Motivation and emotion/Book/2011/Psychological resilience

Psychological resilience:
What is psychological resilience and how is it developed?

Overview edit

Consider these questions:

  1. Do you tend to ruminate over a list of things to do in a day?
  2. Do you find yourself overwhelmed when in stressful situations?
  3. Do you worry over situations that do not involve you?
  4. Do you find it difficult to engage in social situations?

If you answered yes to any of these, then continue reading because this chapter can help to build your psychological resilience to stressful situations.

Origins of psychological resilience edit


The term 'psychological resilience' is difficult to define. It is operationalised in many ways, usually specific to the situation it is used in (Wingo, et al., 2010). Past literature has defined psychological resilience as the ability to "bounce back" from a negative physical or emotional experience, and adapt to changes associated with stressful events or experiences (Merritt, 2007).

The central component of psychological resilience, is the exposure to an adverse event, followed by the evidence of good psychological adjustment (Wingo, et al., 2010). Psychological resilience is an 'umbrella' term, as it covers a large range of traits that an individual can have to develop resilience (e.g., problem solving skills, self confidence, self discipline, self efficacy, and self esteem; Windle et al., 2008).

Ambiguity of the definition

The concept of psychological resilience was originally developed through observations of individuals exposed to risks and stressors, and how they coped and adjusted positively to these adverse situations (Windle, et al., 2008). Throughout research this term has been viewed as a hypothetical construct, as it is such an ambiguous term (Windle, et al., 2008).

When defining psychological resilience in the 21st century, a key aspect to consider in particular within Australian culture is the indigenous Aboriginal perspective of psychological resilience. Aboriginal mental health has been constantly revisited, with definitions of psychological resilience not taking into account the broad impact of colonialism (Merritt, 2007). Shifting away from examining the term in a Western perspective to an Aboriginal perspective is difficult, particularly when psychological resilience is a difficult term to define (Merritt, 2007). Research into psychological resilience has found that research from different countries yield differing results, regardless of whether it is a Western or Eastern society (Stanley, 2011). Study of the term from the uniqueness of cultural context may help more clearly define this ambiguous term (Merritt, 2007). However, no matter the research psychological resilience cannot be definitively defined (Stanley, 2011).

Trauma and disaster edit

The occurrence and types of trauma come in various ranges and scenarios, from childhood abuse to soldiers returning from war zones to physical or sexual assault (Bonanno, Galea, Bucciarelli, & Vlahov, 2006). Exposure to trauma is a strong risk factor for mental disorder such as depression or posttraumatic stress disorder, also influencing the duration and possible comorbity (Wingo, Fani, Bradley, & Ressler, 2010). Psychological resilience is a key concept that can influence an individual’s ability to cope during and after traumatic situations (Wingo, et al., 2010).

Psychological resilience is defined within trauma as having a single traumatic event and no or very mild depressive or posttraumatic stress disorder symptoms (Wingo, et al., 2010). A recent study in 2010 indicated that for recovery from a traumatic experience, one of the abilities within those who were resilient was emotional learning through nonverbal memory (Wingo et al., 2010).

Another recent study concerning post-deployment of soldiers found a negative relationship between the soldier’s psychological resilience and the social support they received on their return from deployment (Pietrzak, Johnson, Goldstein, Malley, & Southwick, 2009). This suggests that individualised social support around those who have experienced a traumatic event can bolster psychological resilience in those individuals (Pietrzak, et al., 2009).

We all experience at least one potentially harmful trauma or disaster in our lifetime. The majority of individuals deal with distress and confusion without it evolving into a psychological disorder (Bonanno, et al., 2006).

Globally speaking, in the 21st century, one of the greatest threats to psychological resilience has been the age of terrorism (Barnett, 2004). The disasters caused by terrorism have led to greater fear within the general public[factual?]. Fear is the struggle we have during traumatic or disastrous events, to preserve our reasoning and resilience while under stress (Barnett, 2004). For example, in the USA, Congress introduced the National Resilience Development Act in 2003, to provide national resilience after the events of September 11th 2001 (Barrett, 2004). Greater government body recognition is required during trauma or disaster relief to provide more equip services with a better understanding of how to educate and help those suffering from an adverse event.

