An Overview of Psychological Resilience

Introduction

Psychological resilience is the ability to cope mentally or emotionally with a crisis or to return to pre-crisis status quickly.

The term was coined in the 1970s by Emmy E. Werner, a psychologist, as she conducted a forty year long study of a cohort of Hawaiian children who came from low, socioeconomical back grounds. Resilience exists when the person uses “mental processes and behaviours in promoting personal assets and protecting self from the potential negative effects of stressors”. In simpler terms, psychological resilience exists in people who develop psychological and behavioural capabilities that allow them to remain calm during crises/chaos and to move on from the incident without long-term negative consequences. A lot of criticism of this topic comes from the fact that it is difficult to measure and test this psychological construct because resiliency can be interpreted in a variety of ways. Most psychological paradigms (biomedical, cognitive-behavioural, sociocultural, etc.) have their own perspective of what resilience looks like, where it comes from, and how it can be developed. Despite numerous definitions of psychological resilience, most of these definitions centre around two concepts:

  • Adversity; and
  • Positive adaptation.

Many psychologists agree that positive emotions, social support, and hardiness can influence an individual to become more resilient.

Refer to Scale of Protective Factors.

Brief History

The first research on resilience was published in 1973. The study used epidemiology, which is the study of disease prevalence, to uncover the risks and the protective factors that now help define resilience. A year later, the same group of researchers created tools to look at systems that support development of resilience.

Emmy Werner was one of the early scientists to use the term resilience in the 1970s. She studied a cohort of children from Kauai, Hawaii. Kauai was quite poor and many of the children in the study grew up with alcoholic or mentally ill parents. Many of the parents were also out of work. Werner noted that of the children who grew up in these detrimental situations, two-thirds exhibited destructive behaviours in their later teen years, such as chronic unemployment, substance abuse, and out-of-wedlock births (in case of teenage girls). However, one-third of these youngsters did not exhibit destructive behaviours. Werner called the latter group resilient. Thus, resilient children and their families were those who, by definition, demonstrated traits that allowed them to be more successful than non-resilient children and families.

Resilience also emerged as a major theoretical and research topic from the studies of children with mothers diagnosed with schizophrenia in the 1980s. In a 1989 study, the results showed that children with a schizophrenic parent may not obtain an appropriate level of comforting caregiving – compared to children with healthy parents – and that such situations often had a detrimental impact on children’s development. On the other hand, some children of ill parents thrived well and were competent in academic achievement, and therefore led researchers to make efforts to understand such responses to adversity.

Since the onset of the research on resilience, researchers have been devoted to discovering the protective factors that explain people’s adaptation to adverse conditions, such as maltreatment, catastrophic life events, or urban poverty. The focus of empirical work then has been shifted to understand the underlying protective processes. Researchers endeavour to uncover how some factors (e.g. connection to family) may contribute to positive outcomes.

Definition

Resilience is generally thought of as a “positive adaptation” after a stressful or adverse situation. When a person is “bombarded by daily stress, it disrupts their internal and external sense of balance, presenting challenges as well as opportunities.” However, the routine stressors of daily life can have positive impacts which promote resilience. It is still unknown what the correct level of stress is for each individual. Some people can handle greater amounts of stress than others. A portion of psychologists believe that it is not the stress itself that promotes resilience but rather the individual’s perception of their stress and their perceived personal level of control. The presence of stress allows people to practice this process. According to Germain and Gitterman (1996), stress is experienced in an individual’s life course at times of difficult life transitions, involving developmental and social change; traumatic life events, including grief and loss; and environmental pressures, encompassing poverty and community violence. Resilience is the integrated adaptation of physical, mental and spiritual aspects in a set of “good or bad” circumstances, a coherent sense of self that is able to maintain normative developmental tasks that occur at various stages of life. The Children’s Institute of the University of Rochester explains that “resilience research is focused on studying those who engage in life with hope and humour despite devastating losses”. It is important to note that resilience is not only about overcoming a deeply stressful situation, but also coming out of the said situation with “competent functioning”. Resiliency allows a person to rebound from adversity as a strengthened and more resourceful person. Some characteristics of psychological resilience include: an easy temperament, good self-esteem, planning skills, and a supportive environment inside and outside of the family. Aaron Antonovsky in 1979 stated that when an event is appraised as comprehensible (predictable), manageable (controllable), and somehow meaningful (explainable) a resilient response is more likely.

Process

Psychological resilience is most commonly understood as a process. It is a tool a person can use and it is something that an individual develops overtime. Others assume it to be a trait of the individual, an idea more typically referred to as “resiliency”. Most research now shows that resilience is the result of individuals being able to interact with their environments and participate in processes that either promote well-being or protect them against the overwhelming influence of risk factors. This research could be used in support of psychological resilience being a process rather than a trait. Resilience is seen as something to develop. Making it something to pursue and not an endpoint.

Ray Williams (Canadian businessman and author) saw that resilience comes from people able to effectively cope with their environment. He believed that there are three basic ways individuals could react when faced with a difficult situation.

  • Respond with anger or aggression.
  • Become overwhelmed and shut down.
  • Feel the emotion about the situation and appropriately handle the emotion.

The third option is the one he believed that truly helps an individual promote wellness. Individuals that follow this pattern are people who show resilience. Their resilience comes from coping with the situation. People who follow the first and second option tend to label themselves as victims of their circumstance or they may blame others for their misfortune. They do not effectively cope with their environment, they become reactive, and they tend to cling to negative emotions. This often makes it difficult to focus on problem solving or bounce back. Those that are more resilient will respond to their conditions by coping, bouncing back, and looking for a solution. Along with continual coping methods, William believed that the resilience process can be aided by good environments. These environments include supportive social environments (such as families, communities, schools) and social policies.

Criticism

Like other psychological phenomena, by defining specific psychological and affective states in certain ways, controversy over meaning will always ensue. How the term resilience is defined affects research focuses; different or insufficient definitions of resilience will lead to inconsistent research about the same concepts. Research on resilience has become more heterogeneous in its outcomes and measures, convincing some researchers to abandon the term altogether due to it being attributed to all outcomes of research where results were more positive than expected.

There is also some disagreement among researchers in the field as to whether psychological resilience is a character trait or state of being. Psychological resilience has also been referred to as ecological concept, ranging from micro to macro levels of interpretation. However, it is generally agreed upon that resilience is a buildable resource.

Recently there has also been evidence that resilience can indicate a capacity to resist a sharp decline in other harm even though a person temporarily appears to get worse. Similarly, studies have shown that adolescents who have a high level of adaptation (i.e. resilience) tend to struggle with dealing with other psychological problems later on in life. This is due to an overload of their stress response systems. There is evidence that the higher one’s resilience is, the lower their vulnerability.

Related Factors

Studies show that there are several factors which develop and sustain a person’s resilience:

  • The ability to make realistic plans and being capable of taking the steps necessary to follow through with them.
  • Confidence in one’s strengths and abilities.
  • Communication and problem-solving skills.
  • The ability to manage strong impulses and feelings.
  • Having good self-esteem.

However, these factors vary among different age groups. For example, these factors among older adults are external connections, grit, independence, self-care, self-acceptance, altruism, hardship experience, health status, and positive perspective on life.

Resilience is negatively correlated with personality traits of neuroticism and negative emotionality, which represents tendencies to see and react to the world as threatening, problematic, and distressing, and to view oneself as vulnerable. Positive correlations stands with personality traits of openness and positive emotionality, that represents tendencies to engage and confront the world with confidence in success and a fair value to self-directedness.

Positive Emotions

There is significant research found in scientific literature on the relationship between positive emotions and resilience. Studies show that maintaining positive emotions whilst facing adversity promote flexibility in thinking and problem solving. Positive emotions serve an important function in their ability to help an individual recover from stressful experiences and encounters. That being said, maintaining a positive emotionality aids in counteracting the physiological effects of negative emotions. It also facilitates adaptive coping, builds enduring social resources, and increases personal well-being.

The formation of conscious perception and the monitoring of one’s own socioemotional factors is considered a stabile aspect of positive emotions. This is not to say that positive emotions are merely a by-product of resilience, but rather that feeling positive emotions during stressful experiences may have adaptive benefits in the coping process of the individual. Empirical evidence for this prediction arises from research on resilient individuals who have a propensity for coping strategies that concretely elicit positive emotions, such as benefit-finding and cognitive reappraisal, humour, optimism, and goal-directed problem-focused coping. Individuals who tend to approach problems with these methods of coping may strengthen their resistance to stress by allocating more access to these positive emotional resources. Social support from caring adults encouraged resilience among participants by providing them with access to conventional activities.

Positive emotions not only have physical outcomes but also physiological ones. Some physiological outcomes caused by humour include improvements in immune system functioning and increases in levels of salivary immunoglobulin A, a vital system antibody, which serves as the body’s first line of defence in respiratory illnesses. Moreover, other health outcomes include faster injury recovery rate and lower readmission rates to hospitals for the elderly, and reductions in a patient’s stay in the hospital, among many other benefits. A study was done on positive emotions in trait-resilient individuals and the cardiovascular recovery rate following negative emotions felt by those individuals. The results of the study showed that trait-resilient individuals experiencing positive emotions had an acceleration in the speed in rebounding from cardiovascular activation initially generated by negative emotional arousal, i.e. heart rate and the like.

Forgiveness is also said to play a role in predicting resilience, among patients with chronic pain (but not the severity of the pain).

Social Support

Many studies show that the primary factor for the development of resilience is social support. While many competing definitions of social support exist, most can be thought of as the degree of access to, and use of, strong ties to other individuals who are similar to one’s self. Social support requires not only that you have relationships with others, but that these relationships involve the presence of solidarity and trust, intimate communication, and mutual obligation both within and outside the family.

In military studies it has been found that resilience is also dependent on group support: unit cohesion and morale is the best predictor of combat resiliency within a unit or organisation. Resilience is highly correlated to peer support and group cohesion. Units with high cohesion tend to experience a lower rate of psychological breakdowns than units with low cohesion and morale. High cohesion and morale enhance adaptive stress reactions. Post-war veterans who had more social support were less likely to develop post-traumatic stress disorder.

Other Factors

A study was conducted among high-achieving professionals who seek challenging situations that require resilience. Research has examined 13 high achievers from various professions, all of whom had experienced challenges in the workplace and negative life events over the course of their careers but who had also been recognised for their great achievements in their respective fields. Participants were interviewed about everyday life in the workplace as well as their experiences with resilience and thriving. The study found six main predictors of resilience: positive and proactive personality, experience and learning, sense of control, flexibility and adaptability, balance and perspective, and perceived social support. High achievers were also found to engage in many activities unrelated to their work such as engaging in hobbies, exercising, and organizing meetups with friends and loved ones.

Additional factors are also associated with resilience, like the capacity to make realistic plans, having self-confidence and a positive self image, developing communications skills, and the capacity to manage strong feelings and impulses.

Temperamental and constitutional disposition is considered as a major factor in resilience. It is one of the necessary precursors of resilience along with warmth in family cohesion and accessibility of prosocial support systems. There are three kinds of temperamental systems that play part in resilience, they are the appetitive system, defensive system and attentional system.

Another protective factor is related to moderating the negative effects of environmental hazards or a stressful situation in order to direct vulnerable individuals to optimistic paths, such as external social support. More specifically a 1995 study distinguished three contexts for protective factors:

  • Personal attributes, including outgoing, bright, and positive self-concepts;
  • The family, such as having close bonds with at least one family member or an emotionally stable parent; and
  • The community, such as receiving support or counsel from peers.

Furthermore, a study of the elderly in Zurich, Switzerland, illuminated the role humour plays as a coping mechanism to maintain a state of happiness in the face of age-related adversity.

Besides the above distinction on resilience, research has also been devoted to discovering the individual differences in resilience. Self-esteem, ego-control, and ego-resiliency are related to behavioural adaptation. For example, maltreated children who feel good about themselves may process risk situations differently by attributing different reasons to the environments they experience and, thereby, avoid producing negative internalised self-perceptions. Ego-control is “the threshold or operating characteristics of an individual with regard to the expression or containment” of their impulses, feelings, and desires. Ego-resilience refers to “dynamic capacity, to modify his or her model level of ego-control, in either direction, as a function of the demand characteristics of the environmental context”.

Maltreated children who experienced some risk factors (e.g. single parenting, limited maternal education, or family unemployment), showed lower ego-resilience and intelligence than non-maltreated children. Furthermore, maltreated children are more likely than non-maltreated children to demonstrate disruptive-aggressive, withdraw, and internalised behaviour problems. Finally, ego-resiliency, and positive self-esteem were predictors of competent adaptation in the maltreated children.

Demographic information (e.g. gender) and resources (e.g. social support) are also used to predict resilience. Examining people’s adaptation after disaster showed women were associated with less likelihood of resilience than men. Also, individuals who were less involved in affinity groups and organisations showed less resilience.

Certain aspects of religions, spirituality, or mindfulness may, hypothetically, promote or hinder certain psychological virtues that increase resilience. Research has not established connection between spirituality and resilience. According to the 4th edition of Psychology of Religion by Hood, et al., the “study of positive psychology is a relatively new development…there has not yet been much direct empirical research looking specifically at the association of religion and ordinary strengths and virtues”. In a review of the literature on the relationship between religiosity/spirituality and PTSD, amongst the significant findings, about half of the studies showed a positive relationship and half showed a negative relationship between measures of religiosity/spirituality and resilience. The United States Army has received criticism for promoting spirituality in its (then) new Comprehensive Soldier Fitness programme as a way to prevent PTSD, due to the lack of conclusive supporting data.

Biological Models

Three notable bases for resilience – self-confidence, self-esteem and self-concept – all have roots in three different nervous systems – respectively, the somatic nervous system, the autonomic nervous system and the central nervous system.

Research indicates that like trauma, resilience is influenced by epigenetic modifications. Increased DNA methylation of the growth factor Gdfn in certain brain regions promotes stress resilience, as does molecular adaptations of the blood brain barrier.

The two primary neurotransmitters responsible for stress buffering within the brain are dopamine and endogenous opioids as evidenced by current research showing that dopamine and opioid antagonists increased stress response in both humans and animals. Primary and secondary rewards reduce negative reactivity of stress in the brain in both humans and animals. The relationship between social support and stress resilience is thought to be mediated by the oxytocin system’s impact on the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis.

“Resilience, conceptualized as a positive bio-psychological adaptation, has proven to be a useful theoretical context for understanding variables for predicting long-term health and well-being”.

Building Resilience

In cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), building resilience is a matter of mindfully changing basic behaviours and thought patterns. The first step is to change the nature of self-talk. Self-talk is the internal monologue people have that reinforce beliefs about the person’s self-efficacy and self-value. To build resilience, the person needs to eliminate negative self-talk, such as “I can’t do this” and “I can’t handle this”, and to replace it with positive self-talk, such as “I can do this” and “I can handle this”. This small change in thought patterns helps to reduce psychological stress when a person is faced with a difficult challenge. The second step a person can take to build resilience is to be prepared for challenges, crises, and emergencies. In business, preparedness is created by creating emergency response plans, business continuity plans, and contingency plans. For personal preparedness, the individual can create a financial cushion to help with economic crises, he/she can develop social networks to help him/her through trying personal crises, and he/she can develop emergency response plans for his/her household.

Resilience is also enhanced by developing effective coping skills for stress. Coping skills help the individual to reduce stress levels, so they remain functional. Coping skills include using meditation, exercise, socialisation, and self-care practices to maintain a healthy level of stress, but there are many other lists associated with psychological resilience.

The American Psychological Association suggests “10 Ways to Build Resilience”, which are to:

  • Maintain good relationships with close family members, friends and others;
  • Avoid seeing crises or stressful events as unbearable problems;
  • Accept circumstances that cannot be changed;
  • Develop realistic goals and move towards them;
  • Take decisive actions in adverse situations;
  • Look for opportunities for self-discovery after a struggle with loss;
  • Develop self-confidence;
  • Keep a long-term perspective and consider the stressful event in a broader context;
  • Maintain a hopeful outlook, expecting good things and visualizing what is wished; and
  • Take care of one’s mind and body, exercising regularly, paying attention to one’s own needs and feelings.

The Besht model of natural resilience building in an ideal family with positive access and support from family and friends, through parenting illustrates four key markers. They are:

  • Realistic upbringing.
  • Effective risk communications.
  • Positivity and restructuring of demanding situations.
  • Building self efficacy and hardiness.

In this model, self-efficacy is the belief in one’s ability to organise and execute the courses of action required to achieve necessary and desired goals and hardiness is a composite of interrelated attitudes of commitment, control, and challenge.

A number of self-help approaches to resilience-building have been developed, drawing mainly on the theory and practice of CBT and rational emotive behaviour therapy (REBT). For example, a group cognitive-behavioural intervention, called the Penn Resiliency Programme (PRP), has been shown to foster various aspects of resilience. A meta-analysis of 17 PRP studies showed that the intervention significantly reduces depressive symptoms over time.

The idea of ‘resilience building’ is debatably at odds with the concept of resilience as a process, since it is used to imply that it is a developable characteristic of oneself. Those who view resilience as a description of doing well despite adversity, view efforts of ‘resilience building’ as method to encourage resilience. Bibliotherapy, positive tracking of events, and enhancing psychosocial protective factors with positive psychological resources are other methods for resilience building. In this way, increasing an individual’s resources to cope with or otherwise address the negative aspects of risk or adversity is promoted, or builds, resilience.

