Factors Related To Psychological Resilience

Studies show that there are several factors which develop and sustain a person’s resilience:

  • The ability to make realistic plans and being capable of taking the steps necessary to follow through with them
  • Confidence in one’s strengths and abilities
  • Communication and problem-solving skills
  • The ability to manage strong impulses and feelings

Resilience is negatively correlated with personality traits of neuroticism and negative emotionality, which represents tendencies to see and react to the world as threatening, problematic, and distressing, and to view oneself as vulnerable. Positive correlations stands with personality traits of openness and positive emotionality, that represents tendencies to engage and confront the world with confidence in success and a fair value to self-directedness[1].

Positive Emotions In Resilience

There is significant research found in scientific literature on the relationship between positive emotions and resilience. Studies show that maintaining positive emotions whilst facing adversity promote flexibility in thinking and problem solving. Positive emotions serve an important function in their ability to help an individual recover from stressful experiences and encounters.

That being said, maintaining a positive emotionality aids in counteracting the physiological effects of negative emotions. It also facilitates adaptive coping, builds enduring social resources, and increases personal well-being.[2]

Formation of conscious perception and monitoring one’s own socioemotional factors is considered as a stability aspect of positive emotions. This is not to say that positive emotions are merely a by-product of resilience, but rather that feeling positive emotions during stressful experiences may have adaptive benefits in the coping process of the individual.

Empirical evidence for this prediction arises from research on resilient individuals who have a propensity for coping strategies that concretely elicit positive emotions, such as benefit-finding and cognitive reappraisal, humor, optimism, and goal-directed problem-focused coping. Individuals who tend to approach problems with these methods of coping may strengthen their resistance to stress by allocating more access to these positive emotional resources. Social support from caring adults encouraged resilience among participants by providing them with access to conventional activities.[3]

Positive emotions not only have physical outcomes but also physiological ones.

Some physiological outcomes caused by humor include improvements in immune system functioning and increases in levels of salivary immunoglobulin A, a vital system antibody, which serves as the body’s first line of defense in respiratory illnesses. Moreover, other health outcomes include faster injury recovery rate and lower readmission rates to hospitals for the elderly, and reductions in a patient’s stay in the hospital, among many other benefits.

A study was done on positive emotions in trait-resilient individuals and the cardiovascular recovery rate following negative emotions felt by those individuals. The results of the study showed that trait-resilient individuals experiencing positive emotions had an acceleration in the speed in rebounding from cardiovascular activation initially generated by negative emotional arousal, i.e. heart rate and the like.

Grit

Grit refers to the perseverance and passion for long-term goals. This is characterized as working persistently towards challenges, maintained effort and interest over years despite negative feedback, adversity, plateaus in progress, or failure.

High grit people view accomplishments as a marathon rather than an immediate goal. High grit individuals display a sustained and focused application of self in problematic situations than less gritty individuals.

Grit affects the effort a person contributes by acting on the importance pathway. When people value a goal as more valuable, meaningful, or relevant to their self-concept they are willing to expend more effort on it when necessary. The influence of individual differences in grit results in different levels of effort-related activity when gritty and less gritty individuals performed the same task.

Grit is associated with differences in potential motivation, one pathway in motivational intensity theory. Grit may also influence an individual’s perception of task difficulty.[4]

Grit was highly correlated with the Big Five conscientiousness trait. Although grit and conscientiousness highly overlap in their achievement aspects, they differ in their emphasis. Grit emphasizes long-term stamina, whereas conscientiousness focuses on short-term intensity.

Grit varies with level of education and age. More educated adults tend to be higher in grit than less educated individuals of the same age.

Post college graduates report higher grit levels than most other education level groups. People with grit had higher levels of education and made fewer career changes than less gritty individuals of the same age. Grit increases with age when education level is controlled for.

In life achievements, grit may be as important as talent. College students at an elite university who scored high in grit also earned higher GPAs than their classmates, despite having lower SAT scores. In a study at the West Point military academy it was found that grit was a more reliable predictor of first summer retention than self-control or a summary measure of cadet quality. Gritty competitors at the Scripps National Spelling Bee outranked other competitors who scored lower in grit, at least partially due to accumulated practice.

Grit may also serve as a protective factor against suicide. A study at Stanford University found that grit was predictive of psychological health and well-being in medical residents.

Gritty individuals possess self-control and regular commitment to goals that allows them to resist impulses, such as to engage in self-harm. Individuals high in grit also focus on future goals, which may stop them from attempting suicide. It is believed that because grit encourages individuals to create and sustain life goals, these goals provide meaning and purpose in life.

Grit alone does not seem to be sufficient, however. Only individuals with high gratitude and grit have decreased suicidal ideation over long periods of time. Gratitude and grit work together to enhance meaning in life, offering protection against death and suicidal thoughts or plans.