Differences between child/youth and adult in developing psychological resilience edit

[Provide more detail]

Socio economic status (SES) and sex difference edit

The sociodemographics of those who experience adverse situations is a key factor in their ability to develop psychological resilience, and also that, how one sociodemographic group copes, cannot be generalised to another (Wingo, et al., 2010). This reinforces the ambiguity of psychological resilience, and how cultural context can be a significant factor in its operational definition (Merritt, 2010).

Some studies of psychological resilience in children have found that growing up in poor socio-economic status and negative family environments, do not always develop maladaptive behaviours or mental illness (Windle, 2008)[grammar?]. These findings indicate the uniqueness psychological resilience is to each individual, and how some individuals are able to adapt more effectively than others.

A recent study concerning the heritability of resilience found a difference between the genders in the genetic expression of resilience (Boardman, Blalock, & Button, 2008). This finding emphasises the reoccurring theme that our experiences and the environments we are exposed to, have an impact on our development of psychological resilience. For example, men are encouraged more than women to master the environments they are in, to socialise independently in greater varieties, are more self accepting of themselves and have greater opportunities to express their resilience[factual?]. With these psychological resources men can be better equipped at 'buffering' stressors, and maintaining a positive well-being[factual?]. However for woman, they are socialised generally to be more relationship-orientated, where if a part of their social support group breaks down, it can cause a domino effect on the individual[factual?]. Women tend also to be less self accepting, nor given the chance to show mastery in their environments unlike their male counterparts[factual?]. Genes can only influence a phenotype, therefore, if not given the opportunity to express themselves, they will not emerge (Boardman et al., 2008).

Child/youth psychological resilience edit

There has been extensive research on childhood psychological resilience, however what there is less focus on is the youth adolescent demographic. Many homeless in Australia are young youth and at such an age can be vulnerable to adverse environments and experiences (Ronalds & Allen-Craig, 2008). During a person's childhood, it is the relationship between the parents and the child, which fosters the child’s exposure to sociability, emotional and personal competence, and development of skills to cope with adverse situations (Ronalds & Allen-Craig, 2008). It is when this relationship breaks down that children and youth become vulnerable, and other factors such as low socio-economic status, or ethnic minorities, come into play leading to maladaptive resilience and in short possible negative life outcomes (e.g. mental illness, substance abuse, suicide, homelessness etc.)(Ronalds & Allen-Craig, 2008).

A recent study surveyed the parents of their perception of their fifth grade child’s psychological resilience (Kärkkäinen, Räty, & Kasanen, 2009). The findings indicated that the parent's perception of their child’s psychological resilience was determined by their child’s success in academic, recreational activities and their own success. A parent’s perception of how resilient their child is can influence how they treat their child in that regard (e.g., 'bubble wrap' or 'tough love'), and how that, in turn, influences a child’s development of psychological resilience (Kärkkäinen, et al., 2009). A further important factor to consider is that youth/adolescence is a trying time for most individuals, with competition of university places, fewer employment opportunities, greater family discord and uncertain financial times, significantly test their coping abilities to survive (Harvey, & Delfabbro, 2004).

The operationalisation of psychological resilience has always been fuzzy. The main reason for this fuzziness in the term is that the research indicates it is that not everyone who experiences or suffers adverse circumstances within childhood or youth, come out with long-term psychological dysfunction (Harvey, et al., 2004). Therefore, more recent research has taken a focus to the prevention and identification of contributors to potential psychological dysfunction (Harvey, et al., 2004).

Adult psychological resilience edit

There has been little known as to the ability of the Western adult demographic to maintain psychological resilience after potentially traumatic events (Bonanno, et al., 2006). There are two distinct categories that adult psychological resilience falls into following a traumatic or disastrous event:

  1. completely resilient individuals and [grammar?]
  2. those who gradually recover (Bonanno, et al., 2006).

However, an adult’s prevalence concerning psychological resilience has been skeptic (Bonanno, et al., 2006)[say what?]. The spectrum of adulthood also includes the demographic of older age (50+), as psychological resilience plays a part in many of our psychological resources such as self esteem, personal competence, perception of control etcetera (Windle, Markland, & Woods, 2008). Psychological resilience can become even more important in the later years of life, as we adjust to psychosocial changes that take place in coping with aging, and the inevitable prospect of death (Windle et al., 2008).

