Resilience In The Face Of Adversity

flower from cement
“Resilience is not a commodity you are born with, waiting silently on tap. It is self-manufactured painstakingly over time by working through your problems and never giving up, even in the face of difficulty or failure.”

― Lori Myers

A number of people have sent me emails or left comments recently following my posts Just Curious and Estranged? What Is Your ACE (Adverse Childhood Experience) Score which talk about the Adversive Childhood Experiences ACE scale and the potential connection between adversive childhood experiences and family estrangement. After completing the scale and finding their ACE score, some people have found the information quite overwhelming and have asked for some discussion about what sorts of things might provide us with resilience to overcome a higher (4+) ACE score.

I will start this by saying that the ACE website is full of information about the research, the origins of the study, the  implications of the study for participants health and well-being and also about resilience, which may be seen to mediate some of the negative outcomes associated with high ACE scores. I’d really encourage everyone to have a good snoop around.

At the bottom of the page where you find the ACE scale you will also find a 14 item resilience questionnaire, which may help you to identify some of the factors which are known to contribute to people’s ability to move successfully though difficult times. Most of the items on the scale relate to our beliefs about ourselves and also about the presence of significant relationships that may have allowed us to form a view of ourselves as loveable and worthwhile people, despite any adversive experiences we may have had.

Like the actual ACE scale, the resilience scale needs to be carefully considered because:

1. People may not easily identify people or circumstances as building their resilience and may need to be supported to identify and connect with those experiences / relationships.

2. People may not identify with  many of the items which are on the resilience questionnaire and still be quite resilient.

3. We need to be aware of mediating factors upon resilience such as  the 10 factors I discussed in my post Our Journey Is Our Journey. In particular I would stress that a child’s developmental age / stage has significant bearing.

4. We need to understand the role that temperament, the biologically determined aspect of our personality that helps shape responses our to events in the environment and our relationships, plays with developing and maintaining resilience.

5. There are many other factors which promote resilience which are not included on the Resilience Questionnaire including things like:

– The ability to cope with stress effectively and in a healthy manner
– Having good problem-solving skills
– Willingness and confidence to seek help
– Holding the belief that there is something one can do to manage feelings and cope
– The development of emotional self-regulation skills
– Having social support
– Being connected with others, such as extended family or friends
– Self-disclosure to people who are able to hear and validate our suffering
– Spirituality
– Having an identity as a survivor as opposed to a victim
– Helping others
– Finding positive meaning in our adversive experiences

There is a mistaken notion that resilience is something we are born, or not born with; we either have it or we don’t. In reality each of us as human beings have both resilience and vulnerability packaged in our own unique fashion. There are things that we can do to foster our resilience “after the fact”; really anything that we do that increases our resources to cope with or otherwise address the negative aspects of risk or adversity promotes, or builds resilience. Some things that we can work on right now, today, include things like:

– Maintaining supportive, fulfilling relationships with people who affirm our value and our worth
– Learning to look for opportunities for self-discovery after struggle or loss
– Developing our self-confidence in a variety of ways; work, education, sport, creativity etc.
– Learning to see that we have had the capacity to overcome previous challenges and using the information to see our capacity to overcome new challenges or problems
– Recognizing our limitations, what we can and cannot control. Learning to accept things that cannot be changed
– Developing a long-term perspective and learning to see stressful events/relationships in a broader context
– Learning to develop realistic goals and move towards them one step at a time
– Developing the confidence to take decisive actions in adverse situations or difficult relationships
– Making a commitment to practice good self-care,  mind and body, needs and feelings
– Developing a belief that things can and will get better, allowing ourselves to expect good things and being able to enjoy them when they do happen

Estrangement has the capacity to condition a person to be resilient, tolerant, dependable, strong, and capable of so much more than one who knows nothing of it.  It can bring out the very best in us, but also the very worst. There are many things that we can do that build our resilience and capacity to develop and maintain extrodinary relationships. The effort to do so starts with ourselves and our healing. It’s just that simple, and that complex.

