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Resilience: It All Began Here.

May 10

G’day all! I hope you are well no matter what part of the country you are in. If you don’t subscribe to the common wisdom that, “things can always be worse”, take a look at Ft. McMurray. It sort of puts it all in perspective doesn’t it? As promised, I would like to begin this little jaunt through the recent literature on trauma, “PTSD”, and resilience, with a look at the latter; as that’s where it all began.

In forging an understanding of the nature of resilience, we first must gain conceptual and definitional clarity of the phenomenon. What is it, and what makes up resilient behaviour? This is not as simple a question as it seems. It turns out that resilience is a somewhat complex psychological and behavioural process. There are at least five different ways we can define human resilience:

1) It can refer to a complex repetoire of behavioural tendencies.

2) It can be linked to a group of personality traits including extraversion (an outgoing style), high self esteem, assertiveness, hardiness, internal locus of control (self reliance), and cognitive feedback (coaching oneself).

3) It can be tied to ego resilience that is composed of flexibility, energy, assertiveness, humour, transcendent detachment (being able to observe oneself in action), and a capacity for affect regulation (able to control one’s emotions).

4) It can be a type of behavioural adaptation to situational stress and a style of personality functioning.

5) It can be a response to trauma including “bouncing back” from an initial period of disequilibrium, through optimal states of functioning to an immunity to psychopathology (psychological illness).

Based upon the preceding it seems a model of resilience needs to be a “person x situation” interactional model. This leads to questions like: What are the characteristics of the “resilient” that makes them different than the “less resilient”? What does resilient behaviour look like in the face of different traumas, different degrees of stress, adversity, or the complexity of the problem to be solved?

To facilitate our brief (informal) review we need to operationally define the concept of resilience. The most conceptually advantageous definition seems to be: “…a complex repetoire of behavioural tendencies that may be evoked or activated by environmental demands.” This definition suggests that resilience is a style of behaviour with its’ own thinking patterns, perceiving, and decision making processes, that can be applied across a variety of stressors. But even this definition is incomplete , and raises questions. For example, is resilience a stable dimension of personality or does it interact with different situational demands? Is the study of resilience, with regard to trauma, applicable to all forms of resilience? Finally, are those who are resilient in the face of trauma the “gold standard” by which to study all forms of resilience?

The bottom line seems to be that resiliency encompasses the ability to adapt, and cope successfully in the face of challenging or threatening situations; a good outcome regardless of high demands, costs, stress, or risk; sustained competence in dealing with demands that deplete coping resources; and finally a healthy recovery from extreme stress and trauma. Looking back the emphasis on resilience came into vogue when the paradigm shifted, from looking at those factors that put someone at risk for psychosocial problems, to identifying their strengths.

There was a strong focus on how children who had been subjected to demanding developmental and formative experiences could survive and develop into psychologically healthy individuals. OK, enough, let’s leave it there for now. I’m off to the LMD again. If you wish to contribute by questioning or sharing an experience please do so, I’ll get to your stuff when I return on the weekend.

Here’s something to meditate upon until we meet again, ONLY UNDER EXTREME DURESS IS YOUR TRUE CHARACTER REVEALED.

Dr. Mike Webster
Registered Psychologist

  1. Anonymous permalink

    Is resilience something we have unlimited quantities of or is there a finite amount?

    I thought I was very resilient for over 19 years and then all of a sudden, things began to fall apart….

    Perhaps if I had learned better coping skills earlier on rather than just burying things, my resilience would have remained intact?

  2. Good questions. Stay tuned, all will be answered in due time.


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