How Protective Factor or Resilience Prevents Development of PTSD

Why Not Everyone Who Has a Traumatic Event Develops PTSD

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A protective factor refers to anything that prevents or reduces vulnerability for the development of a disorder. Common protective factors include the availability of social support and the use of healthy coping strategies in response to stress.

A number of protective factors for PTSD following the experience of a traumatic event have been identified. It is important to understand which factors contribute to a person overcoming trauma or responding to it with resilience, especially given that many people are exposed to traumatic events at some point in their lives.

However, not everyone who has experienced a traumatic event has developed or will develop post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). So, what differentiates those people exposed to a traumatic event who do not develop PTSD from those who do?

Resiliency and Recovery

Many people have conducted research that attempts to identify which characteristics increase the likelihood that someone will develop PTSD following a traumatic event.

A number of risk factors for developing PTSD have been identified, including the type of traumatic event, history of mental illness and a person's response at the time of the event.

Fewer people have examined what characteristics protect someone from PTSD and other problems after the experience of a traumatic event. These researchers have been interested in identifying characteristics that promote resiliency and recovery.

Characteristics Linked to Resiliency

In a review of all of the research on resiliency and recovery following a traumatic event, a number of protective factors connected were identified. These factors are:

  • Being resourceful and having good problem-solving skills
  • Connecting with others, such as family or friends
  • Coping with stress effectively and in a healthy manner (not avoiding)
  • Finding positive meaning in the trauma
  • Having social support available to you
  • Helping others
  • Holding the belief that there is something you can do to manage your feelings
  • Identifying as a survivor as opposed to a victim
  • Seeking help
  • Self-disclosure of the trauma to loved ones
  • Spirituality

All of these characteristics distinguished those who were able to recover from a traumatic experience and those who may have developed PTSD or other problems following a traumatic experience.

Building a Foundation for Recovery

Think of these protective or resiliency factors as a foundation for recovery. The stronger these factors, the more likely they will be able to shore you up during times of extreme stress.

It is important to realize that the majority of the factors identified above are under your control. That is, you can develop these characteristics. Establish close and supportive relationships with others. Learn new healthy ways of coping with stress.

Start helping others in your community. Seek help for any difficulties you may be experiencing.

A psychotherapist can help you develop the protective factors necessary to bounce back from a traumatic event and prevent you from developing full-blown PTSD. Experiencing a traumatic event can have a major disruptive impact on a person's life. You can be a survivor and start taking the steps to take your life back.

Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  • Agaibi, C.E., & Wilson, J.P. (2005). Trauma, PTSD, and resilience: A review of the literature. Trauma, Violence, and Abuse, 6, 195-216.

By Matthew Tull, PhD
Matthew Tull, PhD is a professor of psychology at the University of Toledo, specializing in post-traumatic stress disorder.