Resilience – Inborn or Learned – Part 1

By:  Julie Beem

Mother and ChildThere’s a lot of talk about resilience being the antidote to trauma.  Lots of workshops, books, and training programs talk about building resilience in kids as a way to counteract the impact of trauma in their lives.  On the surface all this seems to make sense, but it’s always puzzled me.  What did people mean by resilience, and why does it appear that my child has none, even after years of parenting her?

Anecdotally people would point to resilience as being the reason that orphans from the same country or even the same orphanage as my daughter seemed to come home unscathed and grow up (as far as I know) without the numerous emotional and developmental problems my daughter has faced.  Research-wise, there’s a whole field of study, Resilience Theory, that seeks to prove how over 50% of children who come from backgrounds of adversity seem to be able to rise above it.

Mother and Child

From my vantage point of parenting a traumatized (abused, neglected, maltreated from birth) child, resilience is either a cruel joke that my child is the butt of or I’m totally missing the point.  She’s about as resilient as toilet paper floating on a lake.  So, I was fortunate to run across Resilience Theory: A Literature Review by Adrian DePlessis VanBreda.  It’s a great summary of the major research done on resilience and explanation of the theory.

The position the theory takes is that we pathologize people who have come from backgrounds of adversity (trauma) when we believe that they are likely to suffer from long-lasting impacts of this trauma and not be able to bounce back (be resilient).  In some ways the Resilience Theory is the antithesis of the Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE) Study.

My interest in digging into all this social work research was to figure out what I was missing as a parent.  Was there a key to turning on my child’s resilience?  Was resilience inborn and my daughter just didn’t get the gene?  Imagine my surprise, just a few pages in, when the reviewer summarizes the factors that research shows are present in children who are resilient [there were more factors, but these were the most interesting raising children with attachment & trauma issues.  And the bolding is mine.] :

• They had an outgoing, socially open, cooperative, engagable, likeable personality.  They were able, from infancy on, to gain other people’s positive attention.
• The children had good early bonding with their mothers or some other caregiver (i.e. grandmother, older sibling or other relative).
• They were required to participate in household chores and activities.
• There were clearly defined boundaries in subsystems within the family.
• They experienced no separation from their primary caregiver during the first year of life.
• They had strict parental supervision.
• They had positive (flexible) coping skills.
• They perceived themselves to be competent.
• They had an internal locus of control.
• They had good impulse control.
• They were able to ask for help when they needed it.

Hmmm….

Julie has been ATN's Executive Director since 2009. She joined the organization in 2004 after finding incredible support from fellow ATNers when she was searching for answers about her own daughter's early childhood trauma and attachment disorders. Julie leads a staff of passionate professionals and acts as spokesperson for the organization. Prior to ATN, Julie was the president of a marketing and communications consultancy, The Epiphany Group, and has over two decades of experience in professional services marketing, strategic planning and communication strategies. As a graduate of Partners in Policymaking and through personal experience, Julie has garnered a great deal of experience in the areas of special education, school issues, and disabilities advocacy. A published author, Julie wrote a chapter in the EMK Press Adoption Parenting book and was the special needs blogger at Adoptionblogs.com for two years. She frequently presents workshops on attachment and trauma to local and national groups. Email Julie. Julie holds an MBA from Avila College in Kansas City and was a Certified Professional Services Marketer. Julie, and her husband Dave, are parents to four (bio, step and adoptive), including their youngest daughter, adopted from China. This daughter’s attachment difficulties and developmental trauma disorder have changed their lives significantly…in amazing ways.

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