Resilience – Inborn or Learned – Part 2

By:  Julie Beem

The listing of factors that make children resilient from Resilience Theory: A Literature Review by Adrian DePlessis VanBreda  made total sense to me.  But the paragraph of conclusion supposedly based on these factors did not:

Clearly, children are not defenceless against stressful life conditions. There are many factors which can assist to ‘buffer’ (Rutter, 1985) children against stress, and which assist them in growing up to be well-adjusted and happy adults, who work well, play well, love well and expect well (Werner in Dahlin et al., 1990, p.228).These resilience studies stand in contrast to “the overwhelming bulk of developmental research[which] has been devoted to exploring the pathogenic hypothesis, ie that risk factors in the perinatal period, infancy and early childhood are predictive of disturbances in later childhood and adulthood” (ibid.). Resilience Theory: A Literature Review at page 11.

Mother and Child

Wait a minute!  Children are not defenseless against stress because they have resiliency factors.  But those factors are primarily good nurturing, healthy bonds with primary caregivers and others early in their lives that help give them that positive self-image and world view, the coping skills, the internal locus of control.  As the parent of a child who did NOT receive this in early childhood/infancy, I can attest to the fact that those are the stuff of which resiliency is made of.  So to say that the developmental research, and things like the ACE Study stand in contrast to resiliency theory is still confusing to me.  Children who do not have opportunity to build healthy attachments, who do not have adults in their lives to serve as stable caregivers, who are separated from their primary caregiver during that first year are at risk, just like developmental research shows time and again.

Resiliency is made/learned, not inborn.  It just is.  And the push toward building resiliency in traumatized children and adults is a noble one.  BUT, we really need to understand how much at risk each person who lacks these healthy beginnings is, and how challenging it is to build the capacity for being resilient is, when those early attachment underpinnings are not there.  It is not as simple as just decrying all the research that shows that children are at great risk when they have adverse early childhoods (ones with abuse, neglect, poverty, maltreatment, lack of food, lack of healthy attachment).  Apparently Resiliency Theory’s own research shows that healthy attachment, attention by caring adults, and positive treatment by caregivers and teachers are major factors in building a child’s capacity for resilience. So, shouldn’t the focus really be on what can be done to build healthy attachments?

If I were defining resilience it would be the ability to “bounce back” from or cope with major life stressors due to the capacity that was built in a person’s infancy and early childhood through healthy attachments and nurturing care that helped that person to view themselves as competent, the world as a basically good place and to hone their positive and flexible coping skills.

What do you think?

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 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.