I’m so excited to host you for another episode. Just to recap, Sharon was a guest in the early days on Episode 6 where we discuss RAGE and again on Episode 39 where we dive into a discussion of money. Which also ends up kind of being about rage.
When I began to gather research on resilience for our discussion today, I ended up with more questions than answers. The biggest one being, do we try to adopt resilience in the hopes of bypassing being effected? I’m excited to muse on some answers with Sharon, but first, as always a little research.
Now there’s no denying that resilience, is a great skill to have. I like the definition of resilience from the Resilience Research Center. “In the context of exposure to significant adversity, resilience is both the capacity of individuals to navigate their way to the psychological, social, cultural, and physical resources that sustain their well-being, and their capacity individually and collectively to negotiate for these resources to be provided in culturally meaningful ways.”
They add, “This definition shifts our understanding of resilience from an individual concept, popular with western-trained researchers and human services providers, to a more relational understanding of well-being embedded in a social-ecological framework. Understood this way, resilience requires individuals have the capacity to find resources that bolster well-being, while also emphasizing that it’s up to families, communities and governments to provide these resources in ways individuals value. In this sense, resilience is the result of both successful navigation to resources and negotiation for resources to be provided in meaningful ways.”
Research shows that resilience is not a fixed character attribute, but a skill that can be worked on and improved. Also true is that some people are more resilient than others - we’ve seen this very clearly in children - more on that in a minute, but generally research knows less about this difference. But since resilience is defined as how we adapt to stress and adversity, I think it is within reason to assume that people who have greater access to resiliency can tolerate a greater amount of stress and this tolerance relies on our fight or flight response. This question was recently addressed in a study by Dr. Marcus Grueschow et al from the University of Zurich. Dr. Grueschow and colleagues studied the stress response of a group of medical students before and after completing Emergency Room internships. Prior to beginning their ER internships participants were given a task that required them to process conflicting information. Conflict tasks activate the locus sue-rule-e-us -norepinephrine (LC-NE) system, a region of the brain associated with regulating our response to stress and resolving conflict. Interesting to note that the intensity of LC-NE activation -- often referred to as the "firing rate" -- varies from person to person.
Results showed that participants with a higher LC-NE responsivity showed more symptoms of anxiety and depression following their emergency room internships.
The results of this study have enabled scientists to isolate an objective neurobiological measure that can predict a person's stress response to be used as an indicator for resiliency. "Having an objective measure of a person's ability to cope with stress can be very helpful, for example when it comes to choosing a profession. Or it could be applied in stress resilience training with neuro-feedback," Marcus Grueschow explains.
When it comes to kids and resiliency, we know more about the why. Studies dating back to 2015 acknowledge that children exposed to the same trauma and stressful situations display varying levels of resiliency.
Here are some of the findings:
Resilience is born from the interplay between internal disposition and external experience. It derives from supportive relationships, adaptive capacities, and positive experiences.
- We can see and measure resilience in terms of how kids’ brains, immune systems, and genes all respond to stressful experiences.
- There is a common set of characteristics that predispose children to positive outcomes in the face of adversity:
- The availability of at least one stable, caring, and supportive relationship between a child and an adult caregiver.
- A sense of mastery over life circumstances.
- Strong executive function and self-regulation skills.
- The supportive context of affirming faith or cultural traditions.
- Learning to cope with manageable threats to our physical and social well-being is critical for the development of resilience.
- Some children demonstrate greater sensitivity to both negative and positive experiences.
- Resilience can be situation-specific.
- Positive and negative experiences over time continue to influence a child’s mental and physical development. Resilience can be built; it’s not an innate trait or a resource that can be used up.
- People’s response to stressful experiences varies dramatically, but extreme adversity nearly always generates serious problems that require treatment.
To touch on that last piece, what is hard to find stated anywhere is that in certain situations, resiliency is weird and not the expected or reasonable response. And this has me asking a lot of questions about dissociation and repression, etc. Where are the longitudinal studies of people who exhibit high resiliency immediately following a tragic life event? Do they continue to be resilient? Are we seeing resiliency in absence of trauma, which is not actual resiliency, but could be delusion? Do people exhibiting strong resiliency immediately following a tragic event experience a trauma response later as often can happen with PTSD? Like I said I have so many questions. In circumstances of extreme tragedy, think war, mass shooting, or terrorist attack, a trauma response is the norm. That’s not to say that one cannot also be resilient. I imagine many of us are in awe of the resiliency of the Ukrainian people, while also acknowledging that it is impossible to be unaffected by war. They are both resilient and traumatized.
But when something like resiliency is given a top 5 ways to improve click bait, do we really understand what it actually is? This is my big question and my big beef as to how we approach skill building in response to grief, trauma, anxiety and anger. Have Americans dug deep into the activities of resilience building because we think it will prevent us from being so effected? I think the answer to this question is probably yes. When in reality resiliency helps, but the most incredibly resilient person in the world can still not bypass a deeply traumatic. Resilience is not a solution, but a tool. And I think this is a critical distinction. And by all means, yes, do the things to improve your resilience. The Greater Good Science Center suggests shifting your narrative of the experience through expressive writing, facing your fears, practicing self-compassion, meditating, and cultivating forgiveness. Um okay. Sure.
Thank you for being here.
Listen to this episode here.