People often wonder what helps someone overcome and grow versus staying stuck in a trauma trap. There are many protective factors that contribute to our success, but each has their own journey and story as to what worked, at a certain point in their life.
Much of the research points to the primary factor in resilience as having caring and supportive relationships within and outside the family. Relationships help create environments of love and trust, provide positive role models, and offer encouragement and reassurance to help a person thrive.
There are several additional factors that are associated with resilience, which include the capacity to make realistic plans and take steps to carry them out, a positive view of yourself and confidence in your strengths and abilities, skills in communication and problem solving and the capacity to manage strong feelings and impulses. When thinking about resilience at Women Wonder Writers, our literary and cultural arts mentoring organization, we discuss it in terms of categories, which include hope, self-esteem, personal skills, peer/family support and empathy.
In building hope, it is important to have positive social-emotional experiences and do things that have a cathartic effect on you. Knowing your purpose in life and believing things will get better in life, especially if you are in a challenging situation, are also critical to having hope. Never lose hope.
Self-esteem involves encompassing a positive view of yourself and efficacy involves building confidence in your strengths and abilities. Self-esteem encompasses feeling worthy of being at least on an equal plane with others, having self-respect, and feeling capable of learning. At Women Wonder Writers, we encourage our teachers to help youth achieve small wins, such as writing a poem or painting a self-portrait. The youth start believing the once “unattainable” is now possible. Even for adults, setting and achieving SMART goals that are specific, measurable, achievable, relevant and time-bound, can help boost self-esteem.
Skills that help build resilience include gaining motivation toward reaching personal, academic or professional goals, sticking to and accomplishing goals, working through problems, not getting too discouraged by setbacks, and following through on projects, including long-term ones. Personal skills also encompass building skills in communication, expression and problem solving along with the ability to manage strong feelings and impulses. At Women Wonder Writers, we use the talking circles as a healthy means of communicating and to build familiarity with restorative circles to help resolve conflict.
Peer and family support also boosts our resilience because it is important to have a safe, caring and encouraging place to go to, a place we can express ourselves and feel accepted by others, and have positive role-models. For example, at Women Wonder Writers, youth are invited to a caring environment and welcomed by a caring instructor. The first three weeks focus on “welcome” and “rapport building” lessons for youth to connect with their cohort over the following 12 weeks.
Empathy is the final component of resilience that Women Wonder Writers focuses on and measures including helping and advocating for others, promoting social justice, treating others with respect, accepting those who are different from us, and feeling for others when they get their feelings hurt. Women Wonder Writers focuses on advocacy projects, such as mixed-media story boards that promote awareness to topics that are important to the youth, such as domestic violence, bullying, suicide awareness and sex-trafficking.
Although there is no one-fits-all recipe for resilience, each has their own individual blend that serves them at certain point in their life. Developing protective factors throughout life, especially when struggling through stressful events, is critical to resilience. And through it all, remember, there is always hope.