Much research has been done on the topic of this series of posts in February 2021. Scientists want to understand how people who go through sometimes horrific events often overcome adversity and seem to thrive afterward.
In this first part of the series, we’ll discuss what resiliency is and answer some common questions about this interesting topic.
What is Resiliency?
Everyone experiences traumatic events, yet some people seem to encounter more than their fair share of events that change their lives forever. Trauma such as abuse in childhood, violence in adulthood, or healing from a traumatic event can leave people reeling in grief, loss, and smothering in depression and anxiety.
Yet, some people seem to be capable of rolling with the punches, standing back up, brushing themselves off, and beginning again.
So, what is resiliency?
According to the American Psychological Association, resiliency is:
“Psychologists define resilience as the process of adapting well in the face of adversity, trauma, tragedy, threats, or significant sources of stress—such as family and relationship problems, serious health problems, or workplace and financial stressors. As much as resilience involves “bouncing back” from these difficult experiences, it can also involve profound personal growth.”
Are Some People Born More Resilient than Others?
While many people who faced drastically stressful experiences and traumatic events form some type of mental impairment, such as mental illness, some seemingly bounce back from adverse situations quicker and more efficiently. These people are said to be resilient.
Yet, is resiliency something that one can learn, or are some people born with more resilience than others?
The answer to the above question, according to research, is yes. It all has to do with the complex intermix of epigenetics and environment.
Epigenetics is the study of the different changes in a person (or other organisms) caused by modifications in how genes are expressed rather than changes in the genetic code itself. There is growing evidence that some of these changes to our DNA are caused by our parents’ extreme distress that alters their DNA and is passed onto us.
Is resiliency only an inherited trait? Not at all. The propensity to be more resilient is inherited, but environmental stressors also cause someone to build resiliency in their lives.
What are The Seven C’s of Resiliency?
On a website called CBT Professionals, there is an article that speaks of Dr. Ginsburg, a child pediatrician, and human development expert. The article speaks of how Dr. Ginsburg has proposed that there are seven enmeshed components that are the building blocks of resilience, competence, confidence, connection, character, contribution, coping, and control.
Although the seven C’s of resiliency are geared toward raising children, there can be no doubt that they are important to adults who were traumatized as children, and anyone who experiences a severe trauma in adulthood.
Below you will find a short discussion of each component.
Competence. Competence is the ability to understand how to handle a stressful situation correctly. Competence requires having the skills or learning them to face the challenges life throws at us. Competence also involves practicing these skills so that you feel knowledgeable and competent when dealing with a stressful situation.
Confidence. Confidence is the belief that you can overcome any obstacle, and it is rooted in competence. In childhood, kids gain confidence by demonstrating their competence in real-life situations.
Connection. Connection involves a child’s close relationship with family, friends, and their community. These ties help children develop a strong sense of security and belonging.
Character. Children who have character enjoy an enhanced sense of self-worth and confidence. These kids are in touch with their own values and feel they can stick with them, plus have a strong sense of what is right and what is wrong.
Contribution. By contributing to the world, children experience and learn that the world is a better place with them living in it. A child who experiences others showing appreciation for them experiences an improved connection to the world and feel that they matter.
Coping. Those who have a wide array of coping skills can cope more effectively and are more prepared to defeat the challenges that come into their lives. Learning and utilizing coping skills is vital to overcoming trauma and moving toward healing.
Control. Children who realize they have control over their actions and decisions can know how to choose ways to help them bounce back from life’s challenges.
Are There Dangers in Taking Online Quizzes About Resiliency?
Online quizzes about mental health issues are fun and sometimes informative. However, online quizzes have a darker side. People sometimes take them too much to heart, which can cause a re-traumatization of themselves.
The myriad of online quizzes are confusing and can be misleading when used by people to self-diagnose or look to validate what they are experiencing.
One good example is taking two quizzes back-to-back– one about resiliency and the other about post-traumatic growth. On one score, one might score high on resiliency, but you might score low on post-traumatic growth on another quiz. Neither of these results is set in stone, and one should never take them to heart.
Besides, one article I read stated that online quizzes about resilience are often geared towards parents who need to see how they can improve their parenting to help build resilience in their children, not as online psychiatric indicators of growth or lack thereof.
As a good rule of thumb, one should not use online quizzes to diagnose oneself. Instead, rely on the experience and training of mental health professionals.
What Resiliency is NOT
Resiliency does not mean a person will not experience trauma or distress. Indeed, resiliency means that those who have experienced emotional pain and stress find a way to thrive despite what happens to them.
Some factors do make some people more resilient than others, but resilience isn’t necessarily a personality trait that only a chosen few have. Instead, resilience involves many behaviors, thoughts, and actions that anyone can develop. This ability to learn resiliency is why research has consistently shown that anyone can learn and develop resiliency.
A good example might be the responses different people have to national emergencies such as the Challenger explosion or the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center in New York. Although many people were traumatized by these events, they were forced to bounce back and rebuild their lives.
None of the people in the United States population during these two national tragedies were exceptional in their resiliency; resiliency was something they had to encounter to get their lives back on track.
The bottom line, anyone can build resilience.
Resiliency is the ability to bounce back and rebuild after a traumatic event.
Also, while some children are better able to learn than others, resilience is an ability anyone at any age can learn to help them handle the daily tragedies that can enter our lives.
You do not have to be exceptionally brilliant, nor do you need to be born with some inborn capacity to be resilient. This is good news for those of us who fear we may not have resilience due to taking an online quiz that made us question ourselves.
Understanding the seven Cs of resilience, competence, confidence, connection, character, contribution, coping, and control can better help us learn how to become resilient and make a better life for ourselves and those we love.
“In the depth of winter, I finally learned that within me lay an invincible summer.” ~ Albert Camus
“We don’t develop courage by being happy every day. We develop it by surviving difficult times and challenging adversity.” ~ Barbara De Angelis
Aaron Antonovsky (1979). Health, Stress, and Coping. Jossey-Bass Publishers.
Alan Carr (2004). Positive Psychology: The Science of Happiness and Human Strengths. Psychology Press. pp. 213+
American Psychological Association. (2012). Building Your Resilience. Retrieved from: https://www.apa.org/topics/resilience
Richardson, Glenn E. (2002). The metatheory of resilience and resiliency. Journal of Clinical Psychology. 58 (3): 307–321. doi:10.1002/jclp.10020
Werner, E. E. (1989). Vulnerable but invincible: a longitudinal study of resilient children and youth. New York: McGraw-Hill