How To Build Resilience
Resilience is perceived as a dynamic equilibrium state within which psychological, physical, spiritual elements and protective factors have reached a balance. The resilience process is attained by having a biopsychospiritual homeostasis, that is, a comfort zone when one is balanced and adapted mentally, physically, and spiritually to a group of events (Richardson, 2002). Resilience helps us to develop physical and mental well-being and cultivates self-efficacy; fosters emotional strength to process and address adversity, trauma, and hardships
The term ‘Resilience’ etymologically, has been derived from a Latin word ‘resiliens’ which refers to elasticity of an object. Ann Masten (2001, p. 228) defines resilience as “a class of phenomenon characterized by good outcomes in spite of serious threats to adaptation or development”, Ryff and Singer (2003, p. 20), define resilience as “maintenance, recovery, or improvement in mental or physical health following challenge.”
Richardson (2002) suggested that history of resilience research can be categorized into three phases, which he referred to as ‘waves’. The first wave of resiliency inquiry discovered the phenomenological qualities of resilience among individuals, and identified qualities like self-efficacy, self-esteem, support systems etc, that predict the personal and social success. The second wave viewed resilience as a process of coping in face of adversities, stressors in a manner that results in identification, enriching and reinforcing protective factors. The third waves of resilience inquiry lead to discovery and identification of motivational forces operating within individuals and groups. This force drives the person towards self-actualization, altruism, and creation of experiences that would foster resilience, hence reintegrating from disruptions (Richardson, 2002).
Masten (2001) noted two important factors for the occurrence of resilience. Firstly, the individual must face a significant risk or threat that has the potential to evoke unfavourable consequences and pose a threat to well-being. Researchers have identified various factors that may threaten the normal development. Studies have indicated that people with an abusive childhood, who have parents suffering from a mental illness, or raised in poverty with meager support are at a greater risk of distress compared to the children raised by healthy parents (Master, 2001; Masten & Reed, 2002; Ryff & Singer, 2003). Secondly, the individual must adapt and the resilience must precipitate favourable outcome. The occurrence of resilience has been closely associated with and largely depends on the agencies or protective systems than the nature of adversities the individual has. An individual with limited protective resources may suffer even in the face of low adversities. In contrast, an individual who has an abundance of protective resources may be able to cope with the challenges and adversities effectively.
One of the most prominent research studies in the sphere of Resilience was conducted by the pioneer Dr. Emmy Werner, popularly known as the “mother of resiliency.” Werner, along with Smith (1982) conducted a longitudinal study with 700 participants born in the island of Kauai, Hawaii with a 50-years time-interval. The data was collected from children and their caregivers since birth. One-third of these children were considered at high risk for social and academic obstacles because of their lack of supportive environment (e.g., lack of family support, parental alcoholism, poverty, and domestic violence).
Out of the children at-risk, one-third of them were invulnerable to the undermining risk factors. These characteristics were accounted by – i) They had a several agencies for support in their environment, and ii) they were born with outgoing dispositions. The latter two-third of the children in the high-risk groups faced significant challenges and distress in their childhood or adolescence. However, most participants by the age of thirties reported that they had ‘bounced forward’ from the adversities they had faced earlier. These findings also corroborated with psychological tests and community reports that were assessed. After a few years, more than 80% of the participants in the high-risk group had bounced forward. In retrospect, the participants who demonstrated resilience attributed it to the support of one caring adult, e.g., a family member, teacher, neighbor, mentor (Werner & Smith, 1982).
Resilient responses in the face of adversities are common across life span. Risk factors like divorce, traumatic childhood, job loss, chronic illness, loss of a loved one, and physical declines with aging are common experienced by people in all walks of life. Taking into account the normality of the construct, Ann Masten (2001) has referred to this phenomenon as “ordinary magic.” Masten’s concept highlights that many people engage in resilient responses when faced with significant challenges, it is not rare but a common occurrence. She has also propounded that resilience surfaces from everyday features of people’s lives. It does not require superhuman abilities or extraordinariness.
Richardson and colleagues (2002) designed a linear model that understands an individual’s resilience in terms of a biopsychospiritual homeostasis. Resilience is perceived as a dynamic equilibrium state in which psychological, physical, spiritual elements and protective factors have reached a balance. In the model, the resilience process is attained by having a biopsychospiritual homeostasis, that is, a comfort zone when one is balanced and adapted mentally, physically, and spiritually to a set of events (Richardson, 2002).
This homeostasis or balance may be routinely disrupted and bombarded when the individual has insufficient resources to cope (i.e., protective factors) to buffer against stressors during adversities. The interplay between protective factors and life prompts determine the disruption and intensity of it. This imbalance may originate internally from person’s thoughts and feelings, and externally from the environment (Richardson, 2002).
