Kuwaiti Resilience
Mark Sandman

Social progress is the result of many influences such as the development of physical and environmental resources, spiritual growth and individual qualities like integrity and values. Social progress can be modified by events such as invasion and war. The Iraqi invasion of theState of Kuwait on August 2, 1990, perhaps like nothing else before, shocked this nation. An Arab brother betrayed Kuwaiti trust and confidence as he diligently went on a rampage of killing, torturing, demolishing and destroying the country s achievements and resources.

There are not many opportunities that exist to intervene and examine the problems and difficulties
associated with an entire culture s recovery from the devastation of occupation. However, that
situation presented itself to me, shortly after the conclusion of Arab Gulf War hostilities in
Kuwait. I was called by a representative of Amiri Diwan (government of His Highness The Amir
of Kuwait) and asked to go to Kuwait and help train and treat the psychological effects of the
Iraqi invasion. In Kuwait, entire families and most individuals of the society were struggling with
how to accomplish a thorough and lasting recovery.

The invasion and the resulting occupation that followed were overcome, but at a very high cost.
The routine of daily life was suspended for mostly everyone during the invasion. Schools and
universities were closed. Everyone stayed at home, hoping to escape the atrocities that were
taking place. The experience was characterized by a rapid or sudden onset, severely limiting all
family and individual life for an extended period of time. The destruction of property, the murders
and torture constituted a "national crisis." The experience shattered everyone s illusion of safety.
It had an acute effect upon civilian, military and government leaving many individuals with
feelings of panic and terror. To win, the Kuwaitis had to draw heavily from their courage,
resilience and strength - qualities that fortunately resided in their personality and culture.

There is little doubt that Kuwaiti strength and resilience have played a vital role in the recovery
process long after the invasion. Moreover, Kuwaiti strength has provided the will that allowed
many Kuwaitis to thrive beyond the horrors of the invasion itself. Numerous western studies have
sought to explain the role of predisposing personality factors as they related to the impact and
experience of Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Some studies carried out in the Arab Middle
East have detailed the effects of the Gulf War and many of those account for the importance of
predisposing factors in their results, as well.

A basic component of the response mechanism to trauma and stress includes the role of individual
personality (Shaw, 1990). The coping responses to stressful events result from the interaction of
personal predisposition (i.e., personality traits), physiological factors and situational factors.
Research by Sing and Srivastava (1988), has determined that different types of
psychophysiological disorders appear to be associated with different personality types.

Cultural factors are also tied to the recovery process and have had an effect on the quality of
recovery from the invasion trauma as well. Cultural factors can influence the development of
psychological problems or healing that results from traumatic exposure.

Cultural factors may present as a "cultural impediment" to recovery in some ways. In some
circumstances, cultural factors prevented Kuwaiti survivors from believing in his/her own self and
disrupted the process of restoring meaning (e.g., about life before the trauma). Cultural factors
partially determined the availability of support services and accessibility of confidential and safe
locations to discuss problems and express feelings. Cultural factors also influenced the manner in
which trust was established and whether or not isolated people were encouraged to come forward
to ask for assistance.

However, cultural factors played a crucial role in the development of psychological and
psychosocial resilience, helping to build protective mechanisms for future generations. Kuwaiti
cultural traits have been an integral and vital piece of the overall puzzle of resilience. For example,
non-western cultures (i.e., developing countries) where values are somewhat different from the
industrialized values of the west, the distinction between the male and female social environment
is more thorough.

In a traditional Arab culture, I observed males making adaptive use of an abundant social support
system and using resources from among their groups of family, friends and co-workers. In fact,
the largest amount of support came from sources other than their spouse (although this is
changing, especially in Kuwait). Similarly, females found their resources for support from female
friends and family members and not necessarily their spouse (this is also changing in Kuwait).

The family structure in Kuwait is a very influential factor in Kuwait. Regard for the importance of
family is age old and perhaps goes to the heart of the resilient Kuwaiti personality and the culture
as a whole. Many Kuwaiti families raise their children following an authoritative design. This
particular style reinforces the Kuwaiti socialization process, as it molds the children into
competent and capable adult members of society. The consequence is a society characterized by
autonomous behavior, flexibility and reason. Nuclear and extended family situations alike,
maintain the design.

The long-standing existence of limited options has, since the discovery of oil, changed slowly and
steadily. The practice of family traditions and class structures defining education and work
opportunities for the individual has most significantly changed in this time period. Decisions are
no longer based on power alone, but increasingly on merit as well.

The generally supportive and encouraging nature of the Kuwaiti government, has led to the
development of new ways of dealing with problems as well as new ways of handling old
difficulties. This has provided the framework within which long-term and meaningful
advancement has been achieved for many Kuwaitis, while continuing to embrace change among

In general, strong ties with traditional culture continue to exist alongside of new values, skills and
attitudes. In this society, despite invasion, extended families are maintained with strong patterns of
control. This has helped to sustain a Kuwaiti society based upon the cultural traits of flexibility,
love and reason. These three traits have stood the test of time and have contributed to a sense of
continuity, stability and unity.

It is known that people vary widely in their ability and effectiveness to adapt to stress. Resilience
involves balancing and rebalancing oneself in the ever-changing world around us. We know that,
at times, people can be more resourceful and effective than at other times in their life. We must
recognize that there is a complex interaction between what goes on inside a person and what goes
on between that person and the world around them.

In Kuwait today, the desperate need to recover is mostly over. Yet, residual and longer term
needs remain. Rehabilitation and treatment have helped in many ways. However, there are some
aspects of this experience that will linger forever. For some Kuwaitis, life will never be the same.
We can define Kuwaiti's growth as a legacy of the Iraqi aggression.

In general, we can say that the brutality of the Iraqi forces left behind a legacy of great divide
between the Arab world and the Islamic world. It is impossible to return exactly to the way life
was before the aggression. However, the Kuwaitis and their recovery exemplify how a traumatic
event can lead to growth and fortification. Kuwaitis had to redefine their lives based on the reality
of what they had been through and what they had learned from their experience.


Shaw, J. A. (1990). Stress engendered by military action on military and civilian populations. In J.
D. Noshpitz & R. D. Coddington (Eds.), Stressors and the adjustment disorders. (pp. 3-20). New
York: Wiley.

Singh, S. B. & Srivastava, R. (1988). Neurotic and psychosomatic adolescents: A comparative
study. Child Psychiatry, 19, 36-41.