Paula broke her foot in several places. She went from an able bodied person who delighted in walking her son to school every day, teaching, and embarking on a Masters program, to someone who had to figure out how she could reduce her need to travel to the bathroom down the hall.
Going from being an able bodied person, to having to ride a scooter to get three blocks away is a huge adjustment that is hard to really understand unless you’ve had to experience it yourself. Navigating a myriad of challenges such as entrance ramps blocked with construction barriers, handicapped door buttons not working, and other transit riders occupying seats reserved for you can feel overwhelming.
Resilience is that special magic ingredient that gets us through experiences that test us to soldier on when just taking one step is like pulling your boot out of quick sand.
Dr. Michael Ungar, an internationally recognized expert on resilience among youth and families and co-director of the Resilience Research Centre defines resilience as, “…both the capacity of individuals to navigate their way to the psychological, social, cultural, and physical resources that sustain their well-being, and their capacity individually and collectively to negotiate for these resources to be provided in culturally meaningful ways” (retrieved from http://forum.resilienceresearch.org/about-the-rrc/resilience/14-what-is-resilience).
What is it that endows some of us to endure so much, and still manage to push through our darkest hour, when others get overwhelmed?
A large body of research on resilience has focused on examining the protective mechanisms that help children grow despite adversity. Research indicates that experiences such as feeling valued, feeling heard, and having decision-making power over what happens to us, enhance protective factors such as a strong belief system, connection to our environment and community, friendships with supportive peers, and coping and social skills (Pathways to Resilience Project 2007-2015, http://forum.resilienceresearch.org/research/projects/pathways-to-resilience).
We need to be especially resilient when things happen that we don’t expect, like when we experience a loss, or lose the ability to feel independent in a key area of our life, such as in the case of injury or illness.
Paula’s injury gave her the opportunity to reach out and ask other people for support, such as getting friends and neighbors to walk her son to school. In doing so, Paula was doing at least three things that build resilience: 1. Making connections, 2. Avoiding seeing crises as insurmountable, and 3. Taking decisive action (The Road to Resilience, APA, 10 Strategies To Build Resilience, http://www.apa.org/helpcenter/road-resilience.aspx).
When Paula’s son had difficulty adjusting to having others walk with him to school, Paula helped her son overcome his discomfort by supporting his ability to adjust, and highlighting the ways in which her foot injury had given both she and her son an opportunity to accept that change is part of life, and to look for opportunities for self-discovery (The Road to Resilience, APA, 10 Strategies To Build Resilience, http://www.apa.org/helpcenter/road-resilience.aspx).
Life provides us with endless opportunities to adjust our expectations, and deal with unforseen circumstances. At the core of our resilience is our ability to ask for help when we need it, to avoid the viewpoint that crises are insurmountable, and to nurture a positive sense of self.
The Resilience Research Centre, http://forum.resilienceresearch.org/.
The Road to Resilience, http://www.apa.org/helpcenter/road-resilience.aspx.
Masten, A. (2001). Ordinary Magic: Resilience Processes in Development. American Psychologist, Vol. 56(3), 227-238. Retrieved from http://homepages.uwp.edu/crooker/745-resile/articles/Masten-2001.pdf.
Ungar, M. (2007). The Beginnings of Resilience: A View Across Cultures. Education Canada, Summer, pp. 28-38, http://www.mtroyal.ca/cs/groups/public/documents/pdf/pdf_educationcanadaarticleunga.pdf.