Contrasting research finds that strategies to regulate and control emotions, in order to enhance resilience, allows for better outcomes in the event of mental illness. While initial studies of resilience originated with developmental scientists studying children in high-risk environments, a study on 230 adults diagnosed with depression and anxiety that emphasized emotional regulation, showed that it contributed to resilience in patients. These strategies focused on planning, positively reappraising events, and reducing rumination helped in maintaining a healthy continuity. Patients with improved resilience were found to yield better treatment outcomes than patients with non-resilience focused treatment plans, providing potential information for supporting evidence based psychotherapeutic interventions that may better handle mental disorders by focusing on the aspect of psychological resilience.

Building Resilience Through Language

As the world globalises, language learning and communication have proven to be helpful factors in developing resilience in people who travel, study abroad, work internationally, or in those who find themselves as refugees in countries where their home language is not spoken.

Research conducted by the British Council ties a strong relationship between language and resilience in refugees. Their language for resilience research conducted in partnership with institutions and communities from the Middle East, Africa, Europe and the Americas claims that providing adequate English-learning programmes and support for Syrian refugees builds resilience not only in the individual, but also in the host community. Their findings reported five main ways through which language builds resilience: home language and literacy development; access to education, training, and employment; learning together and social cohesion; addressing the effects of trauma on learning; and building inclusivity.

The language for resilience research suggests that further development of home language and literacy helps create the foundation for a shared identity. By maintaining the home language, even when displaced, a person not only learns better in school, but enhances the ability to learn other languages. This enhances resilience by providing a shared culture and sense of identity that allows refugees to maintain close relationships to others who share their identity and sets them up to possibly return one day. Thus, identity is not stripped and a sense of belonging persists.

Access to education, training, and employment opportunities allow refugees to establish themselves in their host country and provides more ease when attempting to access information, apply to work or school, or obtain professional documentation. Securing access to education or employment is largely dependent on language competency, and both education and employment provide security and success that enhance resilience and confidence.

Learning together encourages resilience through social cohesion and networks. When refugees engage in language-learning activities with host communities, engagement and communication increases. Both refugee and host community are more likely to celebrate diversity, share their stories, build relationships, engage in the community, and provide each other with support. This creates a sense of belonging with the host communities alongside the sense of belonging established with other members of the refugee community through home language.

Additionally, language programmes and language learning can help address the effects of trauma by providing a means to discuss and understand. Refugees are more capable of expressing their trauma, including the effects of loss, when they can effectively communicate with their host community. Especially in schools, language learning establishes safe spaces through storytelling, which further reinforces comfort with a new language, and can in turn lead to increased resilience.

The fifth way, building inclusivity, is more focused on providing resources. By providing institutions or schools with more language-based learning and cultural material, the host community can better learn how to best address the needs of the refugee community. This overall addressing of needs feeds back into the increased resilience of refugees by creating a sense of belonging and community.

Additionally, a study completed by Kate Nguyen, Nile Stanley, Laurel Stanley, and Yonghui Wang shows the impacts of storytelling in building resilience. This aligns with many of the five factors identified by the study completed by the British Council, as it emphasizes the importance of sharing traumatic experiences through language. This study in particular showed that those who were exposed to more stories, from family or friends, had a more holistic view of life’s struggles, and were thus more resilient, especially when surrounded by foreign languages or attempting to learn a new language.

Other Development Programmes

The Head Start programme was shown to promote resilience. So was the Big Brothers Big Sisters Programme, Centred Coaching & Consulting, the Abecedarian Early Intervention Project, and social programmes for youth with emotional or behavioural difficulties.

The Positive Behaviour Supports and Intervention programme is a successful trauma-informed, resilience-based for elementary age students with four components. These four elements include positive reinforcements such as encouraging feedback, understanding that behaviour is a response to unmet needs or a survival response, promoting belonging, mastery and independence, and finally, creating an environment to support the student through sensory tools, mental health breaks and play.

Tuesday’s Children, a family service organisation that made a long-term commitment to the individuals that have lost loved ones to 9/11 and terrorism around the world, works to build psychological resilience through programmes such as Mentoring and Project COMMON BOND, an 8-day peace-building and leadership initiative for teens, ages 15-20, from around the world who have been directly impacted by terrorism.

Military organisations test personnel for the ability to function under stressful circumstances by deliberately subjecting them to stress during training. Those students who do not exhibit the necessary resilience can be screened out of the training. Those who remain can be given stress inoculation training. The process is repeated as personnel apply for increasingly demanding positions, such as special forces.

Children

Resilience in children refers to individuals who are doing better than expected, given a history that includes risk or adverse experience. Once again, it is not a trait or something that some children simply possess. There is no such thing as an ‘invulnerable child’ that can overcome any obstacle or adversity that he or she encounters in life – and in fact, the trait is quite common. All children share the uniqueness of an upbringing, experiences which could be positive or negative. Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE’s) are events which occur in a child’s life that could lead to maladaptive symptoms such as feeling tension, low mood, repetitive and recurring thoughts, and avoidance. The psychological resilience to overcome adverse events is not the sole explanation of why some children experience post-traumatic growth and some do not. Resilience is the product of a number of developmental processes over time, that has allowed children experience small exposures to adversity or some sort of age appropriate challenges to develop mastery and continue to develop competently. This gives children a sense of personal pride and self-worth.

Research on ‘protective factors’, which are characteristics of children or situations that particularly help children in the context of risk has helped developmental scientists to understand what matters most for resilient children. Two of these that have emerged repeatedly in studies of resilient children are good cognitive functioning (like cognitive self-regulation and IQ) and positive relationships (especially with competent adults, like parents). Children who have protective factors in their lives tend to do better in some risky contexts when compared to children without protective factors in the same contexts. However, this is not a justification to expose any child to risk. Children do better when not exposed to high levels of risk or adversity.

Building in the Classroom

Resilient children within classroom environments have been described as working and playing well and holding high expectations, have often been characterised using constructs such as locus of control, self-esteem, self-efficacy, and autonomy. All of these things work together to prevent the debilitating behaviours that are associated with learned helplessness.

Role of the Community

Communities play a huge role in fostering resilience. The clearest sign of a cohesive and supportive community is the presence of social organisations that provide healthy human development. Services are unlikely to be used unless there is good communication concerning them. Children who are repeatedly relocated do not benefit from these resources, as their opportunities for resilience-building, meaningful community participation are removed with every relocation

Role of the Family

Fostering resilience in children is favoured in family environments that are caring and stable, hold high expectations for children’s behaviour and encourage participation in the life of the family. Most resilient children have a strong relationship with at least one adult, not always a parent, and this relationship helps to diminish risk associated with family discord. The definition of parental resilience, as the capacity of parents to deliver a competent and quality level of parenting to children, despite the presence of risk factors, has proven to be a very important role in children’s resilience. Understanding the characteristics of quality parenting is critical to the idea of parental resilience. Even if divorce produces stress, the availability of social support from family and community can reduce this stress and yield positive outcomes. Any family that emphasizes the value of assigned chores, caring for brothers or sisters, and the contribution of part-time work in supporting the family helps to foster resilience. Resilience research has traditionally focused on the well-being of children, with limited academic attention paid to factors that may contribute to the resilience of parents.

Families in Poverty

Numerous studies have shown that some practices that poor parents utilise help promote resilience within families. These include frequent displays of warmth, affection, emotional support; reasonable expectations for children combined with straightforward, not overly harsh discipline; family routines and celebrations; and the maintenance of common values regarding money and leisure. According to sociologist Christopher B. Doob, “Poor children growing up in resilient families have received significant support for doing well as they enter the social world—starting in daycare programs and then in schooling.”

Bullying

Beyond preventing bullying, it is also important to consider how interventions based on emotional intelligence are important in the case that bullying does occur. Increasing emotional intelligence may be an important step in trying to foster resilience among victims. When a person faces stress and adversity, especially of a repetitive nature, their ability to adapt is an important factor in whether they have a more positive or negative outcome.

A 2013 study examined adolescents who illustrated resilience to bullying and found some interesting gendered differences, with higher behavioural resilience found among girls and higher emotional resilience found among boys. Despite these differences, they still implicated internal resources and negative emotionality in either encouraging or being negatively associated with resilience to bullying respectively and urged for the targeting of psychosocial skills as a form of intervention. Emotional intelligence has been illustrated to promote resilience to stress and as mentioned previously, the ability to manage stress and other negative emotions can be preventative of a victim going on to perpetuate aggression. One factor that is important in resilience is the regulation of one’s own emotions. Schneider et al. (2013) found that emotional perception was significant in facilitating lower negative emotionality during stress and Emotional Understanding facilitated resilience and has a positive correlation with positive affect.

Education

Many years and sources of research indicate that there are a few consistent protective factors of young children despite differences in culture and stressors (poverty, war, divorce of parents, natural disasters, etc.):

  • Capable parenting.
  • Other close relationships.
  • Intelligence.
  • Self-control.
  • Motivation to succeed.
  • Self-confidence & self-efficacy.
  • Faith, hope, belief life has meaning.
  • Effective schools.
  • Effective communities.
  • Effective cultural practices.

Ann Masten coins these protective factors as “ordinary magic,” the ordinary human adaptive systems that are shaped by biological and cultural evolution. In her book, Ordinary Magic: Resilience in Development, she discusses the “immigrant paradox”, the phenomenon that first-generation immigrant youth are more resilient than their children. Researchers hypothesize that “there may be culturally based resiliency that is lost with succeeding generations as they become distanced from their culture of origin.” Another hypothesis is that those who choose to immigrate are more likely to be more resilient.

Research by Rosemary Gonzalez and Amado M. Padilla on the academic resilience of Mexican-American high school students reveal that while a sense of belonging to school is the only significant predictor of academic resilience, a sense of belonging to family, a peer group, and a culture can also indicate higher academic resilience. “Although cultural loyalty overall was not a significant predictor of resilience, certain cultural influences nonetheless contribute to resilient outcomes, like familism and cultural pride and awareness.” The results of Gonzalez and Padilla’s study “indicate a negative relationship between cultural pride and the ethnic homogeneity of a school.” They hypothesize that “ethnicity becomes a salient and important characteristic in more ethnically diverse settings”.

Considering the implications of the research by Masten, Gonzalez, and Padilla, a strong connection with one’s cultural identity is an important protective factor against stress and is indicative of increased resilience. While many additional classroom resources have been created to promote resilience in developing students, the most effective ways to ensure resilience in children is by protecting their natural adaptive systems from breaking down or being hijacked. At home, resilience can be promoted through a positive home environment and emphasized cultural practices and values. In school, this can be done by ensuring that each student develops and maintains a sense of belonging to the school through positive relationships with classroom peers and a caring teacher. Research on resilience consistently shows that a sense of belonging – whether it be in a culture, family, or another group – greatly predicts resiliency against any given stressor.

Specific Situations

Divorce

Often divorce is viewed as detrimental to one’s emotional health, but studies have shown that cultivating resilience may be beneficial to all parties involved. The level of resilience a child will experience after their parents have split is dependent on both internal and external variables. Some of these variables include their psychological and physical state and the level of support they receive from their schools, friends, and family friends. The ability to deal with these situations also stems from the child’s age, gender, and temperament. Children will experience divorce differently and thus their ability to cope with divorce will differ too. About 20-25% of children will “demonstrate severe emotional and behavioural problems” when going through a divorce. This percentage is notably higher than the 10% of children exhibiting similar problems in married families. Despite this, approximately 75-80% of these children will “develop into well-adjusted adults with no lasting psychological or behavioural problems”. This comes to show that most children have the tools necessary to allow them to exhibit the resilience needed to overcome their parents’ divorce.

The effects of the divorce extend past the separation of both parents. The remaining conflict between parents, financial problems, and the re-partnering or remarriage of parents can cause lasting stress. Studies conducted by Booth and Amato (2001) have shown that there is no correlation between post-divorce conflict and the child’s ability to adjust to their life circumstance. On the other hand, Hetherington (1999) completed research on this same topic and did find adverse effects in children. In regards to the financial standing of a family, divorce does have the potential to reduce the children’s style of living. Child support is often given to help cover basic needs such as schooling. If the parents’ finances are already scarce then their children may not be able to participate in extracurricular activities such as sports and music lessons, which can be detrimental to their social lives.

Re-partnering or remarrying can bring in additional levels of conflict and anger into their home environment. One of the reasons that re-partnering causes additional stress is because of the lack of clarity in roles and relationships; the child may not know how to react and behave with this new “parent” figure in their life. In most cases, bringing in a new partner/spouse will be the most stressful when done shortly after the divorce. In the past, divorce had been viewed as a “single event”, but now research shows that divorce encompasses multiple changes and challenges. It is not only internal factors that allow for resiliency, but the external factors in the environment are critical for responding to the situation and adapting. Certain programmes such as the 14-week Children’s Support Group and the Children of Divorce Intervention Programme may help a child cope with the changes that occur from a divorce.

Natural Disasters

Resilience after a natural disaster can be gauged in a number of different ways. It can be gauged on an individual level, a community level, and on a physical level. The first level, the individual level, can be defined as each independent person in the community. The second level, the community level, can be defined as all those inhabiting the locality affected. Lastly, the physical level can be defined as the infrastructure of the locality affected.

UNESCAP funded research on how communities show resiliency in the wake of natural disasters. They found that, physically, communities were more resilient if they banded together and made resiliency an effort of the whole community. Social support is key in resilient behaviour, and especially the ability to pool resources. In pooling social, natural, and economic resources, they found that communities were more resilient and able to over come disasters much faster than communities with an individualistic mindset.

The World Economic Forum met in 2014 to discuss resiliency after natural disasters. They conclude that countries that are more economically sound, and have more individuals with the ability to diversify their livelihoods, will show higher levels of resiliency. This has not been studied in depth yet, but the ideas brought about through this forum appear to be fairly consistent with already existing research.

Research indicates that resilience following natural disasters can be predicted by the level of emotion an individual experienced and were able to process within and following the disaster. Those who employ emotional styles of coping were able to grow from their experiences and then help others. In these instances, experiencing emotions was adaptive. Those who did not engage with their emotions and employed avoidant and suppressive coping styles had poorer mental health outcomes following disaster.

Death of a Family Member

Little research has been done on the topic of family resilience in the wake of the death of a family member. Traditionally, clinical attention to bereavement has focused on the individual mourning process rather than on those of the family unit as a whole. Resiliency is distinguished from recovery as the “ability to maintain a stable equilibrium” which is conducive to balance, harmony, and recovery. Families must learn to manage familial distortions caused by the death of the family member, which can be done by reorganizing relationships and changing patterns of functioning to adapt to their new situation. Exhibiting resilience in the wake of trauma can successfully traverse the bereavement process without long-term negative consequences.

One of the healthiest behaviours displayed by resilient families in the wake of a death is honest and open communication. This facilitates an understanding of the crisis. Sharing the experience of the death can promote immediate and long-term adaptation to the recent loss of a loved one. Empathy is a crucial component in resilience because it allows mourners to understand other positions, tolerate conflict, and be ready to grapple with differences that may arise. Another crucial component to resilience is the maintenance of a routine that helps to bind the family together through regular contact and order. The continuation of education and a connection with peers and teachers at school is an important support for children struggling with the death of a family member.

Professional Settings

Resilience has also been examined in the context of failure and setbacks in workplace settings. Representing one of the core constructs of positive organizational behaviour (Luthans, 2002), and given increasingly disruptive and demanding work environments, scholars’ and practitioners’ attention to psychological resilience in organisations has greatly increased. This research has highlighted certain personality traits, personal resources (e.g. self-efficacy, work-life balance, social competencies), personal attitudes (e.g., sense of purpose, job commitment), positive emotions, and work resources (e.g. social support, positive organisational context) as potential facilitators of workplace resilience.

Beyond studies on general workplace resilience, attention has been directed to the role of resilience in innovative contexts. Due to high degrees of uncertainty and complexity in the innovation process, failure and setbacks are naturally happening frequently in this context. As such failure and setbacks can have strong and harmful effects on affected individuals’ motivation and willingness to take risks, their resilience is essential to productively engage in future innovative activities. To account for the peculiarities of the innovation context, a resilience construct specifically aligned to this unique context was needed to address the need to diagnose and develop innovators’ resilience to minimise the human cost of failure and setbacks in innovation. As a context-specific conceptualisation of resilience, Innovator Resilience Potential (IRP) serves this purpose and captures the potential for innovative functioning after the experience of failure or setbacks in the innovation process and for handling future setbacks. Based on Bandura’s social cognitive theory, IRP is proposed to consist of six components: self-efficacy, outcome expectancy, optimism, hope, self-esteem, and risk propensity. The concept of IRP thus reflects a process perspective on resilience. On the one hand, in this process, IRP can be seen as an antecedent of how a setback affects an innovator. On the other hand, IRP can be seen as an outcome of the process that, in turn, is influenced by the setback situation. Recently, a measurement scale of IRP was developed and validated.

Cross-Cultural Resilience

Areas of Difference

There is controversy about the indicators of good psychological and social development when resilience is studied across different cultures and contexts. The American Psychological Association’s Task Force on Resilience and Strength in Black Children and Adolescents, for example, notes that there may be special skills that these young people and families have that help them cope, including the ability to resist racial prejudice. Researchers of indigenous health have shown the impact of culture, history, community values, and geographical settings on resilience in indigenous communities. People who cope may also show “hidden resilience” when they do not conform with society’s expectations for how someone is supposed to behave (in some contexts, aggression may be required to cope, or less emotional engagement may be protective in situations of abuse).

