Psychology, Department of


Date of this Version

November 1992


Published in L. Montada, S. Filipp, & M. J. Lerner Eds.) Life crises and experiences of loss in adulthood. (Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 1992), pp. 367 384. Copyright 1992 Lawrence Erlbaum Associates. Used by permission.


It is usually expected that if we are overwhelmed by an episode of crisis or loss that we may temporarily cope ineffectively, whereas when weare exposed to a sequence of challenges and stressors that are managable, we learn gradually to become better able to cope with such events. The "toughness" concept relates to analogous processes at the physiological level. The concept is based upon a wide variety of research with both animals and humans that is reviewed in detail elsewhere (Dienslbier, 1989). The focus of this chapter will instead be upon how toughness influences both physiological and psychological responses to life's crises and losses, and upon how those crises and losses in turn influence toughness. The premise underlying toughness, is that while experience with overwhelming stressors will temporarily disrupt ideal physiological balances in the short term, regular exposure to challenges and stressors followed by adequate recovery periods can cause peripheral and central physiological changes that will increase one's future capacity for more positive forms of arousal and the suppression of more costly forms of arousal; resistance to depletion of some neuroendocrines will be enhanced. These relationships will be explicated more fully after a brief section on definitions and an introduction to the elementary physiological concepts at issue.