Resilience is a remarkable construct – an overarching metaphor that touches on the arenas of stress, neural plasticity, emotional health, recovery, healing, mental illness, adaptation, defendedness, and therapy. It is relevant to everyone in most every role and regardless of age: teachers, therapists, youth workers, parents, support workers, etc. Fresh understandings are coming to the fore as we glean more working knowledge of the brain as well as the nature of emotion. The implications for working with children are profound, never mind the implications for dealing with stress in our own lives and in the lives of our loved ones.
One of the most challenging and crucial questions of our time is why some bounce back from adversity, seemingly unscathed, while others fall apart and become emotionally distraught and dysfunctional. Once upon a time and not too long ago, the dominant idea regarding stress is that it is what happened to us that told the story. Sexual abuse had its consequences. Trauma had its crippling effects. Divorce had its fallout. Stress, if sufficient enough, would lead to our undoing. The corollary to this idea is that good experiences (or the absence of adversity) would ultimately lead to emotional health and well-being. It turns out that neither hypothesis holds water. There are too many exceptions to create a rule in either case.
What has become apparent is that it is not what happens to us - good or bad - that explains how we are ultimately affected, but rather something about ourselves that sets the stage for the story that unfolds. But what is this something? Do some have this prerequisite ‘something’ and others not? Or does everyone possess this ‘something’ but it somehow needs to be activated for the potential to be realized?
The pieces of the puzzle are finally coming together and the answer is in this remarkable human attribute called ‘resilience’ or the ability to bounce back. Resilience is the ultimate good news story - that stress in itself is not the enemy and that we need not be brought down by the circumstances in our lives. After years of mistaken focus on the stress part of the equation, the focus is now on uncovering the keys that can unlock the amazing human potential to grow through adversity, to thrive under duress, and to bounce back from trauma.
Resilience is probably the most important topic of our time. It holds the answers to emotional health and well-being, to mental illness, to healing and recovery, to prevention, to addiction, and much more. Resilience is not only the best overall prevention but also the best focus for intervention. Resilience should be everyone’s concern, not only the medical and helping professionals, but also educators, parents, and society at large. Resilience is about ourselves and those we are responsible for.
The implications are profound. Instead of treating trauma, disorder and illness, we should be focused on restoring the capacity for resilience. Instead of worrying about what will befall ourselves, or our children, nurturing resilience becomes our best insurance for their well-being in a world that we cannot control.
So where does resilience come from and how are we to make sense of it? The answers lie surprisingly in fresh understandings of emotion, relationship, feelings, play and rest. These pivotal factors have unfortunately been eclipsed by the current prevailing focus on symptoms, syndromes and stress, as well as problem behaviour and dysfunction. The incredible story of emotional health and well-being is not about what has happened to us but rather about what hasn’t happened within us.
The construct of resilience, once truly understood, is universal in its application. We all face adversity; no one is immune. Knowing how to foster resilience and recovery should be one of our main conceptual tools for taking care of ourselves and those who depend upon us.
While the focus is on children, the knowledge of resilience has universal application. No person, parent or teacher should be without these understandings. But neither should any helping professionals, as this knowledge informs the helping relationship. As such, it is highly recommended for therapists, social workers, psychologists, counsellors, family workers, physicians, nurses and therapists.
- what resilience looks like when distilled to its essence
- the three tell-tale signs of optimal functioning
- the role of true rest in resilience
- the difference between feelings and emotions and why we need to feel our emotions
- the three personal keys that unlock one’s innate potential for resilience
- how to make sense of the typical stress response
- the limitations of Selye’s construct of stress
- resilience as an example of emotion taking care of us
- how true resilience differs from the kind of pseudo-resilience often touted by experts or found in the research
- understanding the essence of stress and recognizing it despite the diversity of experience
- the common impact of adversity and how it can be circumvented
- the tell-tale signs of emotional hardening often mistaken for resilience
- an update on Walter Canon’s ‘flight-fight’ response
- the complicated role of attachment in stress and resilience
- the surprising role of true play in resilience
- how child-centered parenting can backfire, resulting in reflected fragility rather than reflected strength
Session One - The Keys to True Resilience
There are many pieces to the puzzle of resilience. Before we can truly make sense of resilience, we first need to understand what optimal functioning looks like as well as what the personal attributes or characteristics are that enable such functioning. These understandings provide the foundational knowledge, not only for discerning who is most at risk for becoming undone in the face of adversity, but also for what we can do to unlock this remarkable bounce-back capacity in ourselves, our loved ones, our students and our clients.
Session Two - Making Sense of Stress
To make sense of resilience, we first of all have to understand the nature and impact of stress. Outdated concepts of stress, including Walter Canon’s century-old construct of the fight-flight response, need to be replaced by new insights that have come our way via attachment theory as well as the neuroscience of emotion. The typical stress response is in many ways the polar opposite of resilience, so understanding the former can shed important light on the latter. Included in this session is a discussion of mock resilience or emotional ‘hardening’, which is often confused by the ‘experts’ and in the research literature with true resilience.
Session Three - Resilience as the Handiwork of Emotion
New insights of emotion have turned previous understandings on its head. Neuroscience has revealed that all emotion has purpose, and moreover, important work to do. There could be no more important work than that of recovery and resilience. In this session we map out the emotional journey of resilience, from the antecedent emotional let-downs to the coveted bounce backs. Rather than being the enemy that we need to keep at bay, emotion turns out to be our best bet for taking care of us when facing adversity.
Session Four - How Safe Relationship can Support Resilience
It’s been known for some time that relationship serves a significant role in the story of resilience. But what right relationship looks like and how it serves resilience has been something of a mystery. Once the keys for unlocking resilience are known and the emotional journey of resilience is mapped out, the role of relationship becomes abundantly clear. These understandings have profound implications for intervention, whether it be at home, at school, or in the therapeutic setting.
Session Five - How True Play Sets the Stage for Resilience
If there is any unexpected surprise in the story of resilience, it is the role of play. Most of what we call play is not true play, so knowing its essence is key to making sense of the relationship. Recent breakthroughs from a number of academic traditions have converged on play and playfulness as being surprisingly effective in setting the stage for the emotional journey of resilience. Understanding the relationship of play to resilience can also shed light on such mysterious findings as, for example, that schools with choirs have the highest ratings of emotional well-being in their students. This material will also explain why we all need to play, no matter what our age may be.
This new course will be taught in five separate sessions in a live, online format by Dr. Neufeld in October 2017. The tuition fee for Making Sense of Resilience is $125. There is no accompanying DVD for this course.
Heather Ferguson is currently in a 2 year faculty internship with Dr. Neufeld. She brings warmth, compassion and heartfelt understanding to the challenges of raising children in today’s world. She draws from her personal as well as professional experience to support parents and professionals in making sense of the children in their care.