Psychology & Theories

Resilience - where it comes from, how to develop it?

This topic is of main importance to me. resilience has helped me overcome many obstacles in my life. We all react differently when facing tough times, and the emotional limit one can handle is totally personal and must be non-judgmental. It may be a break-up, the death of a loved one, the loss of a job, or actually just an impalbable endless malaise. The way we bounce back has usually its roots in our childhood and early stages of life; however, you are not condemned if unfortunately your upbringing did not provide a ‘secure’ attachment, as defined by John Bowlby, or did not create the ground on which you could develop resilience.

Let’s first describe the different types of attachment and the corresponding patterns for a better understanding — secure, avoidant, ambivalent, and disorganized. I will give a brief description of the first three ones since they are the most common types. You will be able to learn more on the attachment theory — a fascinating one to me — in a more detailed article I will write later on.

Attachment Domains

These attachment domains can be applied to individuals, couples and families. They are defined by the way the child or adult explores the environment, relates to individuals, plays, protests and reflects.

Secure — the child typically explores the room and toys with interest on pre-separation episodes. During the separation, the infant misses the parent and shows an obvious preference for the parent over a stranger. When the parent comes back, the child greets him/her actively with physical contact and then settles and returns to play.

Avoidant — the child fails to cry on separation, actively avoids and ignores the parent on reunion. The infant shows no proximity or interest in contact-seeking, seemingly unemotional.

Ambivalent — the child may be distressed before the separation, may appear angry or passive. The infant fails to settle and take comfort in the parent on reunion and doesn’t return to play.

This classification forms the theoretical background to an attachment-based approach to psychotherapy, a viewpoint I strongly believe in. The adult state of mind is based on the emotional behaviour he/she displayed as a child. As I said earlier, they may be modified either by the relationship the child develops with other predominant caregivers at a later stage of life, by therapy of course, and the culture you are in.

The Holding Environment

It is then thought that resilience is a capacity you are able to develop based on your attachment type, the personality you developed as a kid, the way you related to your mother and how she responded to your needs — the ‘good-enough mother’ theory by psychoanalyst D.W.Winnicott. It is also crucial to mention that a child may be secure in a specific cultural environment but avoidant or ambivalent in a foreign one. Why is that? Simply due to the influence a specific culture may have on the secure infant, the exterior image affecting the secure foundations of the child feeling then inadequate and misunderstood. Same for an adult. Therefore, if you do show resilience in an unknown and opposite culture of yours eventually, and you feel it took way more time than initially thought or you were used to in your usual context, this is absolutely understandable.

Your Own Journey

The way life has treated you so far also plays a massive role in your resilience ability. People who had to face a trauma or what your psyche has understood as a trauma are more likely to develop resilience strongly. The tougher the adversity is felt, the stronger your resilience becomes. The way you bounce back is a reflection of your emotional growth at this specific time — absolutely nothing is linear -, and a ‘good-enough’ ground on which you can improve and learn more about your emotional boundaries, how you can overcome hardship.

I personally have had to overcome many obstacles in my life, from the loss of loved ones, loss of a country I am so in love with — England -, divorce, helping cancer-stricken patients and relatives, loss of a family house, etc., that resilience is a main aspect of my life and I do hope I have helped you understand its origins and shown you the road to resilience…

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