Adjustment in Victims of September 11: Reactions to a Large-Scale Civilan Trauma

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This study sought to examine reactions to the September 11 terrorist attacks and identify factors that could affect those reactions. Subjective well-being (SWB), impact of traumatic event, and job satisfaction served as the means of assessing adjustment to 9/11/01. It was predicted that those with better health perceptions, more positive psychological characteristics, and more social support would report better overall adjustment to the traumatic events experienced on September 11, 2001.

While few hypotheses related to job satisfaction and impact of events were significant, both the psychological variables of resiliency and optimism were predictive of SWB before, two weeks after, and one year after 9/11/01, indicating that people in this sample who perceived themselves as more resilient and optimistic also reported higher levels of SWB or seemed to be happier and have a higher quality of life.

Cluster analysis was also used to examine changes in SWB over time (before the event to two weeks after to one year after). The participants in this sample were found to cluster into four groups. The first group's levels of SWB stayed the same, and the second's declined. The third group's SWB increased after 9/11 and eventually returned to baseline, and the fourth group's SWB increased. Resiliency and optimism were found to relate to group membership.

While many studies have demonstrated the maladaptive reactions that people have to trauma, this study provides evidence that some people actually report a higher level of SWB following a traumatic event. This study suggests that people who are more optimistic and who have higher levels of resiliency, particularly more feelings of determination and willingness to seek meaning, and fewer feelings of helplessness, will also report a higher level of subjective well-being after dealing with a traumatic event. This study is important because it provides evidence that people, specifically who are directly exposed to a traumatic event, do respond in very different ways. While some people are unaffected or negatively impacted by trauma, many others have positive outcomes (posttraumatic growth) that lead them to a greater appreciation for and more satisfaction with their lives than before the traumatic experience.