Predictors

A study was conducted among high achieving professionals who seek challenging situations that require resilience. Research has examined 13 high achievers from various professions, all of whom had experienced challenges in the workplace and negative life events over the course of their careers but who had also been recognized for their great achievements in their respective fields. Participants were interviewed about everyday life in the workplace as well as their experiences with resilience and thriving.

The study found six main predictors of resilience: positive and proactive personality, experience and learning, sense of control, flexibility and adaptability, balance and perspective, and perceived social support. High achievers were also found to engage in many activities unrelated to their work such as engaging in hobbies, exercising, and organizing meetups with friends and loved ones.

Social Support

Several factors are found to modify the negative effects of adverse life situations. Many studies show that the primary factor for the development of resilience is social support.

While many competing definitions of social support exist, most can be thought of as the degree of access to, and use of, strong ties to other individuals who are similar to one’s self. Social support requires not only that you have relationships with others, but that these relationships involve the presence of solidarity and trust, intimate communication, and mutual obligation both within and outside the family.

Additional factors are also associated with resilience, like the capacity to make realistic plans, having self-confidence and a positive self image, developing communications skills, and the capacity to manage strong feelings and impulses.

Temperament

Temperamental and constitutional disposition is considered as a major factor in resilience. It is one of the necessary precursors of resilience along with warmth in family cohesion and accessibility of prosocial support systems. There are three kinds of temperamental systems that play part in resilience, they are the appetitive system, defensive system and attentional system.[5]

Another protective factor is related to moderating the negative effects of environmental hazards or a stressful situation in order to direct vulnerable individuals to optimistic paths, such as external social support. More specifically a 1995 study distinguished three contexts for protective factors:

  • personal attributes, including outgoing, bright, and positive self-concepts;
  • the family, such as having close bonds with at least one family member or an emotionally stable parent; and
  • the community, such as receiving support or counsel from peers.

Furthermore, a study of the elderly in Zurich, Switzerland, illuminated the role humor plays as a coping mechanism to maintain a state of happiness in the face of age-related adversity.

Besides the above distinction on resilience, research has also been devoted to discovering the individual differences in resilience. Self-esteem, ego-control, and ego-resiliency are related to behavioral adaptation.

For example, maltreated children who feel good about themselves may process risk situations differently by attributing different reasons to the environments they experience and, thereby, avoid producing negative internalized self-perceptions.

Ego-control is “the threshold or operating characteristics of an individual with regard to the expression or containment” of their impulses, feelings, and desires. Ego-resilience refers to “dynamic capacity, to modify his or her model level of ego-control, in either direction, as a function of the demand characteristics of the environmental context”

Maltreated children who experienced some risk factors (e.g., single parenting, limited maternal education, or family unemployment), showed lower ego-resilience and intelligence than nonmaltreated children. Furthermore, maltreated children are more likely than nonmaltreated children to demonstrate disruptive-aggressive, withdraw, and internalized behavior problems. Finally, ego-resiliency, and positive self-esteem were predictors of competent adaptation in the maltreated children.

Certain aspects of religions, spirituality, or mindfulness may, hypothetically, promote or hinder certain psychological virtues that increase resilience. Research has not established connection between spirituality and resilience.

According to the 4th edition of Psychology of Religion by Hood, et al., the “study of positive psychology is a relatively new development…there has not yet been much direct empirical research looking specifically at the association of religion and ordinary strengths and virtues”.[6]

In a review of the literature on the relationship between religiosity/spirituality and PTSD, amongst the significant findings, about half of the studies showed a positive relationship and half showed a negative relationship between measures of religiosity/spirituality and resilience.

[1] John W. Reich; Alex J. Zautra; John Stuart Hall (2012). Handbook of Adult Resilience. Guilford Press. p. 114. ISBN 978-1-4625-0647-7

[2] Fredrickson, B.L.; Branigan, C. (2005). Positive emotions broaden the scope of attention and thought-action repertoires. Cognition & Emotion. 19 (3): 313–332. doi:10.1080/02699930441000238

[3] Luther, Kate (2015). Examining Social Support Among Adult Children of Incarcerated Parents. Family Relations. 64 (4): 505–518. doi:10.1111/fare.12134

[4] Silvia, P.J.; Eddington, K.M.; Beaty, R.E.; Nusbaum, E.C.; Kwapil, T.R. (2013). Gritty people try harder: grit and effort-related cardiac autonomic activity during an active coping challenge. J Int J Psychophysiol. 88 (2): 200–205. doi:10.1016/j.ijpsycho.2013.04.007

[5] Derryberry, Douglas; Reed, Marjorie A.; Pilkenton-Taylor, Carolyn (14 November 2003). Temperament and coping: Advantages of an individual differences perspective. Development and Psychopathology. 15 (4): 1049–1066. doi:10.1017/s0954579403000439

[6] Hood, R., Hill, P., Spilka, B., (2009) The psychology of religion, 4th edition: An empirical approach. New York: The Guilford Press, ISBN 1606233920