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Mental Health Center

America's Resilience

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Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi (pronounced chick-SENT-me-high), PhD, professor of psychology at California's Claremont Graduate University, revolutionized the fields of psychology and education with his work on the psychology of optimal experience.

"What we had before in this country was not normal in the sense that people felt like basically nothing could go really wrong," Csikszentmihalyi tells WebMD. "We will need to be creative and make progress in spite of the fact that we now know life is fragile -- that civilization is fragile. That is a much more mature way of living than expecting that everything will be fine."

Kempler says an important part of resilience is not taking violent acts personally.

"I notice that this question often is asked since September 11: 'Why do they hate us?'" he notes. "The extent to which we take things personally to some extent determines how resilient we are. The person who has the capacity to say, 'This is not directed personally at me,' has a much better chance of remaining resilient. It is the kind of meaning we put on events that makes us capable of being resilient, that lets us cope and adapt."

Experts tell WebMD that many Americans will suffer psychiatric symptoms in the wake of the attack on America. It is important to recognize and support these people. At the same time, Wolin and Kempler say we should not forget that the vast majority of people are going to learn from the experience and grow stronger.

"Americans in general probably are quite resilient," Kempler says. "I do believe that Americans as a whole rise to the occasion. I think part of it is our diversity. We are used to many, many perspectives. We value variety for its own sake. We believe it makes us creative and resilient. You would see much less resilience in a more fanatical or totalitarian country that sees things in black-and-white terms."

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