In order to cope with the disruption, individuals adjust and begin their reintegration process, and cultivate resilient qualities to bounce back to homeostasis. This process leads to one of the four outcomes (Connor & Davidson, 2003):
The disruption leads to an opportunity for growth, and additional protective factors with increased resilience, hence adapting to disruption leads to higher level of homeostasis (resilient reintegration).
Bouncing back to the baseline homeostasis, with the aim of just getting past or beyond the disruption (homeostatic reintegration).
The disruption caused leads to loss of protective factors, thus recovering from the loss and establishing a lower level of homeostasis (reintegration with loss).
A dysfunctional state where people restore to destructive or maladaptive strategies (self-destructive behaviour, such as, substance abuse) to cope with stressors (dysfunctional reintegration).
Researchers have long studied what determines resilience in varied age groups when exposed to numerous stressors and challenges in today’s world. Personality and trait researchers have attempted to explore and profile the characteristics of “resilient personality”. Research studies have deduced down to facets such as hardiness (Kobasa, Maddi, & Kahn, 1982), self-enhancement (Taylor & Brown, 1988), psychological toughness (Zillig, Hemenover, & Dienstbier, 2002), ego-resilience (Zeb, Naqvi, & Zonash, 2013), and optimism (Carver & Scheier, 2002) have been implicated and associated with resiliency. However, it is vital to note that the abovementioned traits and abilities are a fragment of most people’s psychological makeup, consistent with Masten’s notion of resilience as an ordinary magic. The foundations of resilience include social resources, and psychological resources such as flexible self-concept, self-direction and competence.
Resilience building in children
The path to be resilient is determined by the child’s resources, presence or absence of risk and protective factors. Formerly, a plethora of researchers began investigating and identifying the risk factors, like, predisposition and environmental factors, that made the child vulnerable and contributed to unfavorable outcomes. But later, researchers swirled this approach and began a systematic search for protective factors that may act as a buffer to risk factors in children at high-risk. Though children by their very nature are vulnerable to a variety of risks, perhaps the new era with technological advanced societies has created new and different risks for children.
In a cyberspace, the children may face cyber-bullying (Smith, 2019; Lee & Chin, 2017), cyber harassment (Stevens, Nurse & Arief, 2020; Burke-WinkelmAn, Oomen-Early, Walke, Chu, & Yick-Flanagan, 2015), cyber-suicide that is usually provoked by an online game (Siddiqui, 2017; Malhotra & Jindal, 2021), cyber victimization (Macaulay, Steer & Betts, 2020; Musharraf & Anis-ul-Haque, 2018), and cyberstalking (Siemieniecka & Skibińska, 2019; Wright, 2018). Some of the other risk factors may include poverty, traumatic childhood, physical or sexual abuse. These risk factors have become evident with the current times and demands immediate attention to create and foster a healthy space for children.
Masten and Reed (2002) have long studied the course of action to promote resilience and creating a conducive environment for growth.
Risk-focused Strategy (Preventing/reducing the risks faced by children)
Prevent child abuse (physical, psychological, sexual) or neglect through parent education
Educating parents about the risks in cyberspace and formulating policies
Controlling alcohol and drug abuse in children through community programs
Preventing homelessness by developing housing policies
Fostering competence and cultivating self-efficacy through models of teaching. Developing cognitive abilities like executive functioning, decision making, problem solving and attentional skills.
Teaching and inculcating positive attitudes towards self, sense of meaning in life, self-regulation of emotional impulses and emotional expression.
Teaching effective and positive coping strategies to adapt and “bounce forward” with the experience of the adverse event.
Fostering a family environment that is accepting, enriching and with low discord. Educating the parents to engage in authoritative parenting leading to a nurturing and warm environment for the child.
Encouraging prosocial behaviour and healthy friendships as well as establishing prosocial norms.
Resilience building in Adolescence
Buckner, Mezzacappa and Beardslee (2003) explored the specific factors that differentiated resilient from non-resilient adolescence. They examined the number of traumatic life events experienced, level of stress, cognitive abilities, social support, self-regulation skills, and parental monitoring and supervision. Results of the study indicated a linkage between the number of traumatic life events and levels of stress. Non-resilient children had suffered from more traumatic life events such as physical and sexual abuse, loss of a loved one, serious family illness, lack of support etc. Stress was associated with basic meets not being met and other life difficulties like poverty. One of the notable findings was resilient youth demonstrated significantly higher levels of self-esteem, intellectual competence, and self-regulation than the non-resilient groups. Intellectual skills contribute to academic success and to cope with the challenges. Self-esteem helps us to hold a positive self-image in the face of adversities that may threaten our self-concept.
