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Description: How is it that some people who experience traumatic events seem to do better in the long run than others? Decades ago Emmy Werner conducted a huge study on the island of Kauai in Hawaii (beginning in 1955) which ran for 32 years and which looked at the life experiences of every child born on the island within the first few years of the study (following them into adulthood). Of those who experienced social problems associated with poverty, abuse and alcoholism many showed negative developmental outcomes (not surprisingly) BUT about a third of the children in that group grew up to become effective, competent, well-adjusted adults. What was the difference? Well that’s where Werner made one of her biggest contributions to developmental psychology by investigating and talking about factors associated with resilience. Things like intelligence and social skill predicted resilience as did the presence in a child’s life of an adult (other than their parents) who took a positive, warm interest in the child and his or her development.  In more recent years other researchers have looked more deeply into the question of what contributes to residence not just in children but in adults who experience traumatic events such as political imprisonment, living under a repressive regime or being drawn into a cult. Their work has usefully broadened our understanding of what makes for resilience. Think about what you might imagine contributes to resilience in human adults and then read the article linked below.

Source: I put myself in standby mode: What makes a survivor? Tony Andrews, Mental health, The Guardian.

Date: January 7, 2017

Photo Credit:  Michael Danner for the Guardian

Links:  Article Link —

The bottom line seems to be that resilience in adults involves adopting an adaptive mental attitude towards one’s life circumstances whether it involves not buying into the situation and the psychological havoc it is pressing upon you or finding ways to ascribe a narrative (story) of meaning to your situation. The mindful activity of meaning making can help us to find a personally beneficial balance between personal forbearance, social support, and planfullness to move towards coping and adjusting within and beyond the moments of the traumatic situation or event.  The old belief that trials can make us stronger (or can develop our character) may actually be supported by recent observations and research in this area.

Questions for Discussion:

  1. What is resilience?
  2. What factors contribute to resilience in children? How about in adults?
  3. Given the factors that seem to contribute to resilience in adults what might researchers, clinical psychologists, teachers and parents do to increase the likelihood that children will grow up to be resilient (when they need to be) adults?

References (Read Further):

Werner, E. E. (1989). High-risk children in young adulthood: a longitudinal study from birth to 32 years. American journal of Orthopsychiatry, 59(1), 72.

Werner, E. E. (1992). The children of Kauai: Resiliency and recovery in adolescence and adulthood. Journal of Adolescent Health, 13(4), 262-268.

Werner, E. E. (1997). Vulnerable but invincible: high‐risk children from birth to adulthood. Acta Paediatrica, 86(S422), 103-105.

Rak, C. F., & Patterson, L. E. (1996). Promoting resilience in at-risk children. Journal of Counseling and Development: JCD, 74(4), 368.

Ryff, C. D., Love, G. D., Essex, M. J., & Singer, B. (1998). Resilience in adulthood and later life. In Handbook of aging and mental health (pp. 69-96). Springer US.

Reich, J. W., Zautra, A. J., & Hall, J. S. (Eds.). (2010). Handbook of adult resilience. Guilford Press.

Ryff, C. D., Friedman, E. M., Morozink, J. A., & Tsenkova, V. (2012). Psychological resilience in adulthood and later life: Implications for health. Annual Review of Gerontology and Geriatrics, 32(1), 73-92.