The general notion from research is that if an individual is resilient during adulthood they will be psychological resilience within old age (Windle, et al., 2008; Wingo, et al., 2010). However, this is not always true, as the development of psychological resilience can be a challenge, and does not always come easy to some individuals (Wingo, et al., 2010).

Although many studies have tried to identify the factors that develop psychological resilience, these resources (self esteem, personal competence, perception of control etc.), are to a degree at the mercy of our own personal life experiences, to the extent that they develop adaptability and efficient coping mechanisms (Windle, et al., 2008).

A recent longitudinal study attempted to construct a 'resilience model' following several elementary students in 1998 for the following 10 years (Stanley, P., 2011). The results found numerous influences on the development of psychological resilience, which have also been found in other past studies (Windle, et al., 2008; Wingo, et al., 2010; Stanley, 2011). Positive influences such as personal competence, the ability to adjust, and interpersonal competence were key for adaptive psychological resilience (Stanley, 2011). Moreover, the way that our interconnected systems of support function, and our ability to initiate and maintain relationships with other people that are mutually sustaining and self regulating, is a crucial factor in defining how psychological resilience is developed (Stanley, 2011). This finding boils down to the fact that our life experiences from childhood into adulthood, the choices we make, and their implications impact on how resilient we become (Stanley, 2011).

How these factors can be extrapolated into daily life edit

Numerous research done over the years has indicated that positive emotions are associated with health (physical and psychological), employment, family and socio-economic status, as positive psychology boosts psychological resilience (Kobau et al. 2011). Positive psychology focuses on 'what is right with people', enhancing their positive attributes to help them cope as an individual in the social community (Kobau et al., 2011).

Psychological resilience is based in both Western and Eastern philosophy, where positive emotions, positive traits, positive relationships and experiences, that foster these outcomes have been a pursuit for all individuals, for psychological resilience, for those moments where adverse events occur from out of nowhere (Kobau, et al., 2011). Nurturing positive mental health is a source of everyday living, regardless of diverse sociodemographics (Kobau, et al., 2011). Positive affect and negative affect are two polar opposites (Wichers, Jacobs, Derom, Thiery, & Van Os, 2007). Positive emotions (positive affect) broaden an individual’s attention, drawing it away from negative stressors within the environment, leading to greater focus on the positive (Wichers, et al., 2007).

A 2007 study of female adult twins, comprising of a sample of both monozygotic and dizygotic twins, found that an individual’s positive or negative affect to a situation can influence their susceptibility to coping with life stressors (Wichers, et al., 2007). In other words, when you cannot find your car keys and are running late in the morning, when you had a horrible day at work or feel bogged down in all your academic work, pull out a piece of paper and write a list. For example, a list of what is positive waiting for you when you get home? Or what occasion is near that you have been counting down to? The idea is to challenge the negative affect and nurture the positive affect. It could be as little as snuggling up in bed with a book or playing your favourite bands music in your car. Having hope is an essential factor for the persistence and strength of psychological resilience, the mere hope towards something better has been found to strengthen psychological resilience(Wichers, et al., 2007; Lloyd, & Hastings, 2009). However, challenging your thoughts is not always an easy or effective method for some individuals.

Another past study of monozygotic twins looked at the effect physical exercise had on improving the coping mechanisms for stressful events (Johnson, & Krueger, 2006). Exercise has long been associated with positive psychological benefits. This 2006 study showed that vigorous physical exercise by one of the monozygotic twins increased that twin’s optimism; they developed a greater perception of control, positive mood change and positive changes in their interpersonal aspects of their personality (Johnson, et al., 2006). Exercising, can be as little as going for a walk around the block. It allows your mind a chance to rest, allows your body a chance to vent, and gives you as a person air to breathe, and let out any pent up stress. It is a beneficial and positive out let.

As shown there is extensive support for positive emotions being good for your physical and psychological health, as certain positive emotion traits can develop due to exposure to positive events, leading to greater psychological resilience to adverse events and positive emotional granularity (the tendency to represent experiences of positive emotions with precision and specificity) (Tugade, Fredrickson, & Barrett, 2004).