Another ability that distinguished resilient from the non-resilient participants was cognitive and emotional self-regulation, the strongest predictor of resilience in the research study. Self-regulation refers to an individual’s ability to guide and have a goal-driven behaviour across varying situations. Self-regulation plays a vital role in coping with stressful situations and challenges. Cognitive self-regulation involves the usage of various cognitive systems and executive functions to direct action and solves problems. Youths with cognitive self-regulation are self-disciplined, well-organized, and have the tendency to concentrate on a task and channel their efforts towards success. Their thinking shows fewer mental blocks and is flexible in considering alternative solutions. Emotional self-regulation is also crucial and fosters resilient living. It refers to the ability to manage one’s emotions in the face of challenges and adversities. Youths with high levels of emotional self-regulation are able to understand, process, and express their emotions effectively. Emotional self-regulation is associated with social competence that contributes to the development, maintenance and fosters relationship with others. Hence, it is crucial for youths to cultivate cognitive and emotional self-regulation (Buckner, Mezzacappa & Beardslee, 2003)
Lastly, the degree of parental monitoring also differed between resilient and non-resilient participants. Parental monitoring is an important aspect in the child’s environment, especially with the given real threats in the 21st century to children’s safety. The mothers with high-scores in parental monitoring, their children demonstrated resilience. Perhaps, monitoring contributed to children’s sense of being valued and cared for, further contributing to their sense of worth and development of self-regulation. Hence, one of the potential strategies to build resilience would be parental monitoring; however, it is noteworthy to mention that over-indulgence can cause destruction (Buckner, Mezzacappa & Beardslee, 2003)
Other techniques to build resilience among youth are (ReachOut Parents, 2020) –
Emotional awareness, regulation, management, and expression
Youth first need to be aware of emotions by building their emotional literacy, creating a comfort zone and holding space for mixed feelings is vital. It entails understanding the intensity of the emotion to regulate and manage it effectively, further assertively expressing the emotion.
Learning impulse control
As humans, we all possess impulses that are sometimes influenced by our emotions. Hence, youth could – listen, pause, take a few deep breathes, reflect, before answering, think of three possible ways to respond, chose the constructive one, and respond assertively.
Developing an optimistic and growth-mindset
It is vital to engage the youth in positive self-talk, and looking at everything from a lens of a learning process. The youth must embrace challenges, have the zeal to learn, accept criticism and build abilities.
Self-efficacy refers to the belief we have in our own actions. Cultivating self-confidence, self-esteem, and self-acceptance is vital that would further lead to self-efficacy.
Seeking help when required
It is important to explore the youth’s take on seeking help, if they perceive it to be strength or a sign of weakness.
Resilience in Adults
Developmental psychologists studying the aging processes have focused on how adults regulate their health and well-being and continue to evolve despite the inevitable challenges and adversities. Sources of resilience in adulthood and later life are similar to that of the childhood responses. Ryff and Keyes (1995) have devised a model of well-being that has been empirically supported and extensively used to foster resilience in adults. The model was constructed with the proposition that well-being refers to objectively realising one’s potential and flourishing in the face of existential challenges posed by life
The six dimensions of the model include (Ryff & Keyes, 1995) –
Self-Acceptance – This domain entails having a positive attitude towards self and the varied qualities of self, strengths and weakness. It involves accepting and embracing oneself unconditionally.
Personal Growth – It requires one to demonstrate optimal level of psychological functioning that not only actualizes oneself, but also fosters development and leads one to realize their potential. This is manifested by expressing peculiarity in varied domains of life.
Purpose in life – This implies having a goal-driven behaviour and direction to one’s life. One must believe that their life has purpose and meaning, and they are creating a positive difference and meaning in the world.
Environmental Mastery – this refers to the capacity, ability and competence to manage the complex environment of today’s fast paced life. It requires the person to effectively manage and strike a balance between one’s life and the environment.
Autonomy – This entails the individual to be fully functioning and portray qualities like self-determination, independence, regulation of behaviour, and having an internal locus of evaluation where they evaluate their progress with their personal standards. It involves the adult to follow their own values and interests.
Positive relations with others – It requires the individual to love, be empathic and have warmth for all the individuals and have a greater and deeper level of connection.
Anshula is a contributor and researcher at dR CLB lab.
She has conducted prominent and conspicuous researches with noteworthy findings, has great observational skills, and a peculiarity of experiential learning along with a significant ability to perform well in a team. She is passionate about various trends in human behaviour with regard to positive psychology, digital psychology and its research-based scientific approach. She has presented 10+ research papers at national and international conferences.
Anshula is also the Head of the Research Department at Citta, India; and a researcher at The Apprentice Project (TAP) and also a research assistance at The Global Foundation of Cyber Studies and Reserach Think Tank Washing DC.
She has volunteered with World Confederation of Warriers and imparted education at an under-resourced government school to elementary school students. She is extremely passionate about contributing to the field of cyber psychology and exploring its fragments.
She is currently pursuing her Masters in Clinical Psychology and has a keen interest in scientific research.
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