Resilience is fundamentally a belief that all people possess a natural ability to better themselves and their situation. This capacity has been clearly shown in longitudinal research. But more importantly, how can I become resilient or help my children be survivors?
Longitudinal studies by Steven Wolin, Emmy Werner, Michael Rutter, Ann Masten and others have consistently shown an innate ability to bounce back. Steven Wolin, MD’s work over 20 years with alcoholic families indicates that most of them do not repeat their parents’ drinking patterns. Emmy Werner, PhD. found a third of the kids from poverty and abuse stricken households were not affected by their surroundings. Of the remaining two-thirds, many of them had troubled teenage years, but by their 30’s and 40’s, had pulled themselves out of their troubled lifestyle and were determined not to repeat their parents’ lives. And in studies with youth from war-torn, poverty stricken countries, anywhere from 50-70% of them developed social competence and overcame the odds to lead successful lives.
But what can we use from research for our own lives? Resilience generally grows out of a drive to maintain a sense of self. Families having difficulty can produce children who feel powerless and lack a belief in their strengths. A resilient person will internalize success and externalize blame. They will seek out stronger adult role models outside the family; they may gravitate towards families with untroubled parents or marry into stable loving families as adults. Survivors also cultivate insight and are not afraid to ask themselves questions internally. Resilience, is especially, however, about relationships that create caring, concern, meaning and connection; an anchor to the future.
These traits are commonly found in resilient survivors (in individuals) and are strengthened by the staff at The Family Resilience Group:
1. Social competency: Caring, empathy, sense of humor and connectedness.
2. Problem solving: Planning, help-seeking, flexible, creative thinking.
3. Autonomy: An ability to be independent.
4. A sense of purpose or direction: Dreams, goals, hope, faith.
These are the factors of an environment (the family) that are shown to produce resilient adults:
1. Caring relationships: Convey compassion, respect, and interest.
2. High expectation messages: Firm guidance and structure, an awareness of strengths.
3. Opportunities for meaningful participation and contribution: Having voice and being heard, acknowledging and supporting decisions and talents.
Therapy should work on both aspects: Individual AND environment to create the best possible outcome.
Want to learn more? Read Resiliency in Action by Bernard; Overcoming the Odds: High-Risk Children from birth to Adulthood by Werner and Smith.