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11 Responses to Resilience In The Face Of Adversity

  1. ACE is an unfortunate acronym as it is shared by a quite disagreeable education ‘system’

    I’m saving this to read deeper later. Resiliance in living is something that I learned at about the 7th grade (13 years old). This year of my life tainted the rest of it, or rather how I think of others via societal relationships. My resiliance stems from knowing even at that age that I walk alone. Only I will be able to come to my rescue. Only I can stand up for what I think is right. I am ultimately responsible for my own happiness. I remember the moment, the exact moment, when I turned into a man from the boy I was… when all I had learned till then stopped being a lesson I once learned and suddenly, like a stab in the heart, it all became my world view. I have walked alone ever since.

    Take from that what you will but I have a suspicion that when a person finds that epiphany it becomes impossible to do other than walk alone… no matter who still surrounds you in life.


    • Fiona says:

      Thanks much for sharing your comment and thoughts. 13 years is a tender age to grasp the immensity of alone-ness. I wasn’t aware of the overlap in acronyms – there’s so many of them I lose track!

      Your comment illustrates the diversity of resilience as a concept or idea. Resilence is something of a social construct as much as a psychological one, and as such it is heavily influenced by ideas / ideals held by the social / vocal majority. In the instance of resilience this includes things like social community, interpersonal relationships and “positivity thinking”. Like other social constructs, they need to be tempered with an awareness that people have different ways of moving through the world that aren’t necessarily contingent upon the ideals associated with the term. For instance, I’d say the ability to develop a significant relationship with ourself, that allows us a view that we are loveable and worthwhile people, despite any adversive experiences we may have had – is equal to having an external person /community affirm that for us.

      Also back to my comments about the role of individual temperament; some people find it easier to “walk alone” than others and they build their lives and relationships accordingly. It’s important not to lump people and their capacity to accomodate stressors into simple packages. We’re complex beings. The important thing is – are we making it though, does our life have meaning (to us), do we have the capacity for something resembling satisfaction and joy? That too is resilience.

      Lots to think about and I appreciate your challenge to over simplified ideas about resilience, and anything else that matters.



      • I deeply enjoy the introspection that your writing stings into my days…
        I guess I might have implied accidentally that everyone should do as I do or does do. I know that simply is not true… that is what I did and how I view what I did. It’s more a view of myself than everyone as a group, and how I view myself. An introspective look at my introspective self 😉
        Recursion as justification, perhaps.


      • Fiona says:

        I’m glad my writing brings something to you – really it’s that sort of feedback that keeps me writing at all.

        I wasn’t meaning to imply that you were lumping people into simplified packages – more that the social constructions of resilience do. This also validates the place for my sort of professionals; therapists, counselors and so forth, to walk along side of people while they consider these ideas; advsersive experiences, resilience, risk factors, protective factors etc. Perhaps a skillful therapist is better able to facilitate the unpacking of the ideas in such a way as to build further resourcefulness and personal insight, rather than having people take a quick peek at them, and dismiss them out of hand. My task as I see it is to introduce opportunities to think, to challenge ourselves and our currently held beliefs and facilitate opportunities for us to feel better and do better. People may or may not agree with what I write, but if it gets them thinking, my work is done 🙂


      • You got me thinking! I had never considered my ‘position’ in life as some ‘thing’ with descriptions and symptoms et al. It is just how I am, even though I know it is not how others are. I am becoming aware of what pains go with it that I was not aware of nor would have been aware of…. not pains for me, but those that would otherwise be in my life as much as they could.


      • Fiona says:

        Ah ha! And there again is something else to consider – not only how we move through the world but how the way that we move may impact on relationships with those we care about. Another layer of complexity, when we care.


      • sadly, perhaps, I’m learning quite late… but learning.


