Journal of Primary Prevention

, Volume 15, Issue 3, pp 209–246 | Cite as

The life course of psychological resilience: A phenomenological perspective on deflecting life's slings and arrows

  • Norman F. Watt
  • James P. David
  • Kevin L. Ladd
  • Susan Shamos
Articles

Abstract

Notably lacking in the promising new literature on psychological resilience are longitudinal studies of adults who have not only survived extreme early life stresses, but have actually thrived in the face of them. The present study compared 31 resilient adults who were middle-aged, upper-middle class and well educated with 19 controls from comparable life circumstances who had not been exposed to severe early adversity. The experimental group reported exceedingly high scores for early life stress, with emotional abuse by parents being the most pervasive compliant. They felt and showed extreme signs of emotional oppression as children, but normal (or even superior) intellectual development. The majority sought and received substantial support outside the family, including religious counseling and formal psychotherapy, but healing was tediously slow and probably not entirely complete. Most attributed their success to relentless effort and self-reliance, but the groups did not differ significantly on psychological measures of internal locus of control. “Transcenders” appeared remarkably normal as adults, showing significant improvement in interpersonal relations. Their self-descriptions of exceptional fortitude may have been slightly exaggerated but probably contributed to their growing self-esteem. There was only limited support for the hypothesis that resilient people become scrupulously appropriate in their own parenting attitudes and behavior. Their enthusiasm to promote disclosure about their stressful early lives, and about the possibilities for successful outcome seemed to fulfill altruistic needs to counter the popular myth that extreme adversity in early life inexorably leads to adult patholog, and also provided some validation for themselvesas people.