Resilience in Individualist and Collectivist Communities

Individualist cultures, such as those of the US, Austria, Spain, and Canada, emphasize personal goals, initiatives, and achievements. Independence, self-reliance, and individual rights are highly valued by members of individualistic cultures. Economic, political, and social policies reflect the culture’s interest in individualism. The ideal person in individualist societies is assertive, strong, and innovative. People in this culture tend to describe themselves in terms of their unique traits- “I am analytical and curious” (Ma et al. 2004). Comparatively, in places like Japan, Sweden, Turkey, and Guatemala, Collectivist cultures emphasize family and group work goals. The rules of these societies promote unity, brotherhood, and selflessness. Families and communities practice cohesion and cooperation. The ideal person in collectivist societies is trustworthy, honest, sensitive, and generous- emphasizing intrapersonal skills. Collectivists tend to describe themselves in terms of their roles – “I am a good husband and a loyal friend” (Ma et al. 2004). In a study on the consequences of disaster on a culture’s individualism, researchers operationalised these cultures by identifying indicative phrases in a society’s literature. Words that showed the theme of individualism include, “able, achieve, differ, own, personal, prefer, and special.” Words that indicated collectivism include, “belong, duty, give, harmony, obey, share, together.”

Differences in Response to Natural Disasters

Natural disasters threaten to destroy communities, displace families, degrade cultural integrity, and diminish an individual’s level of functioning. Comparing individualist community reactions to collectivist community responses after natural disasters illustrates their differences and respective strengths as tools of resilience. Some suggest that disasters reduce individual agency and sense of autonomy as it strengthens the need to rely on other people and social structures. Therefore, countries/regions with heightened exposure to disaster should cultivate collectivism. However, Withey (1962) and Wachtel (1968) conducted interviews and experiments on disaster survivors which indicated that disaster-induced anxiety and stress decrease one’s focus on social-contextual information – a key component of collectivism. In this way, disasters may lead to increased individualism.

Mauch and Pfister (2004) questioned the association between socio-ecological indicators and cultural-level change in individualism. In their research, for each socio-ecological indicator, frequency of disasters was associated with greater (rather than less) individualism. Supplementary analyses indicated that the frequency of disasters was more strongly correlated with individualism-related shifts than was the magnitude of disasters or the frequency of disasters qualified by the number of deaths. Baby-naming practices is one interesting indicator of change. According to Mauch and Pfister (2004), urbanization was linked to preference for uniqueness in baby-naming practices at a 1-year lag, secularism was linked to individualist shifts in interpersonal structure at both lags, and disaster prevalence was linked to more unique naming practices at both lags. Secularism and disaster prevalence contributed mainly to shifts in naming practices.

There is a gap in disaster recovery research that focuses on psychology and social systems but does not adequately address interpersonal networking or relationship formation and maintenance. A disaster response theory holds that individuals who use existing communication networks fare better during and after disasters. Moreover, they can play important roles in disaster recovery by taking initiative to organize and help others recognise and use existing communication networks and coordinate with institutions which correspondingly should strengthen relationships with individuals during normal times so that feelings of trust exist during stressful ones.

In a collectivist sense, building strong, self-reliant communities, whose members know each other, know each other’s needs and are aware of existing communication networks, looks like an optimum defence against disasters.

In comparing these cultures, there is really no way to measure resilience, but one can look at the collateral consequences of a disaster to a country to gauge its resilience.

  • Collectivist resilience:
    • Returning to routine.
    • Rebuilding family structures.
    • Communal sharing of resources.
    • Emotional expression of grief and loss to a supportive listener.
    • Finding benefits from the disaster experience.
  • Individualist resilience:
    • Redistribution of power/resources.
    • Returning to routine.
    • Emotional expression through formal support systems.
    • Confrontation of the problem.
    • Reshaping one’s outlook after the disaster experience.

Whereas individualistic societies promote individual responsibility for self-sufficiency, the collectivistic culture defines self-sufficiency within an interdependent communal context (Kayser et al. 2008). Even where individualism is salient, a group thrives when its members choose social over personal goals and seek to maintain harmony and where they value collectivist over individualist behaviour (McAuliffe et al. 2003).

The Concept of Resilience in Language

While not all languages have a direct translation for the English word “resilience”, nearly every culture and community globally has a word which relates to a similar concept. The differences between the literal meanings of translated words shows that there is a common understanding of what resilience is. Even if a word does not directly translate to “resilience” in English, it relays a meaning similar enough to the concept and is used as such within the language.

If a specific word for resilience does not exist in a language, speakers of that language typically assign a similar word that insinuates resilience based on context. Many languages use words that translate to “elasticity” or “bounce”, which are used in context to capture the meaning of resilience. For example, one of the main words for “resilience” in Chinese literally translates to “rebound”, one of the main words for “resilience” in Greek translates to “bounce”, and one of the main words for “resilience” in Russian translates to “elasticity,” just as it does in German. However, this is not the case for all languages. For example, if a Spanish speaker wanted to say “resilience”, their main two options translate to “resistance” and “defence against adversity”. Many languages have words that translate better to “tenacity” or “grit” better than they do to “resilience”. While these languages may not have a word that exactly translates to “resilience”, note that English speakers often use tenacity or grit when referring to resilience. While one of the Greek words for “resilience” translates to “bounce”, another option translates to “cheerfulness”. Moreover, Arabic has a word solely for resilience, but also two other common expressions to relay the concept, which directly translate to “capacity on deflation” or “reactivity of the body”, but are better translated as “impact strength” and “resilience of the body” respectively. On the other hand, a few languages, such as Finnish, have created words to express resilience in a way that cannot be translated back to English. In Finnish, the word “sisu” could most closely be translated to mean “grit” in English, but blends the concepts of resilience, tenacity, determination, perseverance, and courage into one word that has even become a facet of Finnish culture and earned its place as a name for a few Finnish brands.

Criticism of Application

Brad Evans and Julian Reid criticise resilience discourse and its rising popularity in their book, Resilient Life. The authors assert that policies of resilience can put the onus of disaster response on individuals rather than publicly coordinated efforts. Tied to the emergence of neoliberalism, climate change, third-world development, and other discourses, Evans and Reid argue that promoting resilience draws attention away from governmental responsibility and towards self-responsibility and healthy psychological effects such as post-traumatic growth.

This page is based on the copyrighted Wikipedia article < https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Psychological_resilience >; it is used under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License (CC-BY-SA). You may redistribute it, verbatim or modified, providing that you comply with the terms of the CC-BY-SA.

What is Communal Coping?

Introduction

Communal coping is the collective effort of members of a connected network (familial or social) to manage a distressing event.

This definition and the scope of the concept positions communal coping as an offshoot of social support. The communal coping conceptual framework emerged for two reasons:

  • First, to expand the research that supports the claim that the coping process sometimes requires individual and collective effort.
  • Second, the need for a specific framework for investigating the cooperative characteristic of coping.

To support the need for a framework which explores the social aspect of coping as a combined effort, the authors argued that the communal coping conceptual framework emphasizes the connectedness and reliance on personal network for coping. Developments to the communal coping framework include the explanation of the complex nature of the communal coping process and specific personal outcomes following a communal coping process.

Background

Lyons et al. (1998) introduced the communal coping framework. The first model Lyons et al. (1998) proposed mainly distinguished between communal coping and existing perception of coping as an individualistic or prosocial process. Also, the model provided a lens for examining other aspects of coping such as the benefits, cost and influential factors. Afifi, Hutchinson, and Krouse (2006) noted some of the achievements of the model is that it accounts for the relational process within coping and shifts the focus of researchers from treating the phenomenon as mainly a psychological process but also a relational or communication.

However, despite the contributions of the model to the coping research, some questions still need an answer and a couple of research challenges remained unaddressed. For instance, Afifi et al. (2006) noted some researchers confused the process of communal coping for collective coping, types, provision and seeking of social support. The scholars attributed the lack of conceptualization of communal coping as one of the factors responsible for the confusion. To address this gap in research and advance the existing model by Lyon’s and colleagues, Afifi et al. proposed a theoretical framework. The scholars anticipated the model will serve as a template for measuring communal coping.

The goals for designing the new model were specifically to understand the communal coping process within naturally occurring groups (e.g. postdivorce families). Through the new model, Afifi et al. (2006) attempted to:

  1. Provide a description of the complexities that characterise relying on other people to cope with a stressful event;
  2. Expand the discourse on the dynamic and interactive nature of the coping process;
  3. Explore the various factors that contribute to stressors within groups;
  4. Identify how characteristics of the group such as its structure, the beliefs, norms, and perspectives of its members are likely to influence the coping process; and
  5. Examine how context, source, and nature of the stressor impact the coping process.

The refinement of the model addressed the problems Lyon and colleagues’ model could not account for. Nonetheless, one question remained unanswered ‘how does communal coping influence coping outcome?’. Thereby still leaving a gap in research. Hegelson, Jakubiak, Vleet, and Zajdel (2018) attempted to fill this gap by proposing a model that acknowledges the adjustment process and outcome of communal coping.

Similar to prior models, Hegelson et al’s (2018) framework identified supportive communication as a significant aspect of communal coping that is linked to individual adjustment to a stressor (e.g. illness). A core tenet within the model is that communication enhances coping outcomes. In this vein, Hegelson et al’s model purports the outcomes of communal coping for stressed individuals include:

  1. A high sense of control over the stressor;
  2. Perception of the stressor as less stressful;
  3. Enhanced feeling of self- regulatory capacity; and
  4. Experiencing quality relationships.

Components of Communal Coping

The existing research on coping (Lazarus & Folkman, 1984) served as a backdrop for the development of the communal coping framework. Zimmer-Gembeck and Skinner (2009, p. 333) defined coping as “how people of all ages mobilize, guide, manage, coordinate, energize, modulate, and direct their behaviour, emotion, and orientation (or how they fail to do so) during stressful encounters”. From this definition, one can infer coping researchers consider the management of a stressor as an individual effort. In addition, despite the significant contribution of coping studies to empirical knowledge in research areas such as coping resources (Lazarus & Folkman, 1980) and maintaining these resources (Hobbfall, 1989) it is still important to understand how collective coping efforts could make a difference in coping outcome of collective stressors such as the death of a breadwinner, natural disasters, environmental hazards, and epidemics. During these kinds of events, the desire to cope may not necessarily be for self-interest but the preservation of existing relationships and promoting the wellbeing of others that are affected. In these cases, collectively coping as part of a community or family supersedes individual effort to manage the distress. In this vein, Lyons et al. (1998) suggested the components of communal coping are salient and activated in such situations where at least one person treats the distressing event as ‘our problem’. Therefore, the components of the communal coping process require a communal coping orientation, communication about the stressor and cooperative action to address the stressor.

The components of communal coping may be defined as active steps towards achieving a positive coping outcome as part of a social unit. Lyons et al. (1998) proposed these active steps begin with one person adopting a communal orientation about how to manage the distressing event. The outcome of this action is the individuals involve share a mutual understanding of how to manage and overcome the stressor as a social unit versus ‘your problem’ where a specific individual is responsible for managing and overcoming the stressor. The actualisation of this first step largely depends on and is completed through communication. In other words, the individuals involved need to communicate about the stressor.

Communication allows for a conversation about the situation, circumstances, and likely solutions. The conversations at this point may be controlled by the individual experiencing the stressor to inform members of their network who are willing to share responsibility for the stressor on how the issue should be addressed. Or, the conversation may be controlled by members of the personal network of the individual experiencing the stressor to negotiate their involvement in how to manage the stress. Irrespective of the direction the communication takes, the primary goal is to share a common sense of responsibility for the stressor as “our problem” among the people involved.

The outcome of the first two steps le toad the emergence of a sense of cooperative action. At this point, everyone works cooperatively to create strategies for alleviating the problem or stressor. Given that there is a likelihood for the processes of the three components of communal coping to unfold differently across situations and for affected individuals, it is not unusual to find differences in communal coping styles. Some of the factors responsible for these differences include the sense of obligation experienced by the connected individuals (Stack 1974) or compassion for others (Nussbam, 1990); the type and purpose of the relationship as well as the characteristics of the individual in the leadership role and personalities of members within the communal coping network (Lyon et al. 1998). However, despite these differences in coping styles, communal coping is beneficial for the management of and recovery from a distressing event.

Influences on Communal Coping

Lyon et al. (1998) suggested four factors that influence how people use communal coping – situation, cultural context, characteristics of the personal relationship and sex. For instance, in a study on the role of marriage on health behaviours, Lewis, McBride, Pollak et al. (2006) discovered the transformation of motivation influenced how one chooses to help the other cope through a stressor. The scholars argued that in the case of romantic relationships, one partner’s mere realization that a stressor (e.g. health treat) poses a danger to relationship quality could motivate the need for communal coping.

In addition, the perceived salience of communal coping within certain situations is defined by the severity of the stressor. Therefore, the ways individuals define the severity of a problem are likely dependent on:

  • The priority or relevance attached to the problem;
  • If they are directly or indirectly affected; and
  • The decision whether to employ an individual or collective coping strategy.

In this vein, following their studies on communal coping within post-divorce families, Afifi, Hutchinson, and Krouse (2006, p.399) argued the “specific demands or requirement of a stressor” influence the communal coping process.

The cultural context in which the distressing event occur also influence the salience of communal coping in alleviating the stressor. The concepts of collectivism and individualism are often used in cultural comparative studies about a phenomenon. Cultures that promote group interest (collectivist cultures) over personal goals (individualist culture) are more likely to invest in communal coping (see Bryer, 1986). Given that culture is a way of life, it reflects in the performance of our relationships such as how we define close relationships and depend on these relationships (Lyons et al., 1998). Therefore, one can conclude that relationships in which strong relational ties exist will perhaps guarantee better performance of communal coping than relationships without strong relational ties.

Moreover, the language of the affected individual also influences the coping process. Researchers (e.g. Rohrbaugh, Shoham, Skoyen, Jensen, and Mehl, 2012) labeled communal coping language as ‘we – talk’. In their studies of addiction and cessation (cigarette and alcohol) due to health threats, Rohrbaugh and colleagues discovered the pronoun used by couples in their study influenced the communal coping outcomes. In the cases where couples defined the addiction as “our problem” versus “your problem” or “my problem”, there were implicit adaptive problem-solving outcomes.

Lastly, gender roles influence the performance of communal coping. Wells, Hobfoll and Lavin (1997) suggested the multiple roles some women take on tend to result in stressors. However, Women tend to be the fervent giver of social support making members of this gender community an active performer in the communal coping process (Vaux 1985, Bem 1993). Lyon et al. (1998) noted women’s tendency to give social support to others supersedes receiving support as maintaining relationship quality is important for this group. The downside to this sense of responsibility is women manage and overcome their stressor alone which take an emotional and psychological toll.

Benefits of Communal Coping

Adapting the communal coping strategy after a distressing event is beneficial for the coping process itself, the self and relationships (Afifi, Hegelson & Krouse, 2006). As a beneficial strategy for the coping process communal coping holds the potential to allow connected individuals to increase their resources and ability to deal with the situation. For example, a single stressful event may require reliance on other people or the exploration of others’ financial resources to cope with the situation.

Another significant benefit of communal coping as a coping strategy is the facilitation of emotional social support which in turn facilitates psychological wellbeing. Individuals who can share their emotional distress with others are less likely to experience depression and burnout (Williamson & Shultz, 1990)or commit suicide (LaSalle, 1995).

Under certain circumstances, the constant encouragement of communal coping among connected individuals promotes a likelihood of consistent availability of social support. In these cases, communal coping may serve as a form of long-term investment. The last two statements are not intended to categorise communal coping and social support as the same phenomenon but rather to argue that the former creates a conducive social and relational climate for the later. According to Lyons et al. (1998), some of the long-term investments of communal coping may result in rewards such as food and money.

Moreover, in the event of a common disaster such as earthquakes and wars, communal coping allows the people involved to experience a sense of ‘solidarity’ or a feeling of ‘I am not the only victim’. This realisation promotes mutual disclosure among all the affected individuals, a behaviour found to buffer stress as well as ameliorate negative feelings and concerns (Pennebaker & Haber, 1993). In their study on how the process of communal coping unfolds after social support resources have diminished, Richardson and Maninger (2016) discovered that a sense of mutuality and shared problem increased.

Taken together, there is enough evidence that communal coping has a significant impact on relationships. These impacts are evident in the development and maintenance of relationships; the desire or obligation to cater to the wellbeing of others and the collective good (Lyon et al., 1998). Perhaps, in well-established relationships, communal coping is likely to strengthen relationship characteristics such as trust. For instance, the confidence that people within a connected network will exchange support during or after a distressing situation promotes a sense of dependence which may improve the quality of a relationship.

Lyons and colleagues argued the actualization of relationship development and maintenance regarding relational trust or improving relationship quality emerge from a sense of compassion (empathy-driven) or obligation (responsibility – driven) towards the wellbeing of others in the relationship. Although empathy-driven and obligation – driven motives are distinct based on the type of relational tie, in most cases the end goal is for the collective good.

The benefits of communal coping described to this point focus on the intention to meet the emotional need of others during a stressful life event. However, the self can also benefit from participating in the process. There is a likelihood for the person offering empathy-driven or obligation – driven support to experience a sense of fulfilment. Lyons et al. (1998) used social integration and excitement to explain self-benefits of communal coping. In their explanation of social integration as a benefit of communal coping, Lyons et al. noted people who consider themselves resourceful in the coping process of others consider themselves competent, valued, loved and indispensable. In the same vein, communal coping fosters a sense of togetherness and cooperation. Excitement usually results from a sense of togetherness and cooperation that yield positive results.

