traumatic exposure (Trickey, Siddaway, Meiser- Stedman, Serpell, and Field 2012). Parental social support and family relationship quality may help to provide a sense of security and safety, foster healthy parent–child attachment, and facilitate meaning, each of which has been shown to predict distress symptoms among children in post-conflict settings (Beiser et al. 2010; Overbeek, de Schipper, Lamers- Winkelman, and Schuengel 2014; Updegraff, Silver, and Holman 2008). "
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    • "Beliefs about one's abilities to achieve outcomes may contribute to a sense of control that may be helpful with PTSD and depression symptomatology, although this cannot be determined with the cross-sectional data from the current study. Having a sense of meaning in life does seem to influence depression severity as would be expected from prior research (e.g., Frazier et al., 2001; Krause, 2007; Updegraff et al., 2008). "
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