Transcending trauma: connecting to life in the face of death

Longhurst, Lucy (2015). Transcending trauma: connecting to life in the face of death. (Unpublished Doctoral thesis, City University London)

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Media coverage of recent wars in Iraq and Afghanistan has contributed to the perception that combat troops generally return home traumatised. This coverage has perhaps raised awareness of the horrors soldiers endure, lending weight to the notion that posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in particular, is almost inevitable in combat troops. While a terrible condition, it affects far fewer British soldiers than is generally perceived with the majority returning mentally well. Military research to date has been mainly quantitative, focusing on negative outcomes. Thus, aside from a few notable exceptions, combat experience (and more specifically, facing death) appears neglected in qualitative research. Misperceptions around the prevalence of PTSD, alongside curiosity about other outcomes following traumatic war-time encounters instigated this research investigating the experience of mortal peril and its impact on eight British paratroopers. Semi-structured interviews were analysed using Interpretative Phenomenological Analysis (IPA) revealing five super-ordinate themes: Identity; Tempering the Sword; Riding the Emotional Storm; The Tempered Self; and the Survivor’s Search for Connection. Each yielded sub-themes spotlighting different aspects of the super-ordinate, eliciting an overarching sense of their experience. The findings offer insight into how death was encountered as embodied physical and psychological disconnection, within a distorted temporal world. They also illuminated how this was managed then psychologically overcome through intra and interpersonal reconnections. Longer-term experiences of disconnection at individual and social levels appear balanced by new connections supporting long-term psychological wellbeing emphasising the power of Para identity, while underlining the military/social divide. The findings also highlighted blurred boundaries between posttraumatic growth and PTSD and were consistent with existential philosophy on the nature of living and dying. It is argued that the participants’ powerful group identity and cohesion, strongly sustained by the British Army regimental system, may promote psychological well-being in combat. Limitations and suggestions for future research are also discussed.

Item Type: Thesis (Doctoral)
Subjects: B Philosophy. Psychology. Religion > BF Psychology
Divisions: School of Social Sciences > Department of Psychology
City, University of London theses
City, University of London theses > School of Arts and Social Sciences theses

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