Given that people and resources such as money, time and goods are exchanged in the process of communal coping during certain stressful events, there is a likelihood for some of the individuals involved to experience discomfort. Lyons et al. (1998) alluded to this discomfort as costs of communal coping.

Costs of Communal Coping

A significant characteristic of communal coping is ‘dependency’. Cultural (collectivism versus individualism) and social factors play into how we expect others to depend on us and how much we are willing to depend on others. Communal coping will perhaps be perceived as a cost in situations where there is a lack of mutual understanding and expectation within a social unit consisting of members experiencing a common or personal stressful event. In such instances, Lyon et al. noted individuals in the social unit will need to deal with issues such as equity and individual-adaptation.

The equity problem arises from a lack of agreement or existing social norms on the expectation of individual efforts channelled towards communal coping. In a comparison of gender roles after a distressing event, women specifically wives and mothers were expected to hold higher responsibility for helping others manage and recover from a stressor. More so, given that communal coping requires significant reliance on other people, individuals who are used to this style of coping during or after a stressful event may experience trouble adapting to a situation or circumstance in the absence of someone to rely on. There is evidence for this in studies about how people embedded in a strong community experience difficulty after a change of location for the pursuit of life goals.

One drastic consequence of communal coping is the possibility of stress contagion to occur. In this case, rather than working towards alleviating the stressor, connected individuals wallow in negative emotions and feelings. This behaviour escalates old and fosters new stressors for all the people involved. These factor provide evidence that the communal coping process follows a complicated pattern likely to yield contradictory results. Even more, some complex factors influence how people use communal coping. The complex nature of these factors is evident in how they are not universal or consistent.

Concept Application

The communal coping framework is relatively new and there has not been much variation in the context to which the concept has been applied. Mickelson, Lyons, Sullivan and Coyne (2001) argue for the need to apply the communal coping conceptual framework to less collective stressors such as recovery from natural disaster (e.g. Richardson & Maninger, 2018) to more individualistic stressors such as job loss and illness (e.g. Vleet, Hegelson, Seltman, Korytwoski, Hausmann, 2018). Scholars who have attempted to apply the communal coping framework to context outside of illness and natural disaster have looked at the concept in relation to relational transgression (Pederson & Faw, 2019); the experience of athletes and members of their family (Nelly, McHugh, Dun & Holt, 2017) and ; the experience of refugees ( Afifi, Afifi, Merill & Nimah, 2016).

Concept Critique

The communal coping framework is very dynamic in the sense that it can be applied to distinct research contexts yet facilitate empirical and general knowledge that aligns with the tenets of its models. This strength also lies in the weakness of the framework. Some scholars within the distinct field to which the concept has been applied propose models for communal coping with little to significant variations. For instance, Lyons and colleagues (1998) from the field of psychology proposed the first model. Their model served as a backdrop for the emergence of other models from experts in communication (Afifi, Hegelson & Krouse, 2006); sociology and anthropology (Hegelson, Jakubiak, Vleet, & Zajdel, 2018). Keefe, LeFevbre, Egert, et al. (2000) also advocated for a communal coping model of pain catastrophising. With the growth in the application of the conceptual framework, it might be beneficial to consider developing a model for studying the phenomenon that can be used across all fields or areas of research. A probable benefit of this suggestion is the promotion of jointly agreed conceptualisation of the communal coping phenomenon.

References

  • Lyons, Renee F.; Mickelson, Kristin D.; Sullivan, Michael J.L.; Coyne, James C. (October 1998). “Coping as a Communal Process”. Journal of Social and Personal Relationships. 15(5), pp.579-605. doi:10.1177/0265407598155001. hdl:2027.42/68813. ISSN 0265-4075. S2CID 145788518.
  • Fiske, Veronica; Coyne, James C.; Smith, David A. (1991). “Couples coping with myocardial infarction: An empirical reconsideration of the role of overprotectiveness”. Journal of Family Psychology. 5(1), pp.4-20. doi:10.1037/0893-3200.5.1.4. ISSN 0893-3200.
  • Wellman, Robert J. (1988). “Editor’s esoterica”. doi:10.1037/e410022005-004.
  • “The relationship of self-concept and social support to emotional distress among women during the wall”. Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology.

This page is based on the copyrighted Wikipedia article < https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Communal_coping >; it is used under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License (CC-BY-SA). You may redistribute it, verbatim or modified, providing that you comply with the terms of the CC-BY-SA.

What is Coping?

Introduction

Coping refers to conscious strategies used to reduce unpleasant emotions. Coping strategies can be cognitions or behaviours and can be individual or social.

Theories of Coping

Hundreds of coping strategies have been proposed in an attempt to understand how people cope. Classification of these strategies into a broader architecture has not been agreed upon. Researchers try to group coping responses rationally, empirically by factor analysis, or through a blend of both techniques. In the early days, Folkman and Lazarus split the coping strategies into four groups, namely:

  • Problem-focused;
  • Emotion-focused;
  • Support-seeking; and
  • Meaning-making coping.

Weiten has identified four types of coping strategies:

  • Appraisal-focused (adaptive cognitive);
  • Problem-focused (adaptive behavioural);
  • Emotion-focused; and
  • Occupation-focused coping.

Billings and Moos added avoidance coping as one of the emotion-focused coping. Some scholars have questioned the psychometric validity of forced categorisation as those strategies are not independent to each other. Besides, in reality, people can adopt multiple coping strategies simultaneously.

Typically, people use a mixture of several types of coping strategies, which may change over time. All these strategies can prove useful, but some claim that those using problem-focused coping strategies will adjust better to life. Problem-focused coping mechanisms may allow an individual greater perceived control over their problem, whereas emotion-focused coping may sometimes lead to a reduction in perceived control (maladaptive coping).

Lazarus “notes the connection between his idea of ‘defensive reappraisals’ or cognitive coping and Freud’s concept of ‘ego-defenses'”, coping strategies thus overlapping with a person’s defence mechanisms.

Appraisal-Focused Coping Strategies

Appraisal-focused (adaptive cognitive) strategies occur when the person modifies the way they think, for example: employing denial, or distancing oneself from the problem. Individuals who use appraisal coping strategies purposely alter their perspective on their situation in order to have a more positive outlook on their situation. An example of appraisal coping strategies could be an individual purchasing tickets to a football game, knowing their medical condition would likely cause them to not be able to attend. People may alter the way they think about a problem by altering their goals and values, such as by seeing the humour in a situation:

“some have suggested that humor may play a greater role as a stress moderator among women than men”.

Adaptive Behavioural Coping Strategies

The psychological coping mechanisms are commonly termed coping strategies or coping skills. The term coping generally refers to adaptive (constructive) coping strategies, that is, strategies which reduce stress. In contrast, other coping strategies may be coined as maladaptive, if they increase stress. Maladaptive coping is therefore also described, based on its outcome, as non-coping. Furthermore, the term coping generally refers to reactive coping, i.e. the coping response which follows the stressor. This differs from proactive coping, in which a coping response aims to neutralise a future stressor. Subconscious or unconscious strategies (e.g. defence mechanisms) are generally excluded from the area of coping.

The effectiveness of the coping effort depends on the type of stress, the individual, and the circumstances. Coping responses are partly controlled by personality (habitual traits), but also partly by the social environment, particularly the nature of the stressful environment. People using problem-focused strategies try to deal with the cause of their problem. They do this by finding out information on the problem and learning new skills to manage the problem. Problem-focused coping is aimed at changing or eliminating the source of the stress. The three problem-focused coping strategies identified by Folkman and Lazarus are: taking control, information seeking, and evaluating the pros and cons. However, problem-focused coping may not be necessarily adaptive, but backfire, especially in the uncontrollable case that one cannot make the problem go away.

Emotion-Focused Coping Strategies

Emotion-focused strategies involve:

  • Releasing pent-up emotions.
  • Distracting oneself.
  • Managing hostile feelings.
  • Meditating.
  • Mindfulness practices.
  • Using systematic relaxation procedures.

Emotion-focused coping “is oriented toward managing the emotions that accompany the perception of stress”. The five emotion-focused coping strategies identified by Folkman and Lazarus are:

  • Disclaiming.
  • Escape-avoidance.
  • Accepting responsibility or blame.
  • Exercising self-control.
  • Positive reappraisal.

Emotion-focused coping is a mechanism to alleviate distress by minimising, reducing, or preventing, the emotional components of a stressor. This mechanism can be applied through a variety of ways, such as:

  • Seeking social support.
  • Reappraising the stressor in a positive light.
  • Accepting responsibility.
  • Using avoidance.
  • Exercising self-control.
  • Distancing.

The focus of this coping mechanism is to change the meaning of the stressor or transfer attention away from it. For example, reappraising tries to find a more positive meaning of the cause of the stress in order to reduce the emotional component of the stressor. Avoidance of the emotional distress will distract from the negative feelings associated with the stressor. Emotion-focused coping is well suited for stressors that seem uncontrollable (ex. a terminal illness diagnosis, or the loss of a loved one). Some mechanisms of emotion focused coping, such as distancing or avoidance, can have alleviating outcomes for a short period of time, however they can be detrimental when used over an extended period. Positive emotion-focused mechanisms, such as seeking social support, and positive re-appraisal, are associated with beneficial outcomes. Emotional approach coping is one form of emotion-focused coping in which emotional expression and processing is used to adaptively manage a response to a stressor. Other examples include relaxation training through deep breathing, meditation, yoga, music and art therapy, and aromatherapy, as well as grounding, which uses physical sensations or mental distractions to refocus from the stressor to present.

Health Theory of Coping

The health theory of coping overcame the limitations of previous theories of coping, describing coping strategies within categories that are conceptually clear, mutually exclusive, comprehensive, functionally homogenous, functionally distinct, generative and flexible, explains the continuum of coping strategies. The usefulness of all coping strategies to reduce acute distress is acknowledged, however, strategies are categorised as healthy or unhealthy depending on their likelihood of additional adverse consequences. Healthy categories are self-soothing, relaxation/distraction, social support and professional support. Unhealthy coping categories are negative self-talk, harmful activities (e.g. emotional eating, verbal or physical aggression, drugs such as alcohol, self-harm), social withdrawal, and suicidality. Unhealthy coping strategies are used when healthy coping strategies are overwhelmed, not in the absence of healthy coping strategies.

Research has shown that everyone has personal healthy coping strategies (self-soothing, relaxation/distraction), however, access to social and professional support varies. Increasing distress and inadequate support results in the additional use of unhealthy coping strategies. Overwhelming distress exceeds the capacity of healthy coping strategies and results in the use of unhealthy coping strategies. Overwhelming distress is caused by problems in one or more biopsychosocial domains of health and wellbeing. The continuum of coping strategies (healthy to unhealthy, independent to social, and low harm to high harm) have been explored in general populations, university students, and paramedics.

Reactive and Proactive Coping

Most coping is reactive in that the coping response follows stressors. Anticipating and reacting to a future stressor is known as proactive coping or future-oriented coping. Anticipation is when one reduces the stress of some difficult challenge by anticipating what it will be like and preparing for how one is going to cope with it.

Social Coping

Social coping recognises that individuals are bedded within a social environment, which can be stressful, but also is the source of coping resources, such as seeking social support from others.

Humour

Humour used as a positive coping method may have useful benefits to emotional and mental health well-being. However, maladaptive humour styles such as self-defeating humour can also have negative effects on psychological adjustment and might exacerbate negative effects of other stressors. By having a humorous outlook on life, stressful experiences can be and are often minimised. This coping method corresponds with positive emotional states and is known to be an indicator of mental health. Physiological processes are also influenced within the exercise of humour. For example, laughing may reduce muscle tension, increase the flow of oxygen to the blood, exercise the cardiovascular region, and produce endorphins in the body. Using humour in coping while processing through feelings can vary depending on life circumstance and individual humour styles. In regards to grief and loss in life occurrences, it has been found that genuine laughs/smiles when speaking about the loss predicted later adjustment and evoked more positive responses from other people. A person might also find comedic relief with others around irrational possible outcomes for the deceased funeral service. It is also possible that humour would be used by people to feel a sense of control over a more powerless situation and used as way to temporarily escape a feeling of helplessness. Exercised humour can be a sign of positive adjustment as well as drawing support and interaction from others around the loss.

Negative Techniques (Maladaptive Coping or Non-Coping)

Whereas adaptive coping strategies improve functioning, a maladaptive coping technique (also termed non-coping) will just reduce symptoms while maintaining or strengthening the stressor. Maladaptive techniques are only effective as a short-term rather than long-term coping process.

Examples of maladaptive behaviour strategies include anxious avoidance, dissociation, escape (including self-medication), use of maladaptive humour styles such as self-defeating humour, procrastination, rationalisation safety behaviours, and sensitization. These coping strategies interfere with the person’s ability to unlearn, or break apart, the paired association between the situation and the associated anxiety symptoms. These are maladaptive strategies as they serve to maintain the disorder.

  • Anxious avoidance is when a person avoids anxiety provoking situations by all means. This is the most common method.
  • Dissociation is the ability of the mind to separate and compartmentalise thoughts, memories, and emotions. This is often associated with post traumatic stress syndrome.
  • Escape is closely related to avoidance. This technique is often demonstrated by people who experience panic attacks or have phobias. These people want to flee the situation at the first sign of anxiety.
  • The use of self-defeating humour means that a person disparages themselves in order to entertain others. This type of humour has been shown to lead to negative psychological adjustment and exacerbate the effect of existing stressors.
  • Procrastination is when a person willingly delays a task in order to receive a temporary relief from stress. While this may work for short-term relief, when used as a coping mechanism, procrastination causes more issues in the long run.
  • Rationalisation is the practice of attempting to use reasoning to minimise the severity of an incident, or avoid approaching it in ways that could cause psychological trauma or stress. It most commonly manifests in the form of making excuses for the behaviour of the person engaging in the rationalisation, or others involved in the situation the person is attempting to rationalise.
  • Sensitisation is when a person seeks to learn about, rehearse, and/or anticipate fearful events in a protective effort to prevent these events from occurring in the first place.
  • Safety behaviours are demonstrated when individuals with anxiety disorders come to rely on something, or someone, as a means of coping with their excessive anxiety.

Further Examples

Further examples of coping strategies include emotional or instrumental support, self-distraction, denial, substance use, self-blame, behavioural disengagement and the use of drugs or alcohol.

Many people think that meditation “not only calms our emotions, but…makes us feel more ‘together'”, as too can “the kind of prayer in which you’re trying to achieve an inner quietness and peace”.

Low-effort syndrome or low-effort coping refers to the coping responses of a person refusing to work hard. For example, a student at school may learn to put in only minimal effort as they believe if they put in effort it could unveil their flaws.

Historical Psychoanalytic Theories

Otto Fenichel

Otto Fenichel summarised early psychoanalytic studies of coping mechanisms in children as:

“a gradual substitution of actions for mere discharge reactions…[&] the development of the function of judgement” – noting however that “behind all active types of mastery of external and internal tasks, a readiness remains to fall back on passive-receptive types of mastery.”

In adult cases of “acute and more or less ‘traumatic’ upsetting events in the life of normal persons”, Fenichel stressed that in coping, “in carrying out a ‘work of learning’ or ‘work of adjustment’, [s]he must acknowledge the new and less comfortable reality and fight tendencies towards regression, towards the misinterpretation of reality”, though such rational strategies “may be mixed with relative allowances for rest and for small regressions and compensatory wish fulfillment, which are recuperative in effect”.

Karen Horney

In the 1940s, the German Freudian psychoanalyst Karen Horney “developed her mature theory in which individuals cope with the anxiety produced by feeling unsafe, unloved, and undervalued by disowning their spontaneous feelings and developing elaborate strategies of defence.” Horney defined four so-called coping strategies to define interpersonal relations, one describing psychologically healthy individuals, the others describing neurotic states.

The healthy strategy she termed “Moving with” is that with which psychologically healthy people develop relationships. It involves compromise. In order to move with, there must be communication, agreement, disagreement, compromise, and decisions. The three other strategies she described – “Moving toward”, “Moving against” and “Moving away” – represented neurotic, unhealthy strategies people utilise in order to protect themselves.

Horney investigated these patterns of neurotic needs (compulsive attachments). The neurotics might feel these attachments more strongly because of difficulties within their lives. If the neurotic does not experience these needs, they will experience anxiety. The ten needs are:

  • Affection and approval, the need to please others and be liked.
  • A partner who will take over one’s life, based on the idea that love will solve all of one’s problems.
  • Restriction of one’s life to narrow borders, to be undemanding, satisfied with little, inconspicuous; to simplify one’s life.
  • Power, for control over others, for a façade of omnipotence, caused by a desperate desire for strength and dominance.
  • Exploitation of others; to get the better of them.
  • Social recognition or prestige, caused by an abnormal concern for appearances and popularity.
  • Personal admiration.
  • Personal achievement.
  • Self-sufficiency and independence.
  • Perfection and unassailability, a desire to be perfect and a fear of being flawed.

In Compliance, also known as “Moving toward” or the “Self-effacing solution”, the individual moves towards those perceived as a threat to avoid retribution and getting hurt, “making any sacrifice, no matter how detrimental.” The argument is, “If I give in, I won’t get hurt.” This means that: if I give everyone I see as a potential threat whatever they want, I won’t be injured (physically or emotionally). This strategy includes neurotic needs one, two, and three.

