Resilience – Inborn or Learned – Part 1
By: Julie Beem
There’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.
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.