It is impossible to speak of resilience without acknowledging adversity. Resilience and adversity go hand in hand. The dictionary definition of resilience is ‘the capacity to withstand or to recover quickly from difficulties’¹. Southwick et al. (2014) stressed the importance of defining resilience on a continuum, being present in different degrees depending on a person’s situation at that moment – rather than it being an individual’s trait or outcome or being present or not².
Everyone is resilient and on the continuum of resilience. How we deal with adversity (a difficult or unpleasant situation)¹ is dependent on our own individual circumstances, including access to resources, support, background, and knowledge. Everyone will face adversity, and some of these events will be commonly shared, such as financial pressures, the loss of a loved one or possibility of redundancy. Again, how we respond is based on our own context.
Resilience is often depicted as a linear story, working from an adversity, through to adaptation to (positive) outcome. The figure below, adapted from Dr Alison Bishop’s research³, shows the linear story of resilience in the face of adversity:
Figure 1: Linear understanding of resilience, taken from Dr Alison Bishop, 2023
The resilience cycle
Through her research Dr Alison Bishop established a view that resilience could be viewed as a cycle, with a repeating pattern of processes. These ‘theoretical codes’ include:
- Actual or potential adversity
- Adversity management
- Adversity aftermath
- Recovery from adversity
- Adaptation to past and future adversity
- Resilience signature
- Resilience defined
These can be placed within a cycle, where each is linked to the previous stage and informs the next one. What is important to note is the circular or the ‘coiled spring’ like pattern.
Figure 2: The Resilience Cycle, recreated from the Bishop Model 2023
Your Resilience Signature
At any stage of the cycle, a person can engage themselves in their own unique Resilience Signature. A Resilience Signature is a blue print of a person’s resources or methods of recovery and support. We all utilise an area of our life to aid recovery when faced with adversity. These can be divided into seven domains:
- Physical – physical exercise or activities
- Emotional – allowing oneself to experience the emotions being felt
- Spiritual – uses one’s faith to seek comfort or reason
- Social – engaging with friends or family
- Cognitive – using mental strategies to overcome and recover
- Material – using physical objects or items
- Practical – is about doing things and being active
Knowing how we manage adversity and what we need to access to enable a healthy recovery can provide the building blocks for future cycles. A simple way to build a Resilience Signature is to number each of the domains out of 5 (with 5 indicating a stronger reliance on that area, and 0 meaning it provides little or no support). These results can then be charted on a simple radar graph, like the examples below:
Figure 3: Resilience Signature Examples
Testing the signatures are accurate, by recalling a challenging event or period, will help establish if they correctly illustrate your sources of support. The signature might change over time, reflecting the growing experience of the individual or the change in circumstances. This is okay; knowing what is needed is the most important aspect of the signatures.
Building in capacity to access the sources identified on the Resilience Signature is an important aspect of building wellbeing and recovery. Remembering adversity and resilience works in cycles, it will better prepare you for when you need to draw on greater levels of resilience. Recovery is unique to each individual person, and being able to experience and express emotions during this time is not only natural, but also a necessity for many.
Professionals are placed in a unique position of power and privilege when considering how to respond to families, service users or the stakeholders they are positioned to help. Responding with empathy and compassion will aid the recovery process, while providing practical resources, such as signposting or information. Through our own BeyondAutism Early Years’ service, we know knowledge, resources and a network are some of the most powerful tools when faced with adversity. Professionals should also respect the different ways people deal with challenges and adversities – as such recognising that not everyone has the same response or resources to manage the difficulties they are facing. This includes respecting everyone’s unique Resilience Signature, and not adapting the mantra of ‘keep calm, and carry on’.
Learn more about our Early Years’ service here and how we support and promote resilience, or for more information, watch our recent Lunch and Learn on building strategies for resilience.
1. Oxford English Dictionary (2023) reference, Oxford: Oxford University
2. Southwick, S. M., Bonanno, G. A., Masten, A. S., Panter-Brick, C., & Yehuda, R. (2014). Resilience definitions, theory, and challenges: interdisciplinary perspectives. European journal of psychotraumatology, 5, 10.
3. Bishop, A. (2023) Resilience Cycles, BeyondAutism Professional Conference