In Withdrawal, also known as “Moving away” or the “Resigning solution”, individuals distance themselves from anyone perceived as a threat to avoid getting hurt – “the ‘mouse-hole’ attitude … the security of unobtrusiveness.” The argument is, “If I do not let anyone close to me, I won’t get hurt.” A neurotic, according to Horney desires to be distant because of being abused. If they can be the extreme introvert, no one will ever develop a relationship with them. If there is no one around, nobody can hurt them. These “moving away” people fight personality, so they often come across as cold or shallow. This is their strategy. They emotionally remove themselves from society. Included in this strategy are neurotic needs three, nine, and ten.

In Aggression, also known as the “Moving against” or the “Expansive solution”, the individual threatens those perceived as a threat to avoid getting hurt. Children might react to parental in-differences by displaying anger or hostility. This strategy includes neurotic needs four, five, six, seven, and eight.

Related to the work of Karen Horney, public administration scholars developed a classification of coping by frontline workers when working with clients (see also the work of Michael Lipsky on street-level bureaucracy). This coping classification is focused on the behaviour workers can display towards clients when confronted with stress. They show that during public service delivery there are three main families of coping:

  • Moving towards clients: Coping by helping clients in stressful situations. An example is a teacher working overtime to help students.
  • Moving away from clients: Coping by avoiding meaningful interactions with clients in stressful situations. An example is a public servant stating “the office is very busy today, please return tomorrow.”
  • Moving against clients: Coping by confronting clients. For instance, teachers can cope with stress when working with students by imposing very rigid rules, such as no cellphone use in class and sending everyone to the office when they use a cellphone. Furthermore, aggression towards clients is also included here.

In their systematic review of 35 years of the literature, the scholars found that the most often used family is moving towards clients (43% of all coping fragments). Moving away from clients was found in 38% of all coping fragments and Moving against clients in 19%.

Heinz Hartmann

In 1937, the psychoanalyst (as well as a physician, psychologist, and psychiatrist) Heinz Hartmann marked it as the evolution of ego psychology by publishing his paper, “Me” (which was later translated into English in 1958, titled, “The Ego and the Problem of Adaptation”). Hartmann focused on the adaptive progression of the ego “through the mastery of new demands and tasks”. In fact, according to his adaptive point of view, once infants were born they have the ability to be able to cope with the demands of their surroundings. In his wake, ego psychology further stressed “the development of the personality and of ‘ego-strengths’…adaptation to social realities”.

Object Relations

Emotional intelligence has stressed the importance of “the capacity to soothe oneself, to shake off rampant anxiety, gloom, or irritability….People who are poor in this ability are constantly battling feelings of distress, while those who excel in it can bounce back far more quickly from life’s setbacks and upsets”. From this perspective, “the art of soothing ourselves is a fundamental life skill; some psychoanalytic thinkers, such as John Bowlby and D. W. Winnicott see this as the most essential of all psychic tools.”

Object relations theory has examined the childhood development both of “[i]ndependent coping…capacity for self-soothing”, and of “[a]ided coping. Emotion-focused coping in infancy is often accomplished through the assistance of an adult.”

Gender Differences

Gender differences in coping strategies are the ways in which men and women differ in managing psychological stress. There is evidence that males often develop stress due to their careers, whereas females often encounter stress due to issues in interpersonal relationships. Early studies indicated that “there were gender differences in the sources of stressors, but gender differences in coping were relatively small after controlling for the source of stressors”; and more recent work has similarly revealed “small differences between women’s and men’s coping strategies when studying individuals in similar situations.”

In general, such differences as exist indicate that women tend to employ emotion-focused coping and the “tend-and-befriend” response to stress, whereas men tend to use problem-focused coping and the “fight-or-flight” response, perhaps because societal standards encourage men to be more individualistic, while women are often expected to be interpersonal. An alternative explanation for the aforementioned differences involves genetic factors. The degree to which genetic factors and social conditioning influence behaviour, is the subject of ongoing debate.

Physiological Basis

Hormones also play a part in stress management. Cortisol, a stress hormone, was found to be elevated in males during stressful situations. In females, however, cortisol levels were decreased in stressful situations, and instead, an increase in limbic activity was discovered. Many researchers believe that these results underlie the reasons why men administer a fight-or-flight reaction to stress; whereas, females have a tend-and-befriend reaction. The “fight-or-flight” response activates the sympathetic nervous system in the form of increased focus levels, adrenaline, and epinephrine. Conversely, the “tend-and-befriend” reaction refers to the tendency of women to protect their offspring and relatives. Although these two reactions support a genetic basis to differences in behaviour, one should not assume that in general females cannot implement “fight-or-flight” behaviour or that males cannot implement “tend-and-befriend” behaviour. Additionally, this study implied differing health impacts for each gender as a result of the contrasting stress-processes.

This page is based on the copyrighted Wikipedia article < https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Coping >; it is used under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License (CC-BY-SA). You may redistribute it, verbatim or modified, providing that you comply with the terms of the CC-BY-SA.

What are Life Skills?

Introduction

Life skills are abilities for adaptive and positive behaviour that enable humans to deal effectively with the demands and challenges of life.

This concept is also termed as psychosocial competency. The subject varies greatly depending on social norms and community expectations but skills that function for well-being and aid individuals to develop into active and productive members of their communities are considered as life skills.

Enumeration and Categorisation

The UNICEF Evaluation Office suggests that “there is no definitive list” of psychosocial skills; nevertheless UNICEF enumerates psychosocial and interpersonal skills that are generally well-being oriented, and essential alongside literacy and numeracy skills. Since it changes its meaning from culture to culture and life positions, it is considered a concept that is elastic in nature. But UNICEF acknowledges social and emotional life skills identified by Collaborative for Academic, Social and Emotional Learning (CASEL). Life skills are a product of synthesis: many skills are developed simultaneously through practice, like humour, which allows a person to feel in control of a situation and make it more manageable in perspective. It allows the person to release fears, anger, and stress & achieve a qualitative life.

For example, decision-making often involves critical thinking (“what are my options?”) and values clarification (“what is important to me?”), (“How do I feel about this?”). Ultimately, the interplay between the skills is what produces powerful behavioural outcomes, especially where this approach is supported by other strategies.

Life skills can vary from financial literacy, through substance-abuse prevention, to therapeutic techniques to deal with disabilities such as autism.

Core Skills

The World Health Organisation (WHO) in 1999 identified the following core cross-cultural areas of life skills:

  • Decision-making and problem-solving;
  • Creative thinking (see also: lateral thinking) and critical thinking;
  • Communication and interpersonal skills;
  • Self-awareness and empathy;
  • Assertiveness and equanimity; and
  • Resilience and coping with emotions and coping with stress.

UNICEF listed similar skills and related categories in its 2012 report.

Life skills curricular designed for K-12 often emphasize communications and practical skills needed for successful independent living as well as for developmental-disabilities/special-education students with an Individualized Education Programme (IEP).

There are various courses being run based on WHO’s list supported by UNFPA. In Madhya Pradesh, India, the programme is being run with Government to teach these through Government Schools.

Skills for Work and Life

Skills for work and life, known as technical and vocational education and training (TVET) is comprising education, training and skills development relating to a wide range of occupational fields, production, services and livelihoods. TVET, as part of lifelong learning, can take place at secondary, post-secondary and tertiary levels, and includes work-based learning and continuing training and professional development which may lead to qualifications. TVET also includes a wide range of skills development opportunities attuned to national and local contexts. Learning to learn and the development of literacy and numeracy skills, transversal skills and citizenship skills are integral components of TVET.

Parenting: A Venue of Life Skills Nourishment

Life skills are often taught in the domain of parenting, either indirectly through the observation and experience of the child, or directly with the purpose of teaching a specific skill. Parenting itself can be considered as a set of life skills which can be taught or comes natural to a person. Educating a person in skills for dealing with pregnancy and parenting can also coincide with additional life skills development for the child and enable the parents to guide their children in adulthood.

Many life skills programs are offered when traditional family structures and healthy relationships have broken down, whether due to parental lapses, divorce, psychological disorders or due to issues with the children (such as substance abuse or other risky behaviour). For example, the International Labour Organisation is teaching life skills to ex-child laborers and at-risk children in Indonesia to help them avoid and to recover from worst forms of child abuse.

Models: Behaviour Prevention vs. Positive Development

While certain life skills programs focus on teaching the prevention of certain behaviours, they can be relatively ineffective. Based upon their research, the Family and Youth Services Bureau, a division of the US Department of Health and Human Services advocates the theory of positive youth development (PYD) as a replacement for the less effective prevention programmes. PYD focuses on the strengths of an individual as opposed to the older decrepit models which tend to focus on the “potential” weaknesses that have yet to be shown. The Family and Youth Services Bureau has found that individuals who were trained in life skills by positive development model identified themselves with a greater sense of confidence, usefulness, sensitivity and openness rather than that of preventive model.

What is Suicidal Ideation?

Introduction

Suicidal ideation (or suicidal thoughts) means having thoughts, ideas, or ruminations about the possibility of ending one’s life.

Refer to Coping (Psychology), Suicide Prevention, and Suicide Awareness.

It is not a diagnosis, but is a symptom of some mental disorders and can also occur in response to adverse events without the presence of a mental disorder.

On suicide risk scales, the range of suicidal ideation varies from fleeting thoughts to detailed planning. Passive suicidal ideation is thinking about not wanting to live or imagining being dead. Active suicidal ideation is thinking about different ways to die or forming a plan to die.

Most people who have suicidal thoughts do not go on to make suicide attempts, but suicidal thoughts are considered a risk factor. During 2008-2009, an estimated 8.3 million adults aged 18 and over in the United States, or 3.7% of the adult US population, reported having suicidal thoughts in the previous year. An estimated 2.2 million in the US reported having made suicide plans in 2014. Suicidal thoughts are also common among teenagers.

Suicidal ideation is generally associated with depression and other mood disorders; however, it seems to have associations with many other mental disorders, life events, and family events, all of which may increase the risk of suicidal ideation. Mental health researchers indicate that healthcare systems should provide treatment for individuals with suicidal ideation, regardless of diagnosis, because of the risk for suicidal acts and repeated problems associated with suicidal thoughts. There are a number of treatment options for people who experience suicidal ideation.

Definitions

The ICD-11 describes suicidal ideation as “thoughts, ideas, or ruminations about the possibility of ending one’s life, ranging from thinking that one would be better off dead to formulation of elaborate plans”.

The DSM-5 defines it as “thoughts about self-harm, with deliberate consideration or planning of possible techniques of causing one’s own death”.

The CDC defines suicidal ideation “as thinking about, considering, or planning suicide”.

Terminology

Another term for suicidal ideation is suicidal thoughts.

When someone who has not shown a history of suicidal ideation experiences a sudden and pronounced thought of performing an act which would necessarily lead to their own death, psychologists call this an intrusive thought. A commonly experienced example of this is the high place phenomenon, also referred to as the call of the void. The urge to jump is called “mountain fever” in Brian Biggs’ book Dear Julia.

Euphemisms related to mortal contemplation include internal struggle, voluntary death, and eating one’s gun.

Risk Factors

The risk factors for suicidal ideation can be divided into three categories:

  1. Psychiatric disorders;
  2. Life events; and
  3. Family history.

Psychiatric Disorders

Suicidal ideation is a symptom for many mental disorders and can occur in response to adverse life events without the presence of a mental disorder.

There are several psychiatric disorders that appear to be comorbid with suicidal ideation or considerably increase the risk of suicidal ideation. For example, many individuals with borderline personality disorder exhibit recurrent suicidal behaviour and suicidal thoughts. One study found that 73% of patients with borderline personality disorder have attempted suicide, with the average patient having 3.4 attempts. The following list includes the disorders that have been shown to be the strongest predictors of suicidal ideation. These are not the only disorders that can increase risk of suicidal ideation. The disorders in which risk is increased the greatest include:

Medication Side Effects

Antidepressant medications are commonly used to decrease the symptoms in patients with moderate to severe clinical depression, and some studies indicate a connection between suicidal thoughts and tendencies and taking antidepressants, increasing the risk of suicidal thoughts in some patients.

Some medications, such as selective serotonin re-uptake inhibitors (SSRIs), can have suicidal ideation as a side effect. Moreover, these drugs’ intended effects, can themselves have unintended consequence of an increased individual risk and collective rate of suicidal behaviour: Among the set of persons taking the medication, a subset feel bad enough to want to attempt suicide (or to desire the perceived results of suicide) but are inhibited by depression-induced symptoms, such as lack of energy and motivation, from following through with an attempt. Among this subset, a “sub-subset” may find that the medication alleviates their physiological symptoms (such as lack of energy) and secondary psychological symptoms (e.g. lack of motivation) before or at lower doses than it alleviates their primary psychological symptom of depressed mood. Among this group of persons, the desire for suicide or its effects persists even as major obstacles to suicidal action are removed, with the effect that the incidences of suicide attempt and of completed suicide increase.

In 2003, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued the agency’s strictest warning for manufacturers of all antidepressants (including tricyclic antidepressants (TCAs) and monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOIs) due to their association with suicidal thoughts and behaviours. Further studies disagree with the warning, especially when prescribed for adults, claiming more recent studies are inconclusive in the connection between the drugs and suicidal ideation.

Individuals with anxiety disorders who self-medicate with drugs or alcohol may also have an increased likelihood of suicidal ideation.

Life Events

Life events are strong predictors of increased risk for suicidal ideation. Furthermore, life events can also lead to or be comorbid with the previous listed psychiatric disorders and predict suicidal ideation through those means. Life events that adults and children face can be dissimilar and for this reason, the list of events that increase risk can vary in adults and children. The life events that have been shown to increase risk most significantly are:

  • Alcohol use disorder.
    • Studies have shown that individuals who binge drink, rather than drink socially, tend to have higher rates of suicidal ideation.
    • Certain studies associate those who experience suicidal ideation with higher alcohol consumption.
    • Not only do some studies show that solitary binge drinking can increase suicidal ideation, but there is a positive feedback relationship causing those who have more suicidal ideation to have more drinks per day in a solitary environment.
  • Minoritised gender expression and/or sexuality.
  • Unemployment.
  • Chronic illness or pain.
  • Death of family members or friends.
  • End of a relationship or being rejected by a romantic interest.
  • Major change in life standard (e.g. relocation abroad).
  • Other studies have found that tobacco use is correlated with depression and suicidal ideation.
  • Unplanned pregnancy.
  • Bullying, including cyberbullying and workplace bullying.
  • Previous suicide attempts.
    • Having previously attempted suicide is one of the strongest indicators of future suicidal ideation or suicide attempts.
  • Military experience.
  • Community violence.
  • Undesired changes in body weight.
    • Women: increased BMI increases chance of suicidal ideation.
    • Men: severe decrease in BMI increases chance of suicidal ideation.
      • In general, the obese population has increased odds of suicidal ideation in relation to individuals that are of average-weight.
  • Exposure and attention to suicide related images or words.

Family History

  • Parents with a history of depression.
    • Valenstein et al. studied 340 adult offspring whose parents had depression in the past.
    • They found that 7% of the offspring had suicidal ideation in the previous month alone.
  • Abuse.
    • Childhood: physical, emotional and sexual abuse.
    • Adolescence: physical, emotional and sexual abuse.
  • Family violence.
  • Childhood residential instability.
    • Certain studies associate those who experience suicidal ideation with family disruption.

Relationships with Parents and Friends

According to a study conducted by Ruth X. Liu of San Diego State University, a significant connection was found between the parent-child relationships of adolescents in early, middle and late adolescence and their likelihood of suicidal ideation. The study consisted of measuring relationships between mothers and daughters, fathers and sons, mothers and sons, and fathers and daughters. The relationships between fathers and sons during early and middle adolescence show an inverse relationship to suicidal ideation. Closeness with the father in late adolescence is “significantly related to suicidal ideation”. Liu goes on to explain the relationship found between closeness with the opposite sex parent and the child’s risk of suicidal thoughts. It was found that boys are better protected from suicidal ideation if they are close to their mothers through early and late adolescence; whereas girls are better protected by having a close relationship with their father during middle adolescence.

An article published in 2010 by Zappulla and Pace found that suicidal ideation in adolescent boys is exacerbated by detachment from the parents when depression is already present in the child. Lifetime prevalence estimates of suicidal ideation among nonclinical populations of adolescents generally range from 60% and in many cases its severity increases the risk of completed suicide.

Prevention

Refer to Suicide Prevention.

Early detection and treatment are the best ways to prevent suicidal ideation and suicide attempts.[citation needed] If signs, symptoms, or risk factors are detected early then the individual might seek treatment and help before attempting to take their own life. In a study of individuals who did commit suicide, 91% of them likely suffered from one or more mental illnesses. However, only 35% of those individuals were treated or being treated for a mental illness. This emphasizes the importance of early detection; if a mental illness is detected, it can be treated and controlled to help prevent suicide attempts. Another study investigated strictly suicidal ideation in adolescents. This study found that depression symptoms in adolescents early as 9th grade is a predictor of suicidal ideation. Most people with long-term suicidal ideation do not seek professional help.

The previously mentioned studies point out the difficulty that mental health professionals have in motivating individuals to seek and continue treatment. Ways to increase the number of individuals who seek treatment may include:

  • Increasing the availability of therapy treatment in early stage.
  • Increasing the public’s knowledge on when psychiatric help may be beneficial to them.
  • Those who have adverse life conditions seem to have just as much risk of suicide as those with mental illness.

