Tool Module: Resilience
long believed that any child who lived through terrible experiences would grow
into a troubled adult. But now we know that this is not necessarily the case.
Some children can even emerge stronger from such experiences. Such children are
described as “resilient”.
The concept of
resilience comes from physics, where it refers to a material’s
ability to return to its original form after being subjected to a shock or to
heavy pressure. Thus the hull of a submarine is considered resilient if it can
withstand the considerable pressures to which it is subjected underwater but return
to its original shape when it returns to the surface.
the first English-language studies in which the concept of resilience appeared
were published by American psychologist Emmy Werner in the 1960s. Werner had gone
to Hawaii to assess the development of children who had neither schools nor families
and lived in great poverty, exposed to disease and violence. She followed these
children for 30 years. At the end of that time, 70% of these individuals were
in very bad shape, but the other 30% could read and write, had learned a trade,
and had established a home.
Werner used the term “resilience”
to designate the ability that these individuals had shown to develop successfully
in environments that should have harmed their development. Resilience not only
enables such individuals to withstand the pressures to which they are subject,
but quite often to bounce back and turn their past traumas to good advantage.
This ability also helps them to maintain good health and to resist illness—mental
illness in particular.
The word “resilience” comes from the
Latin resalire, which means “to jump again”. Thus resilient
people “jump again”, but instead of coming down in the same place
as if nothing had happened, they land a bit to one side or the other, so that
they can keep moving forward. To say they are resilient does not mean that they
are invulnerable. It means that they know how to get on with their lives despite
their injuries and without becoming fixated on them.
A pattern has been
detected among children who have been traumatized but develop the trait of resilience.
They are children who have acquired a “primitive confidence” during
the first year of their lives, so that it is as if they can tell themselves “I
have been loved, so I am lovable, so I will keep up my hope of meeting someone
who will help me resume my development.” These children live with grief
but continue to relate to other people. If they are given opportunities to catch
up and to express themselves, a high proportion (90 to 95%), will become resilient.
These opportunities may include activities that let them be creative or test themselves,
such as scouting, studying for an exam, planning a trip, or learning how to be
useful. Their ability to express their inner resources can be greatly facilitated
if a guardian or other adult reaches out to them and helps to reignite their self
Social involvement can also be a formidable factor contributing
to resilience. For example, women who have been raped often volunteer for organizations
that help rape victims. They do not talk about themselves, but instead talk to
women like themselves.
Boris Cyrulnik, the author who pioneered the concept
of resilience in France, writes: “The embers of resilience are present in
everyone. If we can blow on them properly, then children who have been battered
and bruised, whose development has been smothered by grief, mistreatment, or the
atrocities of war, can come out of their ‘psychic agony’ and get their
lives back on track.” Many research teams around the world are now beginning
to discover the extent of the phenomenon of resilience, this previously unsuspected
power to take back control over one’s own life.