Ranjana was devastated when her ‘normal’ and bright young son’s plane crashed during war time and he died. Her life was finished she had decided.
Ranjana had two sons- one was mentally retarded and hence dependent on her for all times and another one that grew up to become a bright lad who joined the Air Force to become a fighter pilot. She was a proud mother of the youth and a devoted mother to the MR youth who followed her around the house. Her husband was a retired executive who was dedicated to the family and shared the responsibilities. She lost her darling son (on whom she had pinned all her hopes) during the Bangladesh war while fighting and as he became a martyr, Ranjana lost her mind then. She would get violent, angry with no one in particular, slid into melancholy on the reverse and not eat and bathe for days. She went through a rough patch for several months, almost a year, before she surfaced again with a new hope and energy. The idea was initiated by her husband who brought home an intelligent but poor young child from the neighbourhood slums and requested his wife to tutor him at home in some subjects. That is how the process of rehabilitation started for Ranjana where she took up the task and slowly more poor children walked into her home happily for tutoring. Her husband opened up his big hall for them and brought in a blackboard and other pictorial charts for learning. It became a small private free school for the poor children and Ranjana began to laugh with them and enjoy the process of serving the under-privileged. After many months the family heard laughter and joy in the house. I met the family when she was again a happy person and had put the loss of her dear son behind her. I admired her for her ‘resilience’ and compassionate mission.
This story will echo with many parents who have suffered the loss of a dear child or a dear family member and have struggled to ‘rise from the ashes’ to live life again in a meaningful way with some purpose.
Resilience is an important topic for research and implementation for psychologists. Much work is being done on it for understanding it and developing it in people who are prone to living in high risk areas or countries which are afflicted by natural disasters such as earthquakes, hurricanes or tsunami’s or are politically conflict ridden areas under constant threat. People who live under chronic or impending stress and adversity are prone to trauma and hence depression and anxiety. Such categories of population need to be subjected to the development of strategies of building resilience to overcome it or adapt to it in ‘positive ways’.
Psychologists have worked on factors of the personality that may correlate with resilience strongly and they have found traits such as ‘optimism, positive attitudes, ability to control emotions, ability to analyse and reason out things, and the attitude towards failure as something to learn from are some enumerated generally. Besides the psychological factors, there are socio-cultural and biological factors too helping the formation of resilience. As we saw in the example above the support of her husband as well as her family and neighbourhood empathy helped her adapt to her trauma and renew her significance to living. We realise that the loving caring human bonds are the most meaningful in reviving people that are struck by calamity. This is where the significant relationships take on a different meaning altogether.
Resilience is not a magical trick but a quality that needs to be developed consciously with training. This has great implications for educating and upbringing of children and youth. Researchers feel that resilience is developmental in nature, in the sense, that it is a process that unfolds over the lifespan. Psychologists would like to take a life-span perspective to the quality of resilience to see how the functioning of an individual at one developmental stage with trauma leads to handling trauma at various other stages. Someone who handles or is taught to handle conflict and stress optimistically at a younger stage of life will to a large extent handle it well at later stages.
A study by Seery (2011) showed that ‘early encounters with risk can have profound and positive impact on later adaptation. In adults, having some life experiences of adversity is associated with better mental health and well-being than having had no adversity at all’. This of course does not mean that those who have faced the maximum adversity will show the maximum resilience they hasten to add. But this also means that ‘having psychological problems in childhood or adolescence does not preclude psychological well-being, good adjustment outcomes, and satisfying relationships in adulthood. This also implies that ‘not only can persons bounce back from substantial adversity, but he or she can actually grow through their challenging experiences. A third conclusion drawn is that ‘parental relationships remain a cornerstone of developing resilience. However peer relationships, mentors, and supportive romantic partners can have resilience promoting effects later in life’ they say.
Besides these, a few more factors may be highlighted. A high self esteem, good coping skills of handling daily life stressors, a stable family life, strong cultural values, financial resources for medical emergencies and expenses, and a strong sense of perseverance among persons help them develop resilience.
In modern challenging times with declining mental health and growing risks of various sorts, the factor of resilience assumes a significance which cannot be ignored by guardians, teachers and parents of course. It tells us that ordinary people can do extraordinary things in harsh realities and show their tough mettle, only if they cultivate the right mind-set.