Why an ‘A” in friendships has so much more meaning than acing the spelling quiz, Part 1
by Dr. Brandy Baker, Clinical Psychologist
You know all of those old cliché adages that include phrases like “the road less traveled,” “marches to the beat of their own drum,” and “the black sheep of the family?” The ones that refer to the outlier?
The people that those adages apply to intrigue me—always have.
This might explain why I had such an insatiable interest in both my college Abnormal Psychology course and also just can’t seem to read enough on the concept of resilience. I know. You were following my train of thought until I mentioned ‘resilience’ and now you’re probably wondering what that has to do with being an outlier. Allow me...
The concept of resilience has gained a lot of popularity over the last decade. In 2001, after the events of September 11th, the American Psychological Association (APA) created a resilience initiative which sought to educate the public about the topic. The APA defines resilience as “the human ability to adapt in the face of tragedy, trauma, adversity, hardship, and ongoing significant life stressors” (APA, 2003). This use of the word “adapt” suggests a period of adjustment or recovery. This is a traditional definition that is supported by the good old American Heritage Dictionary (2000) which also adds the term “buoyancy” to the definition.
Others have suggested that resilience and recovery are two fundamentally different concepts and that resilience should be thought of more as an ability to maintain a stable level of functioning through an aversive event-- someone who is healthy even in an unhealthy setting for example. I tend to think about resilience as a characteristic influenced by someone’s personality and environment that allows a person to function relatively well long-term.
Threats to Resilience…and Bouncing Back
You can imagine that there are innumerable threats to someone’s ability to function-- childhood maltreatment, loss of a loved one, extreme poverty, witnessing an act of violence, mental illness, etc. All of these things affect a person’s wellbeing, but there are those people who bounce back and even maintain a fairly stable level of functioning-- those outliers who seem to persevere even through a combination of several ongoing traumas and tragedies.
Researchers worked through many hypotheses about what it is that sets these people apart and countless studies have shown that isolation may be one of the single most harmful and universally detrimental factors contributing to someone’s wellbeing.
Inadequate social support has consistently been found to predict depression and suicidal ideation. Of course, compounded by a number of other stressors, a lack of social support means even worse outcomes.
So, does that mean that if someone has solid social support they will fare better and even demonstrate resilience through “tragedy, trauma, adversity, hardship, and ongoing significant life stressors?” My answer is “maybe, but it’s complicated.” There are a host of other factors that influence and even predict someone’s resilience quotient, which will be addressed in Part 2 of this blog.
So What’s a Parent to Do?
The truth of the matter is that, as a parent, you can’t protect your child from everything, nor should you. Hardship in life is inevitable and weathering those storms can also foster strength, independence, courage-- all traits that many of us would like our children to embody.
I spoke with Charlotte Mallon, LCSW, Coordinator of the Jewish Community Emergency Resiliency Team (J-CERT) about her perspective on the role that parents play in promoting resilience in their children. She had this to say, “When we help after a trauma, disaster, or some terrible thing that has happened, the goal is to intervene with the parents. After J-CERT is gone, the [support] system will be there for that individual.”
Charlotte’s message and the overall J-CERT philosophy is an important one. Support from others close to a child which, in most cases, is you as the parent, is the most important tool for your child to draw upon when bad things happen. Lucky for you, that is something that you can control.
For more information on fostering resilience in your child, stay tuned for Part 2 which will offer insight into specific things that you can do as a parent to support health in the face of adversity. I will also be a featured speaker on raising resilient and socially-smart children at the upcoming Parent U workshop on November 3, 2012. For more information on how JCFS can support your child through social skills groups, diagnostic clarification, or therapy services, please visit the JCFS website or call our Access line at 1.855.ASK.JCFS.