Laughter and humour have also been associated with increased positive emotions in those with chronic diseases, leading to longevity and better recovery (Tugade, et al., 2004). Finding the humour in a situation and recognising those things that make you smile within everyday life can benefit your well-being. Up to the present day, research has continued to research psychological resilience, attempting to develop a theoretical model that can be applied to various individuals instead of just a small cohort (De Terte, Becker, & Stephens, 2009).

A recent study identified the core factors that appear to be associated in the development and strength of an individual’s psychological resilience (De Terte, et al., 2009). This five part model found a relationship between an individual’s cognitions, emotions, behaviours and physical activities within the environment (De Terte, et al., 2009). Within the environment, the factors that can influence this variables affect were found to be family support, community support and societal support (De Terte, et al., 2009).

Examples of resilience training programs edit

[Provide more detail]

BattleSMART edit

One of the fundamentals of being employed in the Australian Defence Force (ADF) is the ability to handle highly dangerous, negative and extreme situations either within a war zone or disaster relief situations. The first world war is one the earliest events where the challenge of psychological resilience and mental health were first put to the test, with the results leading to the recognition of psychological injury as well as physical injury on the battlefield (Murphy, Hodson, & Gallas, 2010). Defence Psychology support concerns not only domestic personnel but deployed personnel. Constant support pre-, during and particularly post-deployment leads to helping identify if an individual needs professional psychological assistance in validating the deployment experience, and gain satisfaction from their role (Murphy, et al., 2010).

In 2002, the Defence Directorate of Mental Health was established to focus on improving resilience training programs, to enhance the coping capabilities of ADF personnel (Cohn, Hodson, & Crane, 2010). Coping is a key ability for an individual to be able to deal with negative external demands, yet no single coping strategy can be used across various stressful situations. Research within the ADF indicates that it is those individuals with a broad range of coping strategies, will display greater psychological resilience before and after the onset of an adverse event (Cohn, et al., 2010).

ADF training has recently begun a resilience training program called BattleSMART (Self Management and Resilience Training), it is a cognitive-behavioural based training where personnel are taught to minimise their arousal to situations, and be able to identify their maladaptive responses and adjust them (Cohn, et al., 2010). The ADF also trains recruits in problem focused strategies, which have led to reports of feeling less emotional distress during negative situations (Cohn, et al., 2010). The reduction of arousal has been positively correlated with less likelihood of posttraumatic stress disorder, and identify whether their initial response to a situation is the best response (Cohn, et al., 2010).

An overview[factual?]
  1. An introduction to the concept of psychological resilience
  2. Examination of an individual’s 'flight or fight' responses and physiological symptoms of stress
  3. Arousal reduction skills are taught
  4. Introduction to coping strategies and their implementation in stressful situations. These coping strategies are taught in four stages:
    1. adaptive physiological response
    2. adaptive way of thinking about the stressful situation
    3. adaptive behaviour
    4. emotion management.

The individuals are taught to 'test' their initial responses to these four areas, and to adjust those responses that are maladaptive. This is the basis of cognitive behavioural therapy - to find evidence that contradicts an initial belief of behaviour.

Wilderness therapy edit

A study[what type?] by Ronalds and Allen-Craig (2008) investigate an alternative education therapy called wilderness therapy. It is a health practice that has only recently emerged, designed to help youth/adolescents over come emotional adjustment, addiction and mental health problems. This study showed significant increases in participants overall life effectiveness from baseline analysis.

Wilderness therapy usually involves the participants interacting with an unfamiliar environment, living with peers, individual and also group therapy sessions, education classes and the application of survival skills such as making fire, constructing a shelter or hiking[factual?]. It helps to improve an individual’s perception of themselves, increase and improve their social skills, and reduce maladaptive relapses (e.g. addiction, crime, violence etc){{fact{{. The renewed confidence of coping in an unfamiliar environment, leads to increased positive levels of psychological resilience when returning to those environments that have been a challenge to the participants in the past[factual?].

Summary edit

Developing, maintaining and understanding psychological resilience up until the present is not an easy task. The concepts in this chapter only scratch the surface of the research into psychological resilience factors and methods of improving it. How we employ psychological resilience and choose to cope has its implications[explain?]. Improve your psychological resilience is a trial and error process. It is a process of trying all the methods out there until you find the one that works for you. We are all individual and psychological resilience has a unique definition for each individual.

