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Article

‘The War Made Me a Better Person’: Syrian Refugees’ Meaning-Making Trajectories in the Aftermath of Collective Trauma

1
William James Center for Research, ISPA—Instituto Universitário, 1149-041 Lisbon, Portugal
2
Department of Psychological Sciences, University of Connecticut, Storrs, CT 06269, USA
3
Graduate School of Applied and Professional Psychology, Rutgers University, New Brunswick, NJ 08901, USA
*
Author to whom correspondence should be addressed.
Academic Editors: Alessandra Talamo and Camilla Modesti
Int. J. Environ. Res. Public Health 2021, 18(16), 8481; https://doi.org/10.3390/ijerph18168481
Received: 6 July 2021 / Revised: 3 August 2021 / Accepted: 6 August 2021 / Published: 11 August 2021
The centrality of the collective to Syrian identity and the ability of war to disrupt community ties have led to significant violations of Syrians’ pre-war assumptions about themselves, the world, and their place in the world. Guided by the integrated meaning-making model, this qualitative cross-sectional study assessed Syrian refugees’ meaning trajectories through their reappraisals of the war, attempts to repair community-informed shattered meanings, and those processes’ outputs (i.e., meanings-made) and outcomes (i.e., perceived psychological adjustment). We conducted semi-structured cognitive interviews with 39 Syrian war-exposed adults living in urban communities across Portugal, most of whom were beneficiaries of higher education programs for refugees. Interviews were analyzed through thematic analysis. Results suggest that the war severely disrupted Syrians’ sense of collective self, and that they repeatedly engaged in search for meaning, appraisals of the war, and reappraisals of shattered beliefs, life goals, and sense of purpose, both during wartime and in resettlement. In Portugal, despite persistent negative beliefs about the collective and ongoing and distressing searches for meaning, participants’ lived experiences concomitantly informed positive meaning reappraisals, including progressive restoration of worldviews, new opportunities for self-realization, and newly-found purpose, leading to perceived psychological benefits and growth. These findings suggest that meaning-making is both a trajectory and a dynamic process, informed by place and sociopolitical context. Clinical work to facilitate adaptive meaning-making and meaning-informed psychosocial interventions that help restore refugees’ shattered beliefs about safety, predictability, trust, and belonging, may be helpful directions to promote positive psychological adjustment and improve long-term integration prospects in refugees. View Full-Text
Keywords: collective violence; survivors of war and trauma; forced migration; posttraumatic growth; student refugees; world assumptions; core beliefs; cognitive processing; qualitative research collective violence; survivors of war and trauma; forced migration; posttraumatic growth; student refugees; world assumptions; core beliefs; cognitive processing; qualitative research
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MDPI and ACS Style

Matos, L.; Costa, P.A.; Park, C.L.; Indart, M.J.; Leal, I. ‘The War Made Me a Better Person’: Syrian Refugees’ Meaning-Making Trajectories in the Aftermath of Collective Trauma. Int. J. Environ. Res. Public Health 2021, 18, 8481. https://doi.org/10.3390/ijerph18168481

AMA Style

Matos L, Costa PA, Park CL, Indart MJ, Leal I. ‘The War Made Me a Better Person’: Syrian Refugees’ Meaning-Making Trajectories in the Aftermath of Collective Trauma. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health. 2021; 18(16):8481. https://doi.org/10.3390/ijerph18168481

Chicago/Turabian Style

Matos, Lisa, Pedro A. Costa, Crystal L. Park, Monica J. Indart, and Isabel Leal. 2021. "‘The War Made Me a Better Person’: Syrian Refugees’ Meaning-Making Trajectories in the Aftermath of Collective Trauma" International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health 18, no. 16: 8481. https://doi.org/10.3390/ijerph18168481

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