A study conducted by researchers in Australia set out to determine a course of early detection for suicidal ideation in teens stating that “risks associated with suicidality require an immediate focus on diminishing self-harming cognitions so as to ensure safety before attending to the underlying etiology of the behavior”. A Psychological Distress scale known as the K10 was administered monthly to a random sample of individuals. According to the results among the 9.9% of individuals who reported “psychological distress (all categories)” 5.1% of the same participants reported suicidal ideation. Participants who scored “very high” on the Psychological Distress scale “were 77 times more likely to report suicidal ideation than those in the low category”.

In a one-year study conducted in Finland, 41% of the patients who later committed suicide saw a health care professional, most seeing a psychiatrist. Of those, only 22% discussed suicidal intent on their last office visit. In most of the cases, the office visit took place within a week of the suicide, and most of the victims had a diagnosed depressive disorder.

There are many centers where one can receive aid in the fight against suicidal ideation and suicide. Hemelrijk et al. (2012) found evidence that assisting people with suicidal ideation via the internet versus more direct forms such as phone conversations has a greater effect. In a 2021 research study, Nguyen et al. (2021) propose that maybe the premise that suicidal ideation is a kind of illness has been an obstacle to dealing with suicidal ideation. They use a Bayesian statistical investigation, in conjunction with the mindsponge theory, to explore the processes where mental disorders have played a very minor role and conclude that there are many cases where the suicidal ideation represents a type of cost-benefit analysis for a life/death consideration, and these people may not be called “patients”.

Assessment

Assessment seeks to understand an individual by integrating information from multiple sources such as clinical interviews; medical exams and physiological measures; standardised psychometric tests and questionnaires; structured diagnostic interviews; review of records; and collateral interviews.

Interviews

Psychologists, psychiatrists, and other mental health professionals conduct clinical interviews to ascertain the nature of a patient or client’s difficulties, including any signs or symptoms of illness the person might exhibit.

  • Clinical interviews are “unstructured” in the sense that each clinician develops a particular approach to asking questions, without necessarily following a predefined format.
  • Structured (or semi-structured) interviews prescribe the questions, their order of presentation, “probes” (queries) if a patient’s response is not clear or specific enough, and a method to rate the frequency and intensity of symptoms.

Standardised Psychometric Measures

Refer to Assessment of Suicide Risk.

  • Beck Scale for Suicide Ideation.
  • Nurses’ Global Assessment of Suicide Risk.
  • Suicidal Affect-Behaviour-Cognition Scale (SABCS).
  • Columbia Suicide Severity Rating Scale.

Treatment

Treatment of suicidal ideation can be problematic due to the fact that several medications have actually been linked to increasing or causing suicidal ideation in patients. Therefore, several alternative means of treating suicidal ideation are often used. The main treatments include:

  • Therapy;
  • Hospitalisation;
  • Outpatient treatment; and
  • Medication or other modalities.

Therapy

In psychotherapy a person explores the issues that make them feel suicidal and learns skills to help manage emotions more effectively.

Hospitalisation

Hospitalisation allows the patient to be in a secure, supervised environment to prevent the suicidal ideation from turning into suicide attempts. In most cases, individuals have the freedom to choose which treatment they see fit for themselves. However, there are several circumstances in which individuals can be hospitalised involuntarily. These circumstances are:

  • If an individual poses danger to self or others; and/or
  • If an individual is unable to care for oneself.

Hospitalisation may also be a treatment option if an individual:

  • Has access to lethal means (e.g. a firearm or a stockpile of pills).
  • Does not have social support or people to supervise them.
  • Has a suicide plan.
  • Has symptoms of a psychiatric disorder (e.g. psychosis, mania, etc.).

Outpatient Treatment

Outpatient treatment allows individuals to remain at their place of residence and receive treatment when needed or on a scheduled basis. Being at home may improve quality of life for some patients, because they will have access to their personal belongings, and be able to come and go freely. Before allowing patients the freedom that comes with outpatient treatment, physicians evaluate several factors of the patient. These factors include the patient’s level of social support, impulse control and quality of judgment. After the patient passes the evaluation, they are often asked to consent to a “no-harm contract”. This is a contract formulated by the physician and the family of the patient. Within the contract, the patient agrees not to harm themselves, to continue their visits with the physician, and to contact the physician in times of need. There is some debate as to whether “no-harm” contracts are effective. These patients are then checked on routinely to assure they are maintaining their contract and avoiding dangerous activities (drinking alcohol, driving fast, and not wearing a seat belt, etc.).

Medication

Prescribing medication to treat suicidal ideation can be difficult. One reason for this is that many medications lift patients’ energy levels before lifting their mood. This puts them at greater risk of following through with attempting suicide. Additionally, if a person has a comorbid psychiatric disorder, it may be difficult to find a medication that addresses both the psychiatric disorder and suicidal ideation.

Antidepressants may be effective. Often, SSRIs are used instead of TCAs as the latter typically have greater harm in overdose.

Antidepressants have been shown to be a very effective means of treating suicidal ideation. One correlational study compared mortality rates due to suicide to the use of SSRI antidepressants within certain counties. The counties which had higher SSRI use had a significantly lower number of deaths caused by suicide. Additionally, an experimental study followed depressed patients for one year. During the first six months of that year, the patients were examined for suicidal behaviour including suicidal ideation. The patients were then prescribed antidepressants for the six months following the first six observatory months. During the six months of treatment, experimenters found suicide ideation reduced from 47% of patients down to 14% of patients. Thus, it appears from current research that antidepressants have a helpful effect on the reduction of suicidal ideation.

Although research is largely in favour of the use of antidepressants for the treatment of suicidal ideation, in some cases antidepressants are claimed to be the cause of suicidal ideation. Upon the start of using antidepressants, many clinicians will note that sometimes the sudden onset of suicidal ideation may accompany treatment. This has caused the FDA to issue a warning stating that sometimes the use of antidepressants may actually increase the thoughts of suicidal ideation. Medical studies have found antidepressants help treat cases of suicidal ideation and work especially well with psychological therapy. Lithium reduces the risk of suicide in people with mood disorders. Tentative evidence finds clozapine in people with schizophrenia reduces the risk of suicide.

What is Suicide Awareness?

Introduction

Suicide awareness is a proactive effort to raise awareness around suicidal behaviours.

Refer to Coping (Psychology), Suicide Prevention, and Suicidal Ideation.

It is focused on reducing social stigmas and ambiguity, by bringing attention to suicide statistically and sociologically, and encouraging positive dialogue and engagement as a means to prevent suicide. Suicide awareness is linked to suicide prevention as both address suicide education and the dissemination of information to ultimately decrease the rate of suicide. Awareness is a first stage that can ease the need for prevention.

Awareness signifies a fundamental consciousness of the threat, while prevention focuses on stopping the act. Suicide awareness is not a medical engagement, but a combination of medical, social, emotional and financial counselling. Suicide awareness in adolescents focuses on the age group between 10-24 years, beginning with the onset of puberty.

Stigma and Ambiguity

Stigma is a negative impact that society can often attribute to the suicidal condition, and which can hinder and prevent positive engagement with those demonstrating suicidal behaviour. It can be experienced as self-stigma or cultural, public stigma. Self-stigma is the adverse effect of internalised prejudice, manifesting itself in reduced self-esteem, decreased self-efficacy, and a feeling of “why try” or self-deprecation (undervaluing any attempts to get a job, be social, etc. because of lack of self-worth). It is experienced not only by those facing suicidal thoughts, but also by those directly and indirectly affected such as family members and friends. Public stigma is experienced by prejudice and discrimination through public misuse of stereotypes associated with suicide.

Stigma can create a detrimental barrier for some seeking help. Research has consistently illustrated the physical link between suicide and mental illness, but ignorance and outdated beliefs can sometimes lead to these disorders being identified as a weakness or a lack of willpower. Stigma can prevent survivors of suicide attempts, and those affected by suicide deaths, from reaching out for support from professionals and advocates to make positive change.

Historical Stigma

Historically, suicide has not always been considered a societal taboo. It is critical to understand the historical context in order to raise awareness of suicide’s impact on our current culture.

Suicide was embraced as a philosophical escape by the followers of the Greek philosopher Epicurus when life’s happiness seemed lost. It has been glorified in self-immolation as an act of martyrdom as in the case of Thich Quang Duc who burned himself to death in protest of South Vietnam’s religious policy. Assisted suicide as a release from suffering can be traced back to ancient Roman society. In Jewish culture, there is a reverence for the mass suicide at Masada in the face of attack by the Roman empire, showing how suicide has sometimes had a contradictory relationship with established religion. This indicates a tension between the presentation of suicide in this historical context, and its associations in our current society with personal anguish. Today, suicide is generally perceived as an act of despair or hopelessness, or a criminal act of terrorism (suicide attack). This negative backdrop was seen in Colonial America, where suicides were considered criminal and brought to trial, even if mental illness had been present.

Suicide was identified in Roman Catholicism as a sinful act, with religious burial prohibited until 1983, when the Catholic Church altered the canon law to allow funerals and burials within the church of those who died by suicide. Today, many current societies and religious traditions condemn suicide, especially in Western culture. Public consideration of suicide in our culture is further complicated by society’s struggle to rationalize such cult events as the Jonestown mass suicide. In light of these mixed historical messages, it can be confusing for youth, presented with an academic and historical profile for suicide. The ambiguity of accepted suicide and suicidal behaviour definitions impedes progress with its utilisation of variable terminology.

Public and Cultural Stigma

Today, even though suicide is considered a public health issue by advocates, the general public often still consider it a private shame; a final desperate solution for the emotionally weak. It is stigmatised in the public perception by being associated with weakness, a “cry for attention,” shame, and depression, without understanding the contributing factors. There can be a visceral and emotional reaction to suicide rather than an attempt to understand it. This reaction is based on stereotypes (overgeneralisations about a group: weak or crazy), prejudices (agreement with stereotypical beliefs and related emotional reactions: Sue attempted suicide; ‘I’m afraid of her’), and discrimination (unfair behaviour towards the suicidal individual or group: avoidance; ‘suicidal persons should be locked up’). Erving Goffman defined courtesy stigma as the discrimination, prejudice and stereotypes which family and friends experience as suicide survivors. Public stigma is felt by medical professionals whose clients die by suicide and whose treatment is then questioned by colleagues and in lawsuits, often contributing to their being less inclined to work with suicidal patients. Property can also be stigmatized by suicide: property sellers in certain jurisdictions in the United States, in California for example, are required by law to reveal if a suicide or murder occurred on the premises in the past three years, putting suicide in the same category as homicide. These issues compound and perpetuate the public stigma of suicide, exacerbating the inclination for suicidal individuals, and their family and friends, to bury their experiences, creating a barrier to care.

Emotional Stigma

Emotionally, the negative stigma of suicide is a powerful force creating isolation and exclusion for those in suicidal crisis. The use of stereotypes, discrimination and prejudices can strip the dignity of those experiencing suicidal behaviour. It also has the potential to inhibit compassion from others and to diminish hope. Fear of being socially rejected and labelled suicidal can prevent communication and support. Distress and reduced life satisfaction are directly affected by subjective feelings of being devalued and marginalised. This develops into an internalized stigma; it creates self-stigmatised emotions, self-deprecation and self-actualisation of negative stereotypes, causing further withdrawal, reduction in quality of life and the inhibiting access to care.

This emotional stigma also affects suicide survivors: those suffering a loved one’s loss, stirring up guilt, self-blame, isolation, depression and post-traumatic stress. Subjective experiences of feeling shunned or blamed for an incident can cause those close to the victim to bury the truth of what transpired.

Awareness Factors

Suicide awareness expresses the need for open constructive dialogue as an initial step towards preventing incidents of adolescent suicide. Once the stigmas have been overcome, there is an increased possibility that education, medical care and support can provide a critical framework for those at risk. Lack of information, awareness of professional services, judgement and insensitivity from religious groups, and financial strain have all been identified as barriers to support access for those youth in suicidal crisis. The critical framework is a necessary component to implementing suicide awareness and suicide prevention, and breaking down these barriers.

Protective Factors

Protective factors are characteristics or conditions that may have a positive effect on youth and reduce the possibility of suicide attempts. These factors have not been studied in as much depth as risk factors, so there is less research. They include:

  • Receiving effective mental health care.
  • Positive social connections and support with family and peers provides coping skills.
  • Participation in community and social groups (i.e. religious) that foster resilience.
  • Optimism enables youth to engage and acquire adaptive skills in reinterpreting adverse experiences to find meaning and benefit.
  • Life satisfaction, spiritual wellbeing and belief that a person can survive beyond their pain is protective against suicide.
  • Resiliency based on adaptive coping skills has can reduce suicide risk, and research suggests these skills can be taught.
  • Finding hope can be a key protective factor and a catalyst for the recovery process.

It is important to note, however, that in-depth training is paramount for those involved in any service that looks to the awareness and needs of those touched by suicide.

Social Media

Suicide awareness and prevention have in the past only relied on research from clinical observation. In bringing insights, intimate experience, and real-world wisdom of suicide attempt survivors to the table, professionals, educators, other survivors and suicide attempt survivors can learn firsthand from their “lived experience.”

Media and journalism, when reporting on suicide, have moved forward in their discussion of suicide. The Recommendations for Reporting on Suicide discovered the powerful impact media coverage, newspapers and journalists can have on the perpetuating stigma of suicide, and that it can lead to greater risk of occurrence. The specific rules that media representatives should follow are:

  • Don’t sensationalise the suicide.
  • Don’t talk about the contents of the suicide note, if there is one.
  • Don’t describe the suicide method.
  • Report on suicide as a public health issue.
  • Don’t speculate why the person might have done it.
  • Don’t quote or interview police or first responders about the causes of suicide.
  • Describe suicide as “died by suicide” or “completed” or “killed themselves,” rather than “committed suicide.”
  • Don’t glamorise suicide.

This is to prevent certain types of messaging around suicide that could increase the chances of at-risk youth considering or attempting suicide. This initiative brought awareness to the sensitivity of reporting on suicide in a constructive, destigmatised method of messaging.

Social Agency

Education in a non-threatening environment is critical to a growth in awareness among adolescents. Health education is closely related to health awareness. School can be the best place to implement a suicide education program because it is the pivotal location that brings together the major influences in an adolescent’s life. Pilot programmes for awareness, and coping and resiliency training should be put into place for all adolescent school-aged children to combat life stressors and to encourage healthy communication.

What is Suicide Prevention?

Introduction

Suicide prevention is a collection of efforts to reduce the risk of suicide. These efforts may occur at the individual, relationship, community, and society level. Suicide is often preventable.

Refer to Coping (Psychology), Suicide Awareness, and Suicide Ideation.

Beyond direct interventions to stop an impending suicide, methods may include:

  • Treating mental illness.
  • Improving coping strategies of people who are at risk.
  • Reducing risk factors for suicide, such as poverty and social vulnerability.
  • Giving people hope for a better life after current problems are resolved.
  • Call a suicide hotline number.

General efforts include measures within the realms of medicine, mental health, and public health. Because protective factors such as social support and social engagement – as well as environmental risk factors such as access to lethal means – play a role in suicide, suicide is not solely a medical or mental-health issue.

Suicide prevention measures suggested by the US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention.

Interventions

Lethal Mean Reduction

Means reduction ⁠- ⁠reducing the odds that a suicide attempter will use highly lethal means -— ⁠is an important component of suicide prevention. This practice is also called “means restriction”.

It has been demonstrated that restricting lethal means can help reduce suicide rates, as delaying action until the desire to die has passed. In general, strong evidence supports the effectiveness of means restriction in preventing suicides. There is also strong evidence that restricted access at so-called suicide hotspots, such as bridges and cliffs, reduces suicides, whereas other interventions such as placing signs or increasing surveillance at these sites appears less effective. One of the most famous historical examples of means reduction is that of coal gas in the United Kingdom. Until the 1950s, the most common means of suicide in the UK was poisoning by gas inhalation. In 1958, natural gas (virtually free of carbon monoxide) was introduced, and over the next decade, comprised over 50% of gas used. As carbon monoxide in gas decreased, suicides also decreased. The decrease was driven entirely by dramatic decreases in the number of suicides by carbon monoxide poisoning. A 2020 Cochrane review on means restrictions for jumping found tentative evidence of reductions in frequency.

In the United States, firearm access is associated with increased suicide completion. About 85% of attempts with a gun result in death while most other widely used suicide attempt methods result in death less than 5% of the time. Although restrictions on access to firearms have reduced firearm suicide rates in other countries, such restrictions are difficult in the United States because the Second Amendment to the United States Constitution limits restrictions on weapons.

Crises Hotline

Crisis hotlines connect a person in distress to either a volunteer or staff member. This may occur via telephone, text messaging, online chat, or in person. Even though crisis hotlines are common, they have not been well studied. One study found a decrease in psychological pain, hopelessness, and desire to die from the beginning of the call through the next few weeks; however, the desire to die did not decrease long term.