  2. Pingback: A Respone: Resilience In The Face Of Adversity | myatheistlife

  3. Tarnished says:

    This was a pretty interesting test, I’d never seen it before. My ACE score was 8/10 and my Resilience score was 10/14. I was saddened to see just how many high numbers of ACE there were in your poll…It’s one of those things you are both “relieved” you’re not alone in while simultaneously wishing you were, because that would mean other boys and girls didn’t suffer like you did. :/


  4. Smart Smiling Loving Life says:

    Fiona- your words about resilience have much wisdom. I read the piece with great interest. I especially liked :” “There are many things that we can do that build our resilience and capacity to develop and maintain extraordinary relationships. ”

    I feel bullish when I read about resilience, so lately I have been reading biographies of people who demonstrated it. If you read “Jack Kennedy Elusive Hero” by Chris Matthews, you’ll read about how resilience may have been the reason that US President John F Kennedy successfully negotiated a treaty to ban the testing of nuclear weapons in the atmosphere by the USA and USSR. Kennedy endured chronic back pain and had severe health issues throughout his life, which at times were life threatening.

    “…David Ormsby-Gore, the British Ambassador in Washington, traced Kennedy’s determination to secure the treaty and his courage in pursuing it to his good friend’s biography. “With all human beings, one of the things that gives confidence is to have been in extreme peril and come well out of it, perhaps on some occasions to have been near death and come back from the brink. I have always noticed that people who have that kind of experience have a sort of calm; not quite detachment from life, but a calm attitude to anything that life can throw at them, which is rather significant. Of course, he had the experience on more than one occasion of being faced by death. ” (Matthews 384) Kennedy, June 1963: “The problems of man are man-made; they can be solved by man. And man can be as big as he wants. No problem of human destiny is beyond human beings. Man’s reason and spirit have often solved the seemingly unsolvable-and we believe they can do it again.” (Matthews 377)

    Cheers to you Fiona, and cheers to resilience!


  5. Karen says:

    I’m revisiting this subject as well. My score was low when it came to the resilience questionnaire, yet despite that I still believe that I’m fairly resilient.

    I recognize some of the other factors that you delineate under number 5 that I believe have helped promote some resilience. It’s what I believe about myself and not necessarily what my family would ever agree with. I know some of the therapists that I worked with did feel that I was strong. I struggle with some of these and am better at some than others. From the list I feel that I have good problem-solving skills, also a willingness to seek and ask for help and follow-through. I do and have tried to help others, although I experience feeling not appreciated and that tends to undermine my desire to help people. I strongly identify as a survivor and feel that I have developed good emotional self-regulation skills. I also try to find meaning from my adverse experiences.

    I am also spiritual, however I feel that spirituality is an intensely private matter, so I don’t tend to share and I resent and feel downright hostile towards people who try to recruit me into their way of thinking–faith based cults.

    I do struggle with some of the others and I’ve had the greatest difficulty finding appropriate and good social support or feeling connected to others, although I do have one pretty remarkable relationship with someone who does understand. I tend to relish being alone even more now than what I used too. I crave privacy and feel that it is a way to be self-nurturing (not selfish). I’m so much more productive when I’m alone and can usually get a lot done when people are not there to distract me.

    It’s funny, but initially I feel that seeking solitude was a way for me to get away from crazy-making people and to reduce the tension in my life from exposure to them. I saw it more as an escape mechanism, avoidance and a way to cope. I view it now as necessary and as total love–giving myself love, space and a commitment to self-nurturing what you express as, “Making a commitment to practice good self-care, mind and body, needs and feelings”.

    I haven’t had the best experiences with self-disclosure–finding “people who are able to hear and validate our suffering”. I’ve felt a great deal of pain and sense of isolation in that regard and that relates to how much I can struggle to hold on to good feelings, to manage and cope, especially when I feel overwhelmed or tired. I feel that I go along at times feeling strong and centered and then WHAMMO I’m in crisis and struggling. I used to feel that I had an ability to cope with stress, but now not so much. I’m not feeling so good in that way and I’m finding it a real challenge to regulate my moods. Maybe I’m being overly harsh with myself too because the stress that I’ve had to cope with has been unbearable.

    I’m glad that you wrote this article. I’ll remember it and re-read it because it is helpful. All of your articles are helpful, although I tend to gravitate to the articles on self-care because I need it and it tends to resonate the most for me now and especially so when I’m struggling. This article makes me realize how far I’ve come and how much that I’ve done to foster that resilience. It gives me more hope that I can do it again, although in all honesty I do still have my struggles.


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