See also edit

References edit

Barrett, M.D. (2004). Congress must recognise the need for psychological resilience in an age of terrorism. Family, Systems and Health, 22(1), 64-66. doi:10.1037/1091-7527.22.1.64

Boardman, J.D., Blalock, C.L. & Button, T.M.M. (2008). Sex differences in the heritability of resilience. Twin Research and Human Genetics, 11(1), 12-27

Bonanno, G.A., Galea, S., Bucciarelli, A. & Vlahov, D. (2006). Psychological resilience after disaster: new york city in the aftermath of the september 11th terrorist attack. Psychological Science, 17(3), 181-186

Cohn, A., Hodson, S. & Crane, M. (2010). Resilience training in the australian defence force. The Bulletin of the Australian Psychological Society Limited, pp. 16-17

De Terte, I. & Becker, J. (2009). An integrated model for understanding and developing resilience in the face of adverse events. Journal of Pacific Rim Psychology, 3(1), 20-26

Harvey, J. & Delfabbro, P.H. (2004). Psychological in disadvantaged youth: a critical overview. Australian Psychologist, 39(1), 3-13. doi:10.1080/00050060410001660281

Johnson, W. & Krueger, R.F. (2006). The psychological benefits of vigorous exercise: a study of discordant mz twin pairs. Twin Research and Human Genetics, 10(2), 275-283

Kärkkäinen, R., Räty, H. & Kasanen, K. (2009). Parents’ perception of their child’s resilience and competencies. European Journal of Psychology of Education, 24(3), 405-419

Kobau, R., Seligman, M.E.P., Peterson, C., Diener, E., Zack, M.M., Chapman, D. & Thompson, W. (2011). Improving uptake of essential services: mental health promotion in public health: perspectives and strategies from positive psychology. American Journal of Public Health, 101(8), e1 – e9. doi:10.2105/AJPH.2010.300083

Lloyd, T.J. & Hastings, R. (2009). Hope as a psychological resilience factor in mothers and fathers of children with intellectual disabilities. Journal of Intellectual Disability Research, 53(12), 957-968. doi:10.1111/j.1365-2788.2009.01206.x

Merrit, S. (2007). An aboriginal perspective on resilience: resilience needs to be defined from an indigenous context. Aboriginal & Islander Health Worker Journal, 31(5), 10-12

Murphy, P., Hodson, S. & Gallas, G. (2010). Defence psychology: a diverse and pragmatic role in support of the nation. The Bulletin of the Australian Psychological Society Limited, pp. 8-11.

Pietrzak, R.H., Johnson, C.J., Goldstein, M.B., Malley, J.C. & Southwick, S.M. (2009). Psychological resilience and postdeployment social support protect against traumatic stress and depressive symptoms in soldiers returning from operations enduring freedom and Iraqi freedom. Depression and Anxiety, 26, 745-751

Ronalds, L. & Allen-Craig, S. (2008). Preventing family and educational disconnection through wilderness-based therapy targeting youth at risk. Australians Health Lifestyle Journal, 55(4), 5-14

Stanley, P. (2011). Insights about resilience in emerging adulthood from a small longitudinal study in new zealand. The Australian Educational and Developmental Psychologist, 28(1), 1-14. doi:10.1375/aedp.28.1.1

Tugade, M.M., Fredrickson, B.L. & Barrett, L.F. (2004). Psychological resilience and positive emotional granularity: examining the benefits of positive emotions on coping and health. Journal of Personality, 72(6), 1161 - 1190

Windle, G., Markland, D.A. & Woods, R.T. (2008). Examination of theoretical model of psychological resilience in older age. Aging and Mental Health, 12(3), 285-292. doi:10.1080/13607860802120763

Wingo, A.P., Fani, N., Bradley, B. & Ressler, K.J. (2010). Psychological resilience and neurocognitive performance in a traumatized community sample. Depression and Anxiety, 27, 768-774

Wichers, M., Jacobs, N., Derom, N., Thiery, E. & Van Os, J. (2007). Depression: too much negative affect and too little positive affect? Twin Research and Human Genetics, 10, 19-20.