Social Intervention

In the United States, the 2012 National Strategy for Suicide Prevention promotes various specific suicide prevention efforts including:

  • Developing groups led by professionally trained individuals for broad-based support for suicide prevention.
  • Promoting community-based suicide prevention programmes.
  • Screening and reducing at-risk behaviour through psychological resilience programs that promotes optimism and connectedness.
  • Education about suicide, including risk factors, warning signs, stigma related issues and the availability of help through social campaigns.
  • Increasing the proficiency of health and welfare services at responding to people in need. e.g. sponsored training for helping professionals, increased access to community linkages, employing crisis counselling organisations.
  • Reducing domestic violence and substance abuse through legal and empowerment means are long-term strategies.
  • Reducing access to convenient means of suicide and methods of self-harm. e.g. toxic substances, poisons, handguns.
  • Reducing the quantity of dosages supplied in packages of non-prescription medicines e.g. aspirin.
  • School-based competency promoting and skill enhancing programmes.
  • Interventions and usage of ethical surveillance systems targeted at high-risk groups.
  • Improving reporting and portrayals of negative behaviour, suicidal behaviour, mental illness and substance abuse in the entertainment and news media.
  • Research on protective factors & development of effective clinical and professional practices.

Media Guidelines

Recommendations around media reporting of suicide include not sensationalizing the event or attributing it to a single cause. It is also recommended that media messages include suicide prevention messages such as stories of hope and links to further resources. Particular care is recommended when the person who died is famous. Specific details of the method or the location are not recommended.

There; however, is little evidence regarding the benefit of providing resources for those looking for help and the evidence for media guidelines generally is mixed at best.

TV shows and news media may also be able to help prevent suicide by linking suicide with negative outcomes such as pain for the person who has attempted suicide and their survivors, conveying that the majority of people choose something other than suicide in order to solve their problems, avoiding mentioning suicide epidemics, and avoiding presenting authorities or sympathetic, ordinary people as spokespersons for the reasonableness of suicide.

Medication

The medication lithium may be useful in certain situations to reduce the risk of suicide. Specifically it is effective at lowering the risk of suicide in those with bipolar disorder and major depressive disorder. Some antidepressant medications may increase suicidal ideation in some patients under certain conditions.

Counselling

There are multiple talk therapies that reduce suicidal thoughts and behaviours including dialectical behaviour therapy (DBT). Cognitive behaviour therapy for suicide prevention (CBT-SP) is a form of DBT adapted for adolescents at high risk for repeated suicide attempts. The brief intervention and contact technique developed by the World Health Organisation (WHO) also has shown benefit.

The WHO recommends “specific skills should be available in the education system to prevent bullying and violence in and around the school”.

Coping Planning

Coping planning is an strengths-based intervention that aims to meet the needs of people who ask for help, including those experiencing suicidal ideation. By addressing why someone asks for help, the risk assessment and management stays on what the person needs, and the needs assessment focuses on the individual needs of each person. The coping planning approach to suicide prevention draws on the health-focused theory of coping. Coping is normalised as a normal and universal human response to unpleasant emotions and interventions are considered a change continuum of low intensity (e.g. self-soothing) to high intensity support (e.g. professional help). By planning for coping, it supports people who are distressed and provides a sense of belongingness and resilience in treatment of illness. The proactive coping planning approach overcomes implications of ironic process theory. The biopsychosocial strategy of training people in healthy coping improves emotional regulation and decreases memories of unpleasant emotions. A good coping planning strategically reduces the inattentional blindness for a person while developing resilience and regulation strengths.

Strategies

The traditional approach has been to identify the risk factors that increase suicide or self-harm, though meta-analysis studies suggest that suicide risk assessment might not be useful and recommend immediate hospitalization of the person with suicidal feelings as the healthy choice. In 2001, the US Department of Health and Human Services, published the National Strategy for Suicide Prevention, establishing a framework for suicide prevention in the US The document, and its 2012 revision, calls for a public health approach to suicide prevention, focusing on identifying patterns of suicide and suicidal ideation throughout a group or population (as opposed to exploring the history and health conditions that could lead to suicide in a single individual). The ability to recognise warning signs of suicide allows individuals who may be concerned about someone they know to direct them to help.

Suicide gesture and suicidal desire (a vague wish for death without any actual intent to kill oneself) are potentially self-injurious behaviours that a person may use to attain some other ends, like to seek help, punish others, or to receive attention. This behaviour has the potential to aid an individual’s capability for suicide and can be considered as a suicide warning, when the person shows intent through verbal and behavioural signs.

A United States Army suicide prevention poster.

Specific Strategies

Suicide prevention strategies focus on reducing the risk factors and intervening strategically to reduce the level of risk. Risk and protective factors, unique to the individual can be assessed by a qualified mental health professional.

Some of the specific strategies used to address are:

  • Crisis intervention.
  • Structured counselling and psychotherapy.
  • Hospitalisation for those with low adherence to collaboration for help and those who require monitoring and secondary symptom treatment.
  • Supportive therapy like substance abuse treatment, psychotropic medication, Family psychoeducation and Access to emergency phone call care with emergency rooms, suicide prevention hotlines, etc.
  • Restricting access to lethality of suicide means through policies and laws.
  • Creating and using crisis cards, an easy-to-read uncluttered card that describes a list of activities one should follow in crisis until the positive behaviour responses settles in the personality.
  • Person-centred life skills training. e.g. problem solving.
  • Registering with support groups like Alcoholics Anonymous, Suicide Bereavement Support Group, a religious group with flow rituals, etc.
  • Therapeutic recreational therapy that improves mood.
  • Motivating self-care activities like physical exercise’s and meditative relaxation.

Psychotherapies that have shown most successful or evidence based are dialectical behaviour therapy (DBT), which has shown to be helpful in reducing suicide attempts and reducing hospitalisations for suicidal ideation and cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), which has shown to improve problem-solving and coping abilities.

After a Suicide

Postvention is for people affected by an individual’s suicide. This intervention facilitates grieving, guides to reduce guilt, anxiety, and depression and to decrease the effects of trauma. Bereavement is ruled out and promoted for catharsis and supporting their adaptive capacities before intervening depression and any psychiatric disorders. Postvention is also provided to minimise the risk of imitative or copycat suicides, but there is a lack of evidence based standard protocol. But the general goal of the mental health practitioner is to decrease the likelihood of others identifying with the suicidal behaviour of the deceased as a coping strategy in dealing with adversity.

Risk Assessment

Warning Signs

Warning signs of suicide can allow individuals to direct people who may be considering suicide to get help.

Behaviours that may be warning signs include:

  1. Talking about wanting to die or wanting to kill themselves.
  2. Suicidal ideation: thinking, talking, or writing about suicide, planning for suicide.
  3. Substance abuse.
  4. Feelings of purposelessness.
  5. Anxiety, agitation, being unable to sleep, or sleeping all the time.
  6. Feelings of being trapped.
  7. Feelings of hopelessness.
  8. Social withdrawal.
  9. Displaying extreme mood swings, suddenly changing from sad to very calm or happy.
  10. Recklessness or impulsiveness, taking risks that could lead to death, such as driving extremely fast.
  11. Mood changes including depression.
  12. Feelings of uselessness.
  13. Settling outstanding affairs, giving away prized or valuable possessions, or making amends when they are otherwise not expected to die (as an example, this behaviour would be typical in a terminal cancer patient but not a healthy young adult).
  14. Strong feelings of pain, either emotional or physical considering oneself burdensome.
  15. Increased use of drugs or alcohol.

Additionally, the National Institute for Mental Health includes feeling burdensome, and strong feelings of pain – either emotional or physical – as warning signs that someone may attempt suicide.

Direct Talks

An effective way to assess suicidal thoughts is to talk with the person directly, to ask about depression, and assess suicide plans as to how and when it might be attempted. Contrary to popular misconceptions, talking with people about suicide does not plant the idea in their heads. However, such discussions and questions should be asked with care, concern and compassion. The tactic is to reduce sadness and provide assurance that other people care. The WHO advises to not say everything will be all right nor make the problem seem trivial, nor give false assurances about serious issues. The discussions should be gradual and specifically executed when the person is comfortable about discussing their feelings. ICARE (Identify the thought, Connect with it, Assess evidences for it, Restructure the thought in positive light, Express or provide room for expressing feelings from the restructured thought) is a model of approach used here.

Screening

The US Surgeon General has suggested that screening to detect those at risk of suicide may be one of the most effective means of preventing suicide in children and adolescents. There are various screening tools in the form of self-report questionnaires to help identify those at risk such as the Beck Hopelessness Scale and Is Path Warm?. A number of these self-report questionnaires have been tested and found to be effective for use among adolescents and young adults. There is however a high rate of false-positive identification and those deemed to be at risk should ideally have a follow-up clinical interview. The predictive quality of these screening questionnaires has not been conclusively validated so it is not possible to determine if those identified at risk of suicide will actually die by suicide. Asking about or screening for suicide does not create or increase the risk.

In approximately 75% of completed suicides, the individuals had seen a physician within the year before their death, including 45 to 66% within the prior month. Approximately 33 to 41% of those who completed suicide had contact with mental health services in the prior year, including 20 percent within the prior month. These studies suggest an increased need for effective screening. Many suicide risk assessment measures are not sufficiently validated, and do not include all three core suicidality attributes (i.e. suicidal affect, behaviour, and cognition). A study published by the University of New South Wales has concluded that asking about suicidal thoughts cannot be used as a reliable predictor of suicide risk.

Underlying Condition

The conservative estimate is that 10% of individuals with psychiatric disorders may have an undiagnosed medical condition causing their symptoms, with some estimates stating that upwards of 50% may have an undiagnosed medical condition which if not causing is exacerbating their psychiatric symptoms. Illegal drugs and prescribed medications may also produce psychiatric symptoms. Effective diagnosis and if necessary medical testing which may include neuroimaging to diagnose and treat any such medical conditions or medication side effects may reduce the risk of suicidal ideation as a result of psychiatric symptoms, most often including depression, which are present in up to 90-95% of cases.

Risk Factors

All people can be at risk of suicide. Risk factors that contribute to someone feeling suicidal or making a suicide attempt may include:

  • Depression, other mental disorders, or substance abuse disorder.
  • Certain medical conditions.
  • Chronic pain.
  • A prior suicide attempt.
  • Family history of a mental disorder or substance abuse.
  • Family history of suicide.
  • Family violence, including physical or sexual abuse.
  • Having guns or other firearms in the home.
  • Having recently been released from prison or jail.
  • Being exposed to others’ suicidal behaviour, such as that of family members, peers, or celebrities.
  • Being male.

Support Organisations

Many non-profit organisations exist, such as the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention in the United States, which serve as crisis hotlines; it has benefited from at least one crowd-sourced campaign. The first documented programme aimed at preventing suicide was initiated in 1906 in both New York, the National Save-A-Life League and in London, the Suicide Prevention Department of the Salvation Army.

Suicide prevention interventions fall into two broad categories: prevention targeted at the level of the individual and prevention targeted at the level of the population. To identify, review, and disseminate information about best practices to address specific objectives of the National Strategy Best Practices Registry (BPR) was initiated. The Best Practices Registry of Suicide Prevention Resource Centre is a registry of various suicide intervention programmes maintained by the American Association of Suicide Prevention. The programs are divided, with those in Section I listing evidence-based programmes: interventions which have been subjected to in depth review and for which evidence has demonstrated positive outcomes. Section III programmes have been subjected to review.

If you or someone you know displays sign or symptoms of suicidal thoughts or actions these prevention organisations are available:

  • Befrienders Worldwide.
  • American Foundation for Suicide Prevention.
  • Campaign Against Living Miserably.
  • Crisis Text Line.
  • International Association for Suicide Prevention.
  • The Jed Foundation.
  • National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.
  • Samaritans.
  • SOSAD Ireland.
  • Suicide Prevention Action Network USA.
  • The Trevor Project.
  • Trans Lifeline.

Economics

In the United States it is estimated that an episode of suicide results in costs of about $1.3 million. Money spending on appropriated interventions is estimated to result in a decrease in economic losses that are 2.5 fold greater than the amount spent.

What is Coping (Psychology)?

Introduction

Coping means to invest one’s own conscious effort, to solve personal and interpersonal problems, in order to try to master, minimise or tolerate stress and conflict.

The psychological coping mechanisms are commonly termed coping strategies or coping skills. The term coping generally refers to adaptive (constructive) coping strategies, that is, strategies which reduce stress. In contrast, other coping strategies may be coined as maladaptive, if they increase stress. Maladaptive coping is therefore also described, based on its outcome, as non-coping. Furthermore, the term coping generally refers to reactive coping, i.e. the coping response which follows the stressor. This differs from proactive coping, in which a coping response aims to neutralise a future stressor. Subconscious or unconscious strategies (e.g. defence mechanisms) are generally excluded from the area of coping.

The effectiveness of the coping effort depends on the type of stress, the individual, and the circumstances. Coping responses are partly controlled by personality (habitual traits), but also partly by the social environment, particularly the nature of the stressful environment.

Types of Coping Strategies

Hundreds of coping strategies have been identified. Classification of these strategies into a broader architecture has not been agreed upon. Researchers try to group coping responses rationally, empirically by factor analysis, or through a blend of both techniques. In the early days, Folkman and Lazarus split the coping strategies into four groups, namely problem-focused, emotion-focused, support-seeking, and meaning-making coping. Weiten has identified four types of coping strategies:

  1. Appraisal-focused (adaptive cognitive);
  2. Problem-focused (adaptive behavioural);
  3. Emotion-focused; and
  4. Occupation-focused coping.

Billings and Moos added avoidance coping as one of the emotion-focused coping. Some scholars have questioned the psychometric validity of forced categorisation as those strategies are not independent to each other. Besides, in reality, people can adopt multiple coping strategies simultaneously.

Typically, people use a mixture of several coping strategies, which may change over time. All these strategies can prove useful, but some claim that those using problem-focused coping strategies will adjust better to life. Problem-focused coping mechanisms may allow an individual greater perceived control over their problem, whereas emotion-focused coping may sometimes lead to a reduction in perceived control (maladaptive coping).

Lazarus “notes the connection between his idea of ‘defensive reappraisals’ or cognitive coping and Freud’s concept of ‘ego-defenses'”, coping strategies thus overlapping with a person’s defence mechanisms.

Appraisal-Focused Coping Strategies

Appraisal-focused (adaptive cognitive) strategies occur when the person modifies the way they think, for example: employing denial, or distancing oneself from the problem. People may alter the way they think about a problem by altering their goals and values, such as by seeing the humour in a situation: “some have suggested that humor may play a greater role as a stress moderator among women than men”.

Adaptive Behavioural Coping Strategies

People using problem-focused strategies try to deal with the cause of their problem. They do this by finding out information on the problem and learning new skills to manage the problem. Problem-focused coping is aimed at changing or eliminating the source of the stress. The three problem-focused coping strategies identified by Folkman and Lazarus are: taking control, information seeking, and evaluating the pros and cons. However, problem-focused coping may not be necessarily adaptive, especially in the uncontrollable case that one cannot make the problem go away.

Emotion-Focused Coping Strategies

Emotion-focused strategies involve:

  • Releasing pent-up emotions.
  • Distracting oneself.
  • Managing hostile feelings.
  • Meditating.
  • Mindfulness practices.
  • Using systematic relaxation procedures.

Emotion-focused coping “is oriented toward managing the emotions that accompany the perception of stress”. The five emotion-focused coping strategies identified by Folkman and Lazarus are:

  • Disclaiming.
  • Escape-avoidance.
  • Accepting responsibility or blame.
  • Exercising self-control.
  • Positive reappraisal.

Emotion-focused coping is a mechanism to alleviate distress by minimizing, reducing, or preventing, the emotional components of a stressor. This mechanism can be applied through a variety of ways, such as:

  • Seeking social support.
  • Reappraising the stressor in a positive light.
  • Accepting responsibility.
  • Using avoidance.
  • Exercising self-control.
  • Distancing.

The focus of this coping mechanism is to change the meaning of the stressor or transfer attention away from it. For example, reappraising tries to find a more positive meaning of the cause of the stress in order to reduce the emotional component of the stressor. Avoidance of the emotional distress will distract from the negative feelings associated with the stressor. Emotion-focused coping is well suited for stressors that seem uncontrollable (e.g. a terminal illness diagnosis, or the loss of a loved one). Some mechanisms of emotion focused coping, such as distancing or avoidance, can have alleviating outcomes for a short period of time, however they can be detrimental when used over an extended period. Positive emotion-focused mechanisms, such as seeking social support, and positive re-appraisal, are associated with beneficial outcomes. Emotional approach coping is one form of emotion-focused coping in which emotional expression and processing is used to adaptively manage a response to a stressor. Other examples include relaxation training through deep breathing, meditation, yoga, music and art therapy, and aromatherapy, as well as grounding, which uses physical sensations or mental distractions to refocus from the stressor to present.

Reactive and Proactive Coping

Most coping is reactive in that the coping is in response to stressors. Anticipating and reacting to a future stressor is known as proactive coping or future-oriented coping. Anticipation is when one reduces the stress of some difficult challenge by anticipating what it will be like and preparing for how one is going to cope with it.

Social Coping

Social coping recognises that individuals are bedded within a social environment, which can be stressful, but also is the source of coping resources, such as seeking social support from others.

Humour

Humour used as a positive coping strategy may have useful benefits in relation to mental health and well-being. By having a humorous outlook on life, stressful experiences can be and are often minimised.

This coping method corresponds with positive emotional states and is known to be an indicator of mental health. Physiological processes are also influenced within the exercise of humour. For example, laughing may reduce muscle tension, increase the flow of oxygen to the blood, exercise the cardiovascular region, and produce endorphins in the body.

Using humour in coping while processing through feelings can vary depending on life circumstance and individual humour styles. In regards to grief and loss in life occurrences, it has been found that genuine laughs/smiles when speaking about the loss predicted later adjustment and evoked more positive responses from other people. A person of the deceased family member may resort to making jokes of when the deceased person used to give unwanted “wet willies” (term used for when a person sticks their finger inside their mouth then inserts the finger into another person’s ear) to any unwilling participant. A person might also find comedic relief with others around irrational possible outcomes for the deceased funeral service.

