Seinenu Thein-Lemelson, PhD
Institute of Personality and Social Research (IPSR)
University of California, Berkeley
There is a growing literature indicating that individuals often respond to traumatic experience with resilience, yet it is not clear what specific factors facilitate recovery. In particular, it has been challenging to identify the larger historical, structural, political, and cultural factors that predict individual outcome in the context of life-span development. The paper examines two historic national tragedies in Southeast Asia: one in Burma, the other in Indonesia. The paper describes a comparative case analysis of two individuals—one Indonesian, one Burmese— who underwent significant traumas that were part of historically situated political atrocities (the 1988 People’s Prodemocracy Movement and subsequent massacres in Burma and the 1965 mass killings in Indonesia). The paper identifies several key factors that contribute to resilient and positive individual outcome, including social embedded-ness and support; a sense of coherence; a sense of meaning and purpose; a high sense of agency; continued communication with the larger community (a lack of silence); an ability to self-regulate through goal-setting; and cultural explanatory models that support a productive engagement with fear. The two case studies illuminate how the social and political landscape, following traumatic events, can be shaped to allow victims of trauma to thrive, rather than recede into silence.