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Resilience can be defined as the process of adapting well in the face of adversity, trauma, tragedy, threats, or significant sources of stress. These sources of stress could be in the form of relationship difficulties, serious health problems, workplace issues, or even financial stressors. Some people would define resilience as ‘bouncing back’ from these experiences because these difficult experiences can allow us to develop on a more personal level.
Research has shown that resilience can impact our health and well-being; and if after illness, we are able to return to a ‘normal’ state of health and well-being then this can indicate quite a strong resilience. A resilient nature can help an individual to seek support for both physical and mental health issues and this could allow a quicker rate of recovery in some cases.
It has also been suggested that resilience can be developed in childhood, and the amount of resilience developed can be dependent upon the attachments developed as a child. If a child has developed a more secure attachment with a primary caregiver (for example, a mother, father, or parental figure) then this will allow the child to develop effective coping strategies when being faced with challenging situations as they will be aware of the support around them. However, if the attachment between the child and primary caregiver is less strong (such as an avoidant or anxious attachment type) then this means that the child may not be able to fully develop coping mechanisms that relate to resilience.
While attachment can be seen as an important factor in developing resilience, personality can also be a key factor to consider too. David Funder defined personality as an individual’s characteristic pattern of thought, emotion, and behaviour, together with the psychological mechanisms, hidden or not, behind those patterns. This means that everything that a person does and how they behave can be influenced by personality in some way, including resilience and resilient behaviours.
One of the most common personality theories is that of the Big 5 and this theory has been heavily researched in the links between personality and resilience. Research has demonstrated that individuals who are more conscientious in nature (so wishing to do your work and duties well even if these duties are difficult) can develop successful skills of being a resilient person. A person who is less conscientious may pay less attention to how well they complete tasks and achieve goals, therefore they may be less prepared when being faced with adverse or difficult circumstances.
The research on the personality construct of extraversion (so how sociable someone is) is a little mixed. Some research has suggested no links between extraversion and resilience whereas other research has suggested a more positive link, with those being more extraverted having more resilient traits. In some ways, it could be suggested that people who are extraverted are more likely to put themselves in situations that could potentially have adverse consequences, such as nights out or being heavily involved in work presentations with large audiences. These adverse or stressful circumstances will allow the extraverted person to develop the skills of coping with the difficult circumstances that are being faced.
The links between personality, resilience and health can be explained by a series of vulnerability models. These models explain how our own personality can interact with any stressful circumstances present in our daily lives and this interaction in turn helps us to cope (or not cope) with those stressful situations. One of the key models which shows links between personality and stressors called the Interactional Stress Model. This model is important as it can help us to see how personality moderates the physiological responses to stressors that can influence the subsequent likelihood of disease. For example, if someone has a more hostile personality trait.
If an individual has a hostile personality trait, then they may not be able to develop sufficient appraisal and coping mechanisms when being faced with a stressful situation. In turn, the individual would present with more negative physiological responses such as a permanently increased heart rate or blood pressure and these physiological responses can then be the cause of illness. If an individual is more resilient to such stressful situations, then they may be able to successfully cope with the stressful situations, reducing the likelihood of physical and mental illness.
So, while personality can be a contributing factor in terms of how resilient someone is, it is not the only factor and is likely not the only concept to define resilience. How an individual copes with adverse and stressful situations, the support that they currently have in place and attachments and current relationships could all be contributing factors to resilience. Resilience is a very complex trait to understand and should be discussed with caution.
Laura Jenkins, PhD is a teaching associate in the School of Sport, Exercise and Health Sciences at Loughborough University.
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