It is also possible that humour would be used by people to feel a sense of control over a more powerless situation and used as way to temporarily escape a feeling of helplessness. Exercised humour can be a sign of positive adjustment as well as drawing support and interaction from others around the loss.

Negative Techniques (Maladaptive Coping or Non-Coping)

Whereas adaptive coping strategies improve functioning, a maladaptive coping technique (also termed non-coping) will just reduce symptoms while maintaining or strengthening the stressor. Maladaptive techniques are only effective as a short-term rather than long-term coping process.

Examples of maladaptive behaviour strategies include dissociation, sensitization, safety behaviours, anxious avoidance, rationalisation and escape (including self-medication).

These coping strategies interfere with the person’s ability to unlearn, or break apart, the paired association between the situation and the associated anxiety symptoms. These are maladaptive strategies as they serve to maintain the disorder.

Dissociation is the ability of the mind to separate and compartmentalise thoughts, memories, and emotions. This is often associated with post traumatic stress syndrome.

Sensitization is when a person seeks to learn about, rehearse, and/or anticipate fearful events in a protective effort to prevent these events from occurring in the first place.

Safety behaviours are demonstrated when individuals with anxiety disorders come to rely on something, or someone, as a means of coping with their excessive anxiety.

Rationalisation is the practice of attempting to use reasoning to minimise the severity of an incident, or avoid approaching it in ways that could cause psychological trauma or stress. It most commonly manifests in the form of making excuses for the behaviour of the person engaging in the rationalisation, or others involved in the situation the person is attempting to rationalise.

Anxious avoidance is when a person avoids anxiety provoking situations by all means. This is the most common method.

Escape is closely related to avoidance. This technique is often demonstrated by people who experience panic attacks or have phobias. These people want to flee the situation at the first sign of anxiety.

Further Examples

Further examples of coping strategies include emotional or instrumental support, self-distraction, denial, substance use, self-blame, behavioural disengagement and the use of drugs or alcohol.

Many people think that meditation “not only calms our emotions, but…makes us feel more ‘together'”, as too can “the kind of prayer in which you’re trying to achieve an inner quietness and peace”.

Low-effort syndrome or low-effort coping refers to the coping responses of a person refusing to work hard. For example, a student at school may learn to put in only minimal effort as they believe if they put in effort it could unveil their flaws.

Historical Psychoanalytic Theories

Otto Fenichel

Otto Fenichel summarised early psychoanalytic studies of coping mechanisms in children as “a gradual substitution of actions for mere discharge reactions…[&] the development of the function of judgement” – noting however that “behind all active types of mastery of external and internal tasks, a readiness remains to fall back on passive-receptive types of mastery.”

In adult cases of “acute and more or less ‘traumatic’ upsetting events in the life of normal persons”, Fenichel stressed that in coping, “in carrying out a ‘work of learning’ or ‘work of adjustment’, [s]he must acknowledge the new and less comfortable reality and fight tendencies towards regression, towards the misinterpretation of reality”, though such rational strategies “may be mixed with relative allowances for rest and for small regressions and compensatory wish fulfillment, which are recuperative in effect”.

Karen Horney

In the 1940s, the German Freudian psychoanalyst Karen Horney “developed her mature theory in which individuals cope with the anxiety produced by feeling unsafe, unloved, and undervalued by disowning their spontaneous feelings and developing elaborate strategies of defence.” Horney defined four so-called coping strategies to define interpersonal relations, one describing psychologically healthy individuals, the others describing neurotic states.

The healthy strategy she termed “Moving with” is that with which psychologically healthy people develop relationships. It involves compromise. In order to move with, there must be communication, agreement, disagreement, compromise, and decisions. The three other strategies she described – “Moving toward”, “Moving against” and “Moving away” – represented neurotic, unhealthy strategies people utilise in order to protect themselves.

Horney investigated these patterns of neurotic needs (compulsive attachments). The neurotics might feel these attachments more strongly because of difficulties within their lives. If the neurotic does not experience these needs, they will experience anxiety. The ten needs are:

  • Affection and approval, the need to please others and be liked.
  • A partner who will take over one’s life, based on the idea that love will solve all of one’s problems.
  • Restriction of one’s life to narrow borders, to be undemanding, satisfied with little, inconspicuous; to simplify one’s life.
  • Power, for control over others, for a façade of omnipotence, caused by a desperate desire for strength and dominance.
  • Exploitation of others; to get the better of them.
  • Social recognition or prestige, caused by an abnormal concern for appearances and popularity.
  • Personal admiration.
  • Personal achievement.
  • Self-sufficiency and independence.
  • Perfection and unassailability, a desire to be perfect and a fear of being flawed.

In Compliance, also known as “Moving toward” or the “Self-effacing solution”, the individual moves towards those perceived as a threat to avoid retribution and getting hurt, “making any sacrifice, no matter how detrimental.” The argument is, “If I give in, I won’t get hurt.” This means that: if I give everyone I see as a potential threat whatever they want, I won’t be injured (physically or emotionally). This strategy includes neurotic needs one, two, and three.

In Withdrawal, also known as “Moving away” or the “Resigning solution”, individuals distance themselves from anyone perceived as a threat to avoid getting hurt – “the ‘mouse-hole’ attitude … the security of unobtrusiveness.” The argument is, “If I do not let anyone close to me, I won’t get hurt.” A neurotic, according to Horney desires to be distant because of being abused. If they can be the extreme introvert, no one will ever develop a relationship with them. If there is no one around, nobody can hurt them. These “moving away” people fight personality, so they often come across as cold or shallow. This is their strategy. They emotionally remove themselves from society. Included in this strategy are neurotic needs three, nine, and ten.

In Aggression, also known as the “Moving against” or the “Expansive solution”, the individual threatens those perceived as a threat to avoid getting hurt. Children might react to parental in-differences by displaying anger or hostility. This strategy includes neurotic needs four, five, six, seven, and eight.

Related to the work of Karen Horney, public administration scholars[40] developed a classification of coping by frontline workers when working with clients (see also the work of Michael Lipsky on street-level bureaucracy). This coping classification is focused on the behavior workers can display towards clients when confronted with stress. They show that during public service delivery there are three main families of coping:

  • Moving towards clients:
    • Coping by helping clients in stressful situations.
    • An example is a teacher working overtime to help students.
  • Moving away from clients:
    • Coping by avoiding meaningful interactions with clients in stressful situations.
    • An example is a public servant stating “the office is very busy today, please return tomorrow.”
  • Moving against clients:
    • Coping by confronting clients.
    • For instance, teachers can cope with stress when working with students by imposing very rigid rules, such as no phone use in class and sending everyone to the office when they use a phone.
    • Furthermore, aggression towards clients is also included here.

In their systematic review of 35 years of the literature, the scholars found that the most often used family is moving towards clients (43% of all coping fragments). Moving away from clients was found in 38% of all coping fragments and Moving against clients in 19%.

Heinz Hartmann

In 1937, the psychoanalyst (as well as a physician, psychologist, and psychiatrist) Heinz Hartmann marked it as the evolution of ego psychology by publishing his paper, “Me” (which was later translated into English in 1958, titled, “The Ego and the Problem of Adaptation”). Hartmann focused on the adaptive progression of the ego “through the mastery of new demands and tasks”. In fact, according to his adaptive point of view, once infants were born they have the ability to be able to cope with the demands of their surroundings. In his wake, ego psychology further stressed “the development of the personality and of ‘ego-strengths’…adaptation to social realities”.

Object Relations

Emotional intelligence has stressed the importance of “the capacity to soothe oneself, to shake off rampant anxiety, gloom, or irritability….People who are poor in this ability are constantly battling feelings of distress, while those who excel in it can bounce back far more quickly from life’s setbacks and upsets”. From this perspective, “the art of soothing ourselves is a fundamental life skill; some psychoanalytic thinkers, such as John Bowlby and D. W. Winnicott see this as the most essential of all psychic tools.”

Object relations theory has examined the childhood development both of “[i]ndependent coping…capacity for self-soothing”, and of “[a]ided coping. Emotion-focused coping in infancy is often accomplished through the assistance of an adult.”

Gender Differences

Gender differences in coping strategies are the ways in which men and women differ in managing psychological stress. There is evidence that males often develop stress due to their careers, whereas females often encounter stress due to issues in interpersonal relationships. Early studies indicated that “there were gender differences in the sources of stressors, but gender differences in coping were relatively small after controlling for the source of stressors”; and more recent work has similarly revealed “small differences between women’s and men’s coping strategies when studying individuals in similar situations.”

In general, such differences as exist indicate that women tend to employ emotion-focused coping and the “tend-and-befriend” response to stress, whereas men tend to use problem-focused coping and the “fight-or-flight” response, perhaps because societal standards encourage men to be more individualistic, while women are often expected to be interpersonal. An alternative explanation for the aforementioned differences involves genetic factors. The degree to which genetic factors and social conditioning influence behaviour, is the subject of ongoing debate.

Physiological Basis

Hormones also play a part in stress management. Cortisol, a stress hormone, was found to be elevated in males during stressful situations. In females, however, cortisol levels were decreased in stressful situations, and instead, an increase in limbic activity was discovered. Many researchers believe that these results underlie the reasons why men administer a fight-or-flight reaction to stress; whereas, females have a tend-and-befriend reaction. The “fight-or-flight” response activates the sympathetic nervous system in the form of increased focus levels, adrenaline, and epinephrine. Conversely, the “tend-and-befriend” reaction refers to the tendency of women to protect their offspring and relatives. Although these two reactions support a genetic basis to differences in behaviour, one should not assume that in general females cannot implement “fight-or-flight” behaviour or that males cannot implement “tend-and-befriend” behaviour. Additionally, this study implied differing health impacts for each gender as a result of the contrasting stress-processes.

What is Defence Mechanism?

Introduction

In psychoanalytic theory, a defence mechanism is an unconscious psychological mechanism that reduces anxiety arising from unacceptable or potentially harmful stimuli.

Defence mechanisms may result in healthy or unhealthy consequences depending on the circumstances and frequency with which the mechanism is used. Defence mechanisms (German: Abwehrmechanismen) are psychological strategies brought into play by the unconscious mind to manipulate, deny, or distort reality in order to defend against feelings of anxiety and unacceptable impulses and to maintain one’s self-schema or other schemas. These processes that manipulate, deny, or distort reality may include the following: repression, or the burying of a painful feeling or thought from one’s awareness even though it may resurface in a symbolic form; identification, incorporating an object or thought into oneself; and rationalisation, the justification of one’s behaviour and motivations by substituting “good” acceptable reasons for the actual motivations. In psychoanalytic theory, repression is considered the basis for other defence mechanisms.

Healthy people normally use different defence mechanisms throughout life. A defence mechanism becomes pathological only when its persistent use leads to maladaptive behaviour such that the physical or mental health of the individual is adversely affected. Among the purposes of ego defence mechanisms is to protect the mind/self/ego from anxiety or social sanctions or to provide a refuge from a situation with which one cannot currently cope.

One resource used to evaluate these mechanisms is the Defence Style Questionnaire (DSQ-40) (see here for online version).

Refer to Coping (Psychology).

Theories and Classifications

Different theorists have different categorisations and conceptualisations of defence mechanisms. Large reviews of theories of defence mechanisms are available from Paulhus, Fridhandler and Hayes (1997) and Cramer (1991). The Journal of Personality published a special issue on defence mechanisms (1998).

In the first definitive book on defence mechanisms, The Ego and the Mechanisms of Defence (1936), Anna Freud enumerated the ten defence mechanisms that appear in the works of her father, Sigmund Freud: repression, regression, reaction formation, isolation, undoing, projection, introjection, turning against one’s own person, reversal into the opposite, and sublimation or displacement.

Sigmund Freud posited that defence mechanisms work by distorting id impulses into acceptable forms, or by unconscious or conscious blockage of these impulses. Anna Freud considered defence mechanisms as intellectual and motor automatisms of various degrees of complexity, that arose in the process of involuntary and voluntary learning.

Anna Freud introduced the concept of signal anxiety; she stated that it was “not directly a conflicted instinctual tension but a signal occurring in the ego of an anticipated instinctual tension”. The signalling function of anxiety was thus seen as crucial, and biologically adapted to warn the organism of danger or a threat to its equilibrium. The anxiety is felt as an increase in bodily or mental tension, and the signal that the organism receives in this way allows for the possibility of taking defensive action regarding the perceived danger.

Both Freuds studied defence mechanisms, but Anna spent more of her time and research on five main mechanisms: repression, regression, projection, reaction formation, and sublimation. All defence mechanisms are responses to anxiety and how the consciousness and unconscious manage the stress of a social situation.

  • Repression: when a feeling is hidden and forced from the consciousness to the unconscious because it is seen as socially unacceptable.
  • Regression: falling back into an early state of mental/physical development seen as “less demanding and safer”.
  • Projection: possessing a feeling that is deemed as socially unacceptable and instead of facing it, that feeling or “unconscious urge” is seen in the actions of other people.
  • Reaction formation: acting the opposite way that the unconscious instructs a person to behave, “often exaggerated and obsessive”.
    • For example, if a wife is infatuated with a man who is not her husband, reaction formation may cause her to – rather than cheat – become obsessed with showing her husband signs of love and affection.
  • Sublimation: seen as the most acceptable of the mechanisms, an expression of anxiety in socially acceptable ways.

Otto F. Kernberg (1967) developed a theory of borderline personality organisation of which one consequence may be borderline personality disorder. His theory is based on ego psychological object relations theory. Borderline personality organisation develops when the child cannot integrate helpful and harmful mental objects together. Kernberg views the use of primitive defence mechanisms as central to this personality organisation. Primitive psychological defences are projection, denial, dissociation or splitting and they are called borderline defence mechanisms. Also, devaluation and projective identification are seen as borderline defences.

In George Eman Vaillant’s (1977) categorisation, defences form a continuum related to their psychoanalytical developmental level. They are classified into pathological, immature, neurotic and “mature” defences.

Robert Plutchik’s (1979) theory views defences as derivatives of basic emotions, which in turn relate to particular diagnostic structures. According to his theory, reaction formation relates to joy (and manic features), denial relates to acceptance (and histrionic features), repression to fear (and passivity), regression to surprise (and borderline traits), compensation to sadness (and depression), projection to disgust (and paranoia), displacement to anger (and hostility) and intellectualisation to anticipation (and obsessionality).

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-IV) published by the American Psychiatric Association (1994) included a tentative diagnostic axis for defence mechanisms. This classification is largely based on Vaillant’s hierarchical view of defences, but has some modifications. Examples include: denial, fantasy, rationalisation, regression, isolation, projection, and displacement.

Vaillant’s Categorisation

Psychiatrist George Eman Vaillant introduced a four-level classification of defence mechanisms: Much of this is derived from his observations while overseeing the Grant study that began in 1937 and is on-going. In monitoring a group of men from their freshman year at Harvard until their deaths, the purpose of the study was to see longitudinally what psychological mechanisms proved to have impact over the course of a lifetime. The hierarchy was seen to correlate well with the capacity to adapt to life. His most comprehensive summary of the on-going study was published in 1977.The focus of the study is to define mental health rather than disorder.

  • Level 1: Pathological defences (psychotic denial, delusional projection).
  • Level 2: Immature defences (fantasy, projection, passive aggression, acting out).
  • Level 3: Neurotic defences (intellectualisation, reaction formation, dissociation, displacement, repression).
  • Level 4: Mature defences (humour, sublimation, suppression, altruism, anticipation).

Level 1: Pathological

When predominant, the mechanisms on this level are almost always severely pathological. These defences, in conjunction, permit one effectively to rearrange external experiences to eliminate the need to cope with reality. Pathological users of these mechanisms frequently appear irrational or insane to others. These are the “pathological” defences, common in overt psychosis. However, they are normally found in dreams and throughout childhood as well. They include:

  • Delusional projection: Delusions about external reality, usually of a persecutory nature.
  • Denial: Refusal to accept external reality because it is too threatening; arguing against an anxiety-provoking stimulus by stating it does not exist; resolution of emotional conflict and reduction of anxiety by refusing to perceive or consciously acknowledge the more unpleasant aspects of external reality.
  • Distortion: A gross reshaping of external reality to meet internal needs

Level 2: Immature

These mechanisms are often present in adults. These mechanisms lessen distress and anxiety produced by threatening people or by an uncomfortable reality. Excessive use of such defences is seen as socially undesirable, in that they are immature, difficult to deal with and seriously out of touch with reality. These are the so-called “immature” defences and overuse almost always leads to serious problems in a person’s ability to cope effectively. These defences are often seen in major depression and personality disorders. They include:

  • Acting out: Direct expression of an unconscious wish or impulse in action, without conscious awareness of the emotion that drives the expressive behaviour.
  • Hypochondriasis: An excessive preoccupation or worry about having a serious illness.
  • Passive-aggressive behaviour: Indirect expression of hostility.
  • Projection: A primitive form of paranoia.
    • Projection reduces anxiety by allowing the expression of the undesirable impulses or desires without becoming consciously aware of them; attributing one’s own unacknowledged, unacceptable, or unwanted thoughts and emotions to another; includes severe prejudice and jealousy, hypervigilance to external danger, and “injustice collecting”, all with the aim of shifting one’s unacceptable thoughts, feelings and impulses onto someone else, such that those same thoughts, feelings