Key Words

Resilience adulthood social support 

Preview

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

References

  1. Anthony, E. J. (1987). Children at high risk for psychosis growing up successfully. In E. J. Anthony & B. J. Cohler (Eds.),The invulnerable child (pp. 147–184). New York: Guilford Press.Google Scholar
  2. Bavolek, S. J. (1984).Adult-Adolescent Parenting Inventory (AAPI). Form A. Park City, Utah: Family Development Resources, Inc.Google Scholar
  3. Beck, A. T. (1967).Depression: Clinical, experimental and theoretical aspects. New York: Harper & Row.Google Scholar
  4. Brown, G. W., & Harris, T. O. (1978).Social origins of depression: A study of psychiatric disorders in women. London: Tavistock Publications.Google Scholar
  5. Brown, G. W., Harris, T. O., & Bifulco, A. (1986). The long-term effects of early loss of parent. In M. Rutter, C. E. Izard, & P. B. Read (Eds.),Depression in young people (pp. 251–296). New York: Guilford Press.Google Scholar
  6. Cohen, S., & Wills, J. A. (1985). Stress, social support and the buffering hypothesis.Psychological Bulletin, 98, 310–357.Google Scholar
  7. Coie, J. C., Watt, N. F., West, S. G., Hawkins, J. D., Asarnow, J. R., Markman, H. J., Ramey, S. L., Shure, M. B., & Long, B. (1993). The science of prevention: A conceptual framework and some directions for a national research program.American Psychologist, 48, 1013–1022.Google Scholar
  8. Crockenberg, S. B. (1981). Infant irritability, mother responsiveness and social support influences on the security of infant-mother attachment.Child Development, 52, 857–865.Google Scholar
  9. Earls, E. F., Beardslee, W., & Garrison, W. (1987). Correlates and predictors of competence in young children. In E. J. Anthony & B. J. Cohler (Eds.),The invulnerable child (pp. 70–83). New York: Guilford Press.Google Scholar
  10. Fagot, B. I., Hagan, R., Leinbach, M. D., & Kronsberg, S. (1985). Differential reactions to assertive and communicative acts of toddler boys and girls.Child Development, 56, 1499–1505.Google Scholar
  11. Farber, E. A., & Egeland, B. (1987). Invulnerability among abused and neglected children. In E. J. Anthony & B. J. Cohler (Eds.),The invulnerable child (pp. 253–289). New York: Guilford Press.Google Scholar
  12. Fisher, L., Kokes, R., Cole, R., Perkins, P., & Wynne, L. C. (1987). Competent children at risk: A study of well functioning offspring of disturbed parents. In E. J. Anthony & B. J. Cohler (Eds.),The invulnerable child (pp. 211–228). New York: Guilford Press.Google Scholar
  13. Furman, W. & Buhrmester, D. (1985). Children's perceptions of their personal relationships.Development Psychology, 21(6), 1016–1024.Google Scholar
  14. Furstenberg, F. F. (1976).Unplanned parenthood: The social consequences of teenage child-bearing. New York: Free Press.Google Scholar
  15. Garmezy, N. (1985). Stress resistant children: The search for protective factors. In J. Stevenson (Ed.),Recent research in developmental psychopathology (pp. 213–233). Oxford: Pergamon Press.Google Scholar
  16. Graham, J. R. (1987).The MMPI: A practical guide, 2nd ed., New York: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  17. Hetherington, E. M., Cox, M., & Cox, R. (1982). Effects of divorce on parents and children. In M. Lamb (Ed.),Nontraditional families (pp. 223–288). Hillsdale, N.J.: Erlbaum.Google Scholar
  18. Holmes, T. H. & Rahe, R. H. (1967). The Social Readjustment Rating Scale.Journal of Psychosomatic Research, 11, 213–218.Google Scholar
  19. Institute of Medicine. (1989).Research on children and adolescents with mental, behavioral and developmental disorders: Mobilizing a national initiative. Washington, D.C.: National Academy Press.Google Scholar
  20. Kellam, S. G., Ensminger, M. T., & Turner, R. J. (1977). Family structure and the mental health of children.Archives of General Psychiatry, 34, 1012–1022.Google Scholar
  21. Lazarus, R. S., & Launier, R. (1978). Stress-related transactions between person and environment. In L. A. Pervin & M. Lewis (Eds.),Perspectives in interactional psychology (pp. 287–327). New York: Plenum Press.Google Scholar
  22. Lee, C. L., & Bates, J. E. (1985). Mother-child interaction at age two years and perceived difficult temperament.Child Development, 56, 1314–1325.Google Scholar
  23. Levenson, H., & Miller, J. (1976). Multidimensional locus of control in sociopolitical activists of conservative and liberal ideologies.Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 33, 199–208.Google Scholar
  24. Masten, A. S., & O'Connor, M. J. (1989). Vulnerability, stress and resilience in the early development of a high risk child.Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, 28, 274–278.Google Scholar
  25. Miller, P. M., Dean, C., Ingham, J. G., Kreitman, N. B., Sashidharan, S. P., & Surtees, P. G. (1986). The epidemiology of life events and long-term difficulties, with some reflections on the concept of independence.British Journal of Psychiatry, 148, 686–696.Google Scholar
