Resilience

The term resilience has become a “buzz” word across disciplines focused on prevention, intervention and treatment of trauma, adversity, and toxic stress. So, what is resilience anyway? How can we better understand the role that resilience plays? And how do we identify and promote the development of resilience? This article seeks to provide insight into these very important questions while acknowledging that we are only scratching the surface of a vital element of healing and hope.

What is Resilience?

            Resilience is defined as the ability to “bounce back” from challenging and/or difficult experiences. The American Psychological Association defines resilience as the “process of adapting well in the face of adversity, trauma, tragedy, threats or significant sources of stress- such as family and relationship problems, serious health problems or workplace and financial stressors” (2018). Resilience is not “grin and bear it” or “pull yourself up by your bootstraps”, and it is also not avoiding trauma or resisting change. Resilience is inherent, meaning we all possess some level of resilience regardless of our differences. Another way of seeing resilience is a learned pattern of thoughts, feelings and behaviors. This is an important perspective because it means that resilience is not fixed. Every individual is born with their own unique capacity for resilience which can be influenced in a positive or negative sense by their environments, relationships and experiences. We understand now more than we ever have before the relational nature of resilience, and the importance of healthy relationships in enhancing individual resilience.

            How can we better understand the role that resilience plays?

            Research tells us that people who have high levels of resilience experience happiness, higher levels of self-esteem, energy and vitality, optimism, self-reported health, a sense of meaning and direction, as well as lower levels of mental health issues like depression. That is not to say that if someone experiences a mental health issue they are not resilient; in fact, subjective reports suggest that those who experience trauma, adversity and toxic stress, which can influence the development of mental health issues, may develop a greater sense of resilience than those who do not. To clarify, the experience of trauma, adversity or toxic stress is not a method for developing resilience; however, increased resilience after a challenging experience is a sign of post-traumatic growth. The protective factors listed below have the ability to mediate and influence the effects of trauma, adversity, and toxic stress in a more adaptive or positive manner.

How do we identify and promote the development of resilience?

            As we discussed previously we know that each individual comes into this world with an innate capacity for individual resilience. In order to identify that resilience, we can look at personal strengths and characteristics; things like temperament, cognitive functioning, and coping style. When we have taken the time to identify a person’s natural capacity for resilience, that empowers us to support that individual in enhancing their capacity for resilience; for example, a teen with a passion for art is connected to a local art studio through a youth mentor. You will also remember that we discussed resilience as a learned set of thoughts, feelings and behaviors. These components highlight a central theme of developing resilience, which is our relationships. In healthy relationships we are able to learn, grow, and feel supported; for this reason, a major part of promoting and enhancing resilience in children, adolescents, and adults is having positive relationships with others. The protective factors identified below, which are associated with increased resilience, are largely relational and even those that don’t appear on the surface to be relational actually are when we consider that we don’t develop in a vacuum; development is embedded in our relational experiences.

Protective Factors Adapted from: (Madsen-Thompson & Klika, 2015)
Self Value: The individuals’ emotional and behavior self-expressions are positive, accurate and adaptive. To increase this factor, focus on helping the individual internally value him or herself enough to keep going and accept their best despite challenges, negative consequences and/or emotions.
Self-Regulation: The individual has learned and demonstrates emotional and behavioral self-management that helps him or her work through difficult situations instead of resorting got self-destructive or aggressive behaviors.
Hope/Future Goal Setting: The individual is encouraged in developing high and positive expectations, setting goals that are attainable in relation to his or her life and future.
Problem Solving: The individual is supported to find unique solutions to challenging situations based on his or her ability.
Support Belief Structure: Nurturance of the individual’s personal beliefs and practices that give meaning to life.
Friends: The individual is supported to find unique solutions to challenging situations based on his or her ability.
Family/Caretakers: May consist of family, caretakers, and close adult mentors who are a source of safety and stability for the individual. As a child, this includes meeting the child’s survival, health, mental health, and emotional needs.
Supported Academic/Vocational Functioning: The individual is supported by caring mentors, at school or work; who encourage his or her efforts to work consistently at his or her ability level to attain educational or vocational goals.
Active Diversion: The individual, especially youth, is involved in developing and participating in healthy activities, skills and groups within the community, school, workplace and/or home. It is important to emphasize balance and avoid overscheduling or excessive focus on competition, which can create stress. Activity suggestions include: sports, music, art, creative writing, religious groups, community/school organizations.
Supportive Adults & Community: The area that the individual resides in is a secure place to obtain resources. Professionals can and should work with other professionals within the community to refer individuals to supportive resources to meet needs for mental and behavioral health, social and emotional development and disability support.
Safety/Fewer & Less Severe Stressors: The individuals well-being, basic needs, and security are promoted across the various environments at the individual, relational, school/vocational and community levels.

This blog post was intended to create consideration around the topic of resilience. Throughout the article we identified what resilience is; the ability to “bounce back” after challenging experiences, an inherent capacity found in every individual, as well as a learned set of skills and behaviors that can be taught. We also discussed the role that resilience plays; supporting the development of qualities and characteristics that promote a higher quality of life and overall health and well-being even in the face of toxic stress, trauma or adversity. Finally, we scratched the surface on how to identify and promote the development of resilience; by having an awareness of individual factors that are indicative of personal resilience in addition to discussing protective factors that promote resilience, we can gauge the need for additional resources and support in the lives of the children, adolescents, families and adults that we serve. In closing, the importance of resilience can be succinctly summarized by this wonderful quote by Maya Angelou, “I can be changed by what happens to me. But I refuse to be reduced by it.”

Optional: (if you want to include a way for readers to reach out and get more from us)

If you are interested in learning more about the brain science of resilience, self-care, relationships, trauma or addictions Thrive Counseling & Consulting, PLLC offers trainings on these topics and more. Also, if you or someone you love is struggling with their own experience of toxic stress, trauma or adversity we are available to provide counseling support for children, adolescents, families and adults located in Fayetteville and the Triangle area. More information can be found on our website http://www.thrive-pllc.com.

References:

American Psychological Association. (2020, February 1). Building Your Resilience. Retrieved from https://www.apa.org/topics/resilience

Madsen Thompson, M. D., & Klika, B. (2015, March 14). Increasing Resilience: Primary Healthcare Providers’ Opportunities to Promote Protective Factors Before and After Childhood Trauma. Retrieved from http://www.avahealth.org/aces best practices/

Libby Marlatt-Murdoch, LCHMC, LCAS, CCTP-II, CTRTC

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