Updated: Nov 22, 2020
Today South Australia like many other places around the globe is going into lock down and this has made me reflect on the idea of resilience and what I have recently learnt. So, this post may not have direct relevance to sexuality, but this topic encompasses all areas of life. What I am going to talk about here is that resilience cannot be achieved by individual efforts.
You read it right. Despite the fact that for a very long time in the Western world we have been taught about resilience as an individual trait, recent research on resilience tells us otherwise.
In popular culture, film heroes often simply crash through with one nifty stunt after another, single-handedly. But research suggests resilience is connected to how an individual seeks and gains support from both family and the community.
One study (1) found that about one third of children who had grown up in an environment of trauma thrived into adulthood while many others developed problems. What enabled these individuals to overcome the difficulties of their childhoods and go on to lead healthy, productive lives in adulthood?
The research found strong links to external factors. For example, children who thrived tended to find a key member of their family, often a grandmother, who they bonded with. They also sought out and connected with role models in their community (such as a favourite teacher). So, a key insight from this research is that resilience is not just something you are born with; it happens in connection with others.
Research shows resilience happens in conjunction with others.
In a recent review of studies Beltman (2) and his colleagues summarised resilience in the following way:
“Resilience is a dynamic process or outcome that is the result of interaction over time between a person and the environment… Reciprocal, mutually supportive personal, professional and peer relationships are important in this process.”
Some researchers have taken this even a step further. For example, Dr Michael Unger from Dalhousie University talks about the need for an ‘ecological’ approach to resilience (3). What does this mean? Unger suggests that for people to become and remain resilient, their community and cultural context is very important. For example, Unger’s team are engaged with a number of projects that focus on building capacity in local communities by working with parents, schools and local service organisations to respond to youth at risk. In this way, Unger and his team are creating a system or ‘ecology’ of resilience.
Some researchers have an 'ecological' approach to resilience.
Much of the popular culture is focused on developing strategies to enhance resilience. We are being told we can meditate to become calmer. We can exercise and eat well to be healthier. We can take three deep breaths before deciding to send an email. While these strategies can be very helpful, as isolated individual activities, they won’t necessarily make us more resilient.
Research shows individual strategies are not enough to make us more resilient.
So the reason I have decided to write about this is that many people in the current crisis situation around Covid-19 are not coping well and they (and the people around them) expect to muscle their way out of these difficult times.
For now, here are a few of things you can reflect on to (re)discover your resilience:
What are your inner resources?
What are your external resources? (You’d be surprised to find out how much support you already have)
How can you resource your resilience ‘pool’? what are some things you can do individually? Who else can you reach out to when things get tough?
If you need support for your mental health you can also make an online appointment with me.
1. Werner, 2015, RESILIENCE AND RECOVERY: FINDINGS FROM THE KAUAI LONGITUDINAL STUDY.
2. Beltman, et al. 2011, Thriving not just surviving: A review of research on teacher resilience.
3. Resilience Research Center: https://resilienceresearch.org/