  26. Moss, R. H., & Schaefer, J. A. (1986). Life transitions and crises: A conceptual overview. In R. H. Mosso (Ed.),Coping with life crisis: An integrated approach (pp. 3–28). New York: Plenum.Google Scholar
  27. Mulholland, D. J., Watt, N. F., Philpott, A., & Sarlin, N. S. (1991). Academic performance in children of divorce: Psychological resilience and vulnerability.Psychiatry, 54, 268–280.Google Scholar
  28. Murphy, L. B., & Moriarty, A. E. (1976).Vulnerability, coping and growth. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press.Google Scholar
  29. Musick, J. S., Stott, F. M., Spencer, K. K., Goldman, J., & Cohler, B. J. (1987). Maternal factors related to vulnerability and resiliency in young children at risk. In E. J. Anthony & B. J. Cohler (Eds.),The invulnerable child (pp. 229–252). New York: Guilford Press.Google Scholar
  30. National Institute of Mental Health. (1981).Risk factor research in the major mental disorders. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office.Google Scholar
  31. Offer, D., Ostrov, E., & Howard, K. I. (1981).The adolescent: A psychological self-portrait. New York: Basic Books.Google Scholar
  32. Parry, G., & Shapiro, D. A. (1986). Social support and life events in working class women: Stress buffering or independent effects.Archives of General Psychiatry, 43, 315–323.Google Scholar
  33. Quinton, D., Rutter, M., & Liddle, C. (1984). Institutional rearing, parenting difficulties and marital support.Psychological Medicine, 14, 107–124.Google Scholar
  34. Rolf, J., Masten, A. S., Cicchetti, D., Nuechterline, K. H., & Weintraub, S. (Eds.). (1990).Risk and protective factors in the development of psychopathology. New York: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  35. Rutter, M. (1970). Sex differences in children's responses to family stress. In E. J. Anthony & C. Koupernick (Eds.),The child in his family (Vol. 1, pp. 165–196). New York: Wiley.Google Scholar
  36. Rutter, M. (1979). Protective factors in children's responses to stress and disadvantage. In M. W. Kent & J. E. Rolf (Eds.),Primary prevention in psychopathology. Vol. 3: Social competence in children (pp. 49–74). Hanover, New Hampshire: University Press of New England.Google Scholar
  37. Rutter, M. (1985). Resilience in the face of adversity: Protective factors and resistance to psychiatric disorder.British Journal of Psychiatry, 147, 598–611.Google Scholar
  38. Rutter, M. (1990). Psychosocial resilience and protective mechanisms. In J. Rolf, A. S. Masten, D. Cicchetti, K. H. Nuechterlein, & S. Weintraub (Eds.),Risk and protective factors in the development of psychopathology (pp. 181–214). New York: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  39. Rutter, M., & Quinton, D. (1984). Long-term follow-up of women institutionalized in childhood: Factors promoting good functioning in adult life.British Journal of Developmental Psychology, 18, 225–234.Google Scholar
  40. Shay, J. J. (1978).A methodological investigation of reliability, validity, and factor structure of the Amherst Pupil Rating Form. Unpublished doctoral dissertation, University of Massachusetts, Amherst.Google Scholar
  41. Steele, B. (1987). Psychodynamic factors in child abuse. In R. E. Helfer & R. S. Kempe (Eds.),The battered child (pp. 81–111). Chicago: University of Chicago Press.Google Scholar
  42. Watt, N. F., Anthony, E. J., Wynne, L. C., & Rolf, J. E. (Eds.) (1984).Children at risk for schizophrenia: A longitudinal perspective. New York: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  43. Watt, N. F. (1986). Risk research in schizophrenia and other major psychological disorders. In M. Kessler & S. E. Goldston (Eds.),A decade of progress in primary prevention (pp. 115–153). Burlington, Vt.: New England University Press.Google Scholar
  44. Watt, N. F., Stolorow, R. D., Lubensky, A. W., & McClelland, D. C. (1970). School adjustment and behavior of children hospitalized for schizophrenia as adults.American Journal of Orthopsychiatry, 40, 637–657.Google Scholar
  45. Werner, E. E. (1989a). High risk children in adulthood: A longitudinal study from birth to 32 years.American Journal of Orthopsychiatry, 59, 72–81.Google Scholar
  46. Werner, E. E. (1989b). Protective factor and individual resilience. In S. J. Meisels & J. P. Shonkoff (Eds.),Handbook of early intervention: Theory, practice and analysis (pp. 97–116). New York: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  47. Werner, E. E., & Smith, R. S. (1982).Vulnerable but invincible: A longitudinal study of resilient children and youth. New York: McGraw-Hill.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Human Sciences Press, Inc. 1995

Authors and Affiliations

  • Norman F. Watt
    • 1
  • James P. David
  • Kevin L. Ladd
  • Susan Shamos
  1. 1.University of DenverDenver

Personalised recommendations