Earthquake Survivors’ Motivations for Coping with Their Problems: A Phenomenological Investigation

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Issue / OnlineFirst
Issue 2/2

Year / Vol / Number
2023 / 2 / 2

Author/s
Nesrullah Okan1, Yahya Şahin2

1 Nesrullah Okan, Firat University, Institute of Education Sciences, Department of Educational Sciences, Elazig, Turkiye.

2 Firat University

Abstract

This phenomenological study aims to comprehend earthquake-affected individuals’ methods for coping with the challenges they face. The research involves a sample of 29 participants impacted by the Kahramanmaraş earthquake that occurred on February 6, 2023. Data have been collected through online forms and in-person interviews. The study’s findings center on three key themes that outline the coping motivations of those who survived the earthquake. The first theme, aptly named hope for the future, embodies a love of life, hope, ideals, and dreams. Respondents emphasized how these favorable emotions are instrumental in managing the negative emotions (i.e., fear and pessimism) that arose as a consequence of the earthquake. The second theme is named solidarity and is comprised of such components as familial and friendly support and mutual aid. Survivors of the earthquake mentioned how these factors of solidarity facilitate support in challenging times and enhance social relationships. The third theme has been identified as spirituality and embodies spiritual values such as submission, trust, and faith. These values are instrumental in attributing significance to events and promoting inner harmony. In conclusion, this phenomenological study offers valuable insights into the earthquake survivors’ motivations for dealing with their issues. Future intervention programs and support systems are recommended to prioritize enhancing individuals’ psychosocial well-being by considering these themes.

Full Text

These days, individuals living under the impact of natural disasters face serious difficulties, both physical and psychological. Earthquakes are some of the most destructive of these disasters and are known not only for their environmental destruction but also for their long-term effects with how they leaving deep traces on individuals’ lives. Earthquake victims have to face not only the instant disaster but also various problems coping with the aftermath.

The traumatic experiences earthquakes cause can leave lasting effects on individuals’ daily lives, relationships, and emotional balance. In this context, understanding the problems earthquake survivors experience, discovering how these experiences affect individual motivation, strengthening social support mechanisms, and shedding light on long-term recovery processes constitute important research areas.Earthquakes and natural disasters are events that have historically left deep traces on humanity, revealing the force of nature. These phenomena occur frequently in different geographies around the world and have great potential to affect people’s lives, communities, and ecosystems. Earthquakes are tremors caused by the sudden release of energy in the earth’s crust. These events can cause serious destruction depending on the severity of the earthquake and the region where it occurs. The effects of earthquakes include the collapse of buildings, infrastructure damage, landslides, and the triggering of natural disasters such as tsunamis. Especially after an earthquake, communities have to cope with large-scale emergencies, and this process tests people’s resilience, solidarity, and social structures (Norris et al., 2002).

The effects of natural disasters are not limited to physical destruction; psychosocial effects also have great significance. Earthquake victims may face such psychological problems as emotional difficulties, stress, and anxiety after their traumatic experience. This may lead to long-term mental health problems and changes in social dynamics within the community (Hobfoll et al., 2007; Norris et al., 2002; World Health Organization [WHO], 2013). Research has emphasized the importance of emergency preparedness, post-disaster recovery, and increasing social resilience in communities exposed to natural disasters. In this context, developing strategies for coping with natural disasters, increasing pre-disaster education and awareness, and strengthening communities’ solidarity capacities are important steps (Okan & Şahin, 2023; Okan et al., 2023). Various psychosocial problems can be expected to arise, especially after an earthquake.

The psychosocial problems experienced after earthquakes are a complex issue that reflects the effects of the traumatic experiences to which individuals are exposed. Earthquakes not only bring physical destruction but can also leave deep scars at the psychological and social level. Research on this subject provides important information for understanding the effects of earthquakes and for supporting individuals’ mental health (Makwana, 2019). Psychosocial problems commonly encountered after earthquakes include post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), anxiety, and depression, as well as general psychological symptoms. Earthquake survivors often feel fear, helplessness, and panic as a result of the severe shaking they experienced. These emotional reactions may turn into serious mental health problems in the long term (Lee et al., 2020). Research shows earthquake survivors’ psychosocial issues to be able to vary based on such factors as the severity of the event, the magnitude of losses, the loss of living spaces, and the inadequacy of emergency interventions. In addition, lack of social support, loss of trust, and future concerns may also increase psychosocial difficulties after an earthquake (Amiri et al., 2021; Goldmann & Galea, 2014). However, individuals are also thought to be able to develop various coping skills after a disaster.

Earthquake survivors’ coping strategies refer to the various approaches they develop for coping with the challenging conditions that emerge after an earthquake. These strategies aim to help individuals psychologically and emotionally adapt to their traumatic experiences, losses, and environmental changes. Coping strategies after an earthquake usually involve individuals’ emotional, cognitive, and behavioral responses. Earthquake survivors may seek support to cope with the traumatic effects of the event, try to provide relief through emotional expression and sharing, and make cognitive efforts to make sense of their experiences (Yorulmaz & Karadeniz, 2021). Research has revealed a number of factors to exist that affect individuals’ coping strategies. These factors include the severity of the event, the magnitude of losses, levels of social support, individuals’ previous coping experiences, and psychological resilience. In addition, cultural and social factors may also shape coping strategies (Sungur & Herbert, 2011). Earthquake survivors’ coping strategies can generally be problem- or emotion-orientated. While problem-focused coping includes strategies for solving problems, emotion-focused coping focuses on coping with emotional reactions. Earthquake survivors usually adopt a balanced approach by using these strategies together (Okan & Şahin, 2023).

Present Study

The general aim of this research is to use a phenomenological perspective to understand earthquake survivors’ motivations for coping with the problems they have experienced and to reveal these experiences by examining them in depth. This research on earthquake survivors’ difficulties, motivations, and coping strategies in this difficult process aims to provide more insight into this important issue. Post-earthquake traumatic experiences can leave deep impacts on individuals’ lives. The motivation for this research stems from the desire to understand how earthquake survivors cope with these experiences. A phenomenological approach will allow us to understand earthquake survivors’ experiences in depth and to explore how these experiences affect individuals’ motivation. From a phenomenological perspective, this research aims to understand earthquake survivors’ experiences in a participatory manner and to explore the complexity of these experiences in depth. The overall aim of the study is to understand the problems earthquake survivors have experienced and to understand the effects these experiences have on their psychosocial well-being by revealing their coping motivations. This research aims to contribute to the development of post-disaster support programs and the strengthening of social solidarity by revealing individuals’ inner strengths and motivations in the face of the challenges earthquakes cause.

Method

Research Design

This research has bene conducted based on the phenomenological design, a qualitative research method. Phenomenological research involves an approach that focuses on the inner world of an individual or group in order to understand how they experience an experience and offers an in-depth look at experiential processes (Christensen et al., 2014). As stated by Giorgi (2005), phenomenological research involves an endeavor to understand the experiences of participants in order to reach real knowledge. Phenomenology deals with perceptions and sensations that one is aware of but about which one lacks in-depth knowledge (Yıldırım & Şimşek, 2013). This research approach provides valuable information for understanding participants’ experiences and meanings related to these phenomena, as well as for exploring the various dimensions of the central phenomenon (Özmen & Karamustafaoğlu, 2019). The main reason for choosing phenomenology as the research design is the desire to understand the participants’ experiences in depth and to focus on these experiences more closely. Phenomenology provides researchers with the opportunity to approach participants’ subjective experiences without being insensitive toward them, thus enabling a rich, in-depth analysis.

Study Group

The study group of this research consists of individuals who experienced the earthquake that occurred in Kahramanmaraş on February 6, 2023. This research has been conducted to understand earthquake survivors’ coping processes. In total, data have been collected through interviews with 29 participants (16 women; 13 men). The main focus of the study is to understand earthquake survivors’ experiences, emotional reactions, and coping strategies and to determine the factors affecting these processes. The data obtained through the interviews aim to provide a more in-depth perspective on earthquake survivors’ psychosocial interactions, emotional experiences and coping mechanisms. The study uses the snowball sampling technique, a purposive sampling method, to determine the participants. Snowball sampling is a dynamic technique in which researchers can access other participants through the participants with whom they have already communicated (i.e., through the contact information existing participants provide; Noy, 2008). The study includes participants who had been in Malatya, Adıyaman, Kahramanmaraş, and Elazığ provinces during the earthquake.

Data Collection Tool

This study uses a form consisting of six open-ended questions to collect the data, while simultaneously asking various demographic questions to identify the participants. The main purpose of the open-ended questions is to reveal how earthquake survivors have experienced their coping motivations after the earthquake. In this context, the participants have been asked the following open-ended questions:

  1. When reflecting on your experiences following the earthquake, what was your initial response? Which emotions did you experience during this reaction?
  2. What obstacles did you encounter and what tactics did you employ to manage these hurdles?
  3. Which internal motivations strengthened your resolve and influenced your coping mechanisms in the face of adversity?
  4. Which external resources provided support and enabled you to overcome challenges in your post-earthquake life? What was the efficacy of these resources?
  5. What was it like to receive assistance during challenging times? How did this assistance influence you and your coping mechanisms?
  6. Did you acquire new insights about yourself while discovering your inner strength? How did these insights impact your coping strategies?
  7. In the aftermath of the earthquake, which values have you found significant in giving meaning to your experiences and spurring you on?
  8. Have you observed any changes in your coping strategies over time, and how would you assess the impact of these changes on yourself and those around you?
  9. Can you describe any significant memories that have reinforced your ability to handle hardships and how they signify unique sources of resilience for you?
  10. If you were to communicate with others undergoing similar situations, what lessons that you have garnered from your process would you share, and what advice would you prioritize?

Data Collection and Analysis

The form prepared during the data collection process was delivered to the participants online, and the data collection process was terminated once the participants’ response forms were delivered to the researcher. Online data can also be used to collect qualitative data in addition to face-to-face interviews. Meho (2006) stated that, when used carefully, online data collection can be used as a quick, convenient, and inexpensive qualitative data collection tool that will allow the collection of qualified data. Next, the study used thematic analysis to analyze the data. According to Braun and Clarke (2006), thematic analysis is a qualitative analytical method that can be used to identify, examine, and report the patterns of meaning in the data. The researchers analytically examined the data collected from earthquake victims and tried to reveal themes by dividing the data into small portions. Here is when themes are defined in terms of the subjective meaning and cultural-contextual message of the data (Creswell, 2007). While conducting thematic analysis, the study took into consideration the stages suggested by Braun and Clarke (2006): becoming familiar with the data, creating primary codes, searching for themes, reviewing themes, defining and naming themes, and creating the report.

Validity and Reliability

In order to ensure the validity and reliability of the research, the study has followed a series of methods. Firstly, the questions used in the research were formed in line with expert opinions. The research also accessed individuals who’d directly experienced the earthquake, using the purposive sampling method of snowball sampling to ensure that the participants with earthquake-related experiences answered the questions. The researchers coded the data separately, reviewed the themes, and then finalized the themes. All processes followed in the research have been explained in detail. In order to increase the reliability of the research, the article provides direct quotations from the open-ended answers given by the participants. While presenting the findings, the identities of the participants have been coded as K1, K2, K3, and so on, where as an example, K1 stands for the first participant.

Findings

This study has interviewed people who experienced the Kahramanmaraş earthquake of February 6, 2023 from among 10 affected provinces. As a result of the interviews, the study is able to discuss the emotions and coping skills of the individuals who experienced the earthquake in the post-earthquake process. The findings obtained from the participant interviews have been classified under four main themes and their sub-categories. This section presents the themes and sub-themes, as well as the participants’ views on these themes.

Hope for the Future

Figure 1. The theme and subthemes of hope for the future.

Figure 1. The theme and subthemes of hope for the future.

When analyzing the participants’ opinions, the desire to hold on to life again, hope for the future, and dreams for the future are seen to have come to the fore. In line with this, the theme of hope for the future was created. The concepts of love of life, hope, ideals, and dreams as related to this theme have been categorized as sub-themes. Some participant views on this theme and its sub-themes are as follows:

  • My motivating factors are my belief and hope that life will get better (K3).
  • We need hope and we need to keep going in spite of everything (K9).
  • To be able to continue his life, to look to the future with hope, to be aware that all these things will pass (K19).
  • Despite everything, life goes on for a happy start again (K21).

The above statements show the earthquake survivors to have maintained their hope for the future despite the difficult processes they have experienced. This hope increases their resilience and enables them to support each other in social solidarity. Their hopes for the future are shaped by the desire to build a safer and more sustainable life in the reconstruction process. This hopeful perspective emerges as an important motivating force for earthquake survivors to overcome the difficulties they face and to make a new start.

Solidarity

Figure 2. The theme and subthemes of solidarity.

Figure 2. The theme and subthemes of solidarity.

The participants’ opinions reveal that being with the family where the individual feels safe in such disasters is very important for coping with the disaster and overcoming the initial shock. Family members’ uniting and coming to each other’s aid were seen as a healing factor. In addition, the support of friends and the material and moral help of everyone who has the means were also seen as an effective factor enabling individuals to hold on to life. Such participant views were combined under the theme of solidarity. Family support, friend support, and mutual aid are considered the sub-themes of this theme. Some of the participants’ views on the theme of solidarity are as follows:

  • I remembered that even the presence of loved ones is a very precious treasure. In fact, I remembered that everything can disappear in a minute, that my favorite food, my favorite clothes, and even the most expensive item in my house have no meaning and that the greatest treasure is my family and loved ones (K1).
  • The images we’ve seen from the media in particular from the earthquake region or from other regions have been really meaningful for showing that we can come together in unity and solidarity when support is needed and be in solidarity in order to heal the wounds of the earthquake victims (K9).
  • The unity of my relatives who normally had turned their backs on each other made me think about many things about life (K10).
  • Trying to help people, uniting, and providing material and moral support (K23)
  • Family (being with my family makes me feel that I am not the only one in my life and that they are with me not only with their presence but also with their support (K25).

A significant factor in the earthquake survivors’ coping processes has been their ability to form a strong solidarity network. This solidarity network in particular includes family support, solidarity among friends, and a general culture of solidarity. In the process of coping with the difficulties brought about by the earthquake, families have played an important role in responding to individuals’ emotional and practical needs. Strong ties with family members have become a fundamental source of support for earthquake survivors in coping with their traumatic experiences. In addition, earthquake survivors’ circle of friends has been another important support factor for them. Solidarity among friends has been effective at providing emotional support and morale to each other. Difficulties experienced together may cause friends to stick together more and share a common goal, and solidarity culture can strengthen communal solidarity among earthquake survivors. The support networks among neighborhoods, local communities, and non-governmental organizations have contributed to a more effective response to the earthquake survivors’ needs. This solidarity has been able to range from financial support to practical assistance.

Spirituality

Figure 3. The theme and subthemes of spirituality

Figure 3. The theme and subthemes of spirituality.

The participants stated spirituality and belief to be effective factors in coping with the disaster. They especially stated such concepts as belief in fate, belief in both good and evil coming from God, surrender, and patience to have been effective in coping with this process. Some participants’ views on the theme of spirituality are as follows:

  • It was easier to overcome because our spirituality made us realize that everything we experience has a reason (K4).
  • I realized that I now value spiritual things over material things. When I think of people who have lost their house, they can get it back, but someone who has lost a relative will never get that person back (K8).
  • I think spirituality is very important. Having a sense of surrender reduces one’s fears and allows one to cope (K9).
  • My sense of surrender. After the earthquake, I realized that I no longer had a great fear because I was in a state of surrender to Allah (K13).
  • According to my beliefs, taking refuge in Allah and asking for His help leads to spiritual relief and inner peace. These give people the strength to endure (K19).
  • Thanks to my faith, I was able to overcome the bad mood I had after the earthquake (K28).

Spirituality is an important factor that plays a vital role in the earthquake survivors’ coping processes. This spirituality is usually shaped around sub-themes such as surrender, trust, and faith. The earthquake survivors have been able to find inner strength through their spiritual commitment to the tragedies they’ve experienced. Surrender is an especially important factor helping earthquake survivors cope with the uncertainties they face. Individuals who face the uncontrollable aspects of events can turn toward the process of acceptance with a sense of surrender. This involves trying to live in harmony with events instead of being overwhelmed by them. Tawakkul [trust in Allah’s plan] is another spiritual theme that has helped earthquake survivors find strength in the face of the difficulties they face. Individuals who’ve strongly maintained their beliefs and values are able to possess an internal source of motivation for overcoming the difficulties they’ve experienced. Tawakkul enables people to cope with negative situations without losing confidence in themselves and the flow of life. At the same time, beliefs have played a central role in the earthquake survivors’ coping process. At some point, individuals’ belief systems are able to contribute to maintaining their hope in the face of negative situations.

Experienced Emotions

Figure 4. The theme and subthemes of experienced emotions.

Figure 4. The theme and subthemes of experienced emotions.

The participants experienced various emotions both during and after the earthquake. In the first moments of the earthquake in particular, many participants experienced intense negative emotions. Emotions such as fear, sadness, and pessimism were observed as natural reactions to the uncertainty and danger of the earthquake.

However, the participants didn’t just have negative emotional experiences. Many people experienced positive emotions through their efforts to remain calm and strong while coping with the earthquake. This reflects individuals’ efforts to show resilience, cope with negative situations, and focus on survival. These complex emotional experiences after the earthquake caused the participants to enter a process of internal conflict and adaptation. In addition to the short-term moments of panic and fear, individuals’ resilience mechanisms were also activated, and they showed efforts at using positive emotions for coping. Some participants discovered their resilience in this process and developed a sense of self-confidence in times of crisis. These experiences show that not only negative but also positive emotions have played effective roles in coping with the earthquake. In this context, the emotional complexity created by the earthquake provided a basis for individuals to discover their inner strengths and strengthen the spirit of social solidarity.

Conclusion, Discussion and Suggestions

The phenomenological findings on the earthquake survivors’ motivations for coping with the difficulties they experienced regarding the focal point of the research have been clarified as a result of an in-depth analysis. The interviews with the participants and the analysis process have allowed us to understand their individual motivational dynamics in facing the effects of the earthquake and to reveal their strategies for coping with various problems. In this context, the research results reveal the earthquake survivors’ unique and effective coping motivations toward the problems they faced. When reflecting on the main findings of the research, the participants’ statements reveal the earthquake survivors’ coping motivations to have been distinctly shaped around three main themes. These themes reflect the specific sources of motivation from which earthquake survivors have drawn strength for coping with the difficulties they’ve experienced. Hope for the future represents the positive perspective the participants developed against the negative emotions they’d experienced after the earthquake. Despite the losses caused by the earthquake, the participants have been motivated by the hope for a better life in the future. This sense of hope is an important factor guiding the earthquake survivors’ efforts to overcome their negative experiences and rebuild themselves. The theme of solidarity reflects the earthquake survivors’ support for each other and the spirit of solidarity within the community. Supporting each other in the difficult process, helping each other, and acting together are important factors that have increased the participants’ motivation. Community support has enabled earthquake survivors to join forces and come together around a common goal. The theme of spirituality reflects the participants’ efforts at finding spiritual strength and establishing an inner balance after the earthquake. Spiritual values such as submission, trust, and faith have helped the earthquake survivors make sense of their traumatic experiences and turn to an inner source of strength.

The main findings of the study reveal the earthquake survivors’ motivations for coping with the traumatic experiences they’ve experienced to be shaped around three main themes: hope for the future, solidarity, and spirituality. These themes identify the key focal points in the process of coping with the difficulties the earthquake survivors have experienced and include various coping strategies. The theme of hope for the future emphasizes that earthquake survivors have a motivation shaped around love of life, hope, ideals, and dreams. This involves individuals adopting a positive outlook despite their negative experiences and focusing on possible improvements in the future. Hope has increased the earthquake survivors’ motivation, strengthened their resilience against negativity, and helped them maintain their expectations from life (Makwana, 2019).

The theme of solidarity reflects the fact that earthquake survivors have united in a community with a spirit of solidarity through such factors as family support, friend support, and solidarity. Coming together in a difficult process, showing solidarity, and supporting each other have allowed the participants to unite around a common goal by joining forces after the earthquake. Community support has also positively affected their coping process by making individuals feel they are stronger together (Okan & Şahin, 2023).

The theme of spirituality reflects the earthquake survivors’ efforts to establish an inner balance by focusing on spiritual values such as surrender, trust, and faith. These spiritual values have helped individuals make sense of their traumatic experiences and directed them to an inner source of strength. The earthquake survivors’ commitment to these spiritual values has also played an important role in finding spiritual strength and maintaining emotional balance in the coping process (Pargament et al., 2013). Discussing these themes can help one understand earthquake survivors’ motivations and shape future interventions related to coping strategies built around these core themes. In particular, conducting further studies on how these themes can be integrated in post-earthquake psychosocial support programs and counselling services is important. In this context, various recommendations and limitations have been identified regarding the research.

Recommendations

  • Psychosocial Support Programs: The research findings reveal the need to develop psychosocial support programs to increase earthquake survivors’ hopes for the future, strengthen solidarity, and focus on spiritual values. These programs can guide individuals in strengthening their love of life, hopes, and dreams and support them in establishing an inner balance by focusing on spiritual values.
  • Strengthening Social Solidarity: The theme of solidarity includes such factors as family support, friend support, and mutual aid. Social assistance projects and activities can be organized to strengthen social solidarity. These projects can bring earthquake victims together for supporting each other and strengthening community ties.
  • Spiritual Support Services: The importance of the theme of spirituality is in how it emphasizes spiritual values such as submission, trust, and faith. In this context, counselling programs can be established that offer spiritual support services. Through these programs, individuals can focus more deeply on their spiritual values and adapt to living in harmony with these values.

Limitations

  • Generalizability: Due to the research being focused on one specific earthquake event, it may have limitations in terms of generalizability. Further research is needed to determine how valid the findings are for survivors of other earthquakes or individuals living under different circumstances.
  • Participant Profile: The number and profiles of the participants in the study are limited. Research based on a larger group of participants and a sample with various demographic factors may help in understanding different groups of individuals’ coping strategies more comprehensively.
  • Limitations of Qualitative Research: Limitations are found to arise based on the nature of the phenomenological design. The interpretations generalizations of participants’ statements may be limited due to the nature of qualitative data. These limitations may affect the generalizability of the findings.

Ethical approval

Ethics committee approval was obtained from XXXXX University Ethics Committee (Date: XX.XX.2023 No: 06-22).

Peer-review

Externally peer-reviewed

Funding

This research received no external funding.

Disclosure statement

The authors report no conflict of interest.

Authors ORCID numbers

Nesrullah Okan
0000-0002-9496-6417

Yahya Şahin
0000-0003-0647-4605

Figures & Tables

Figure 3. The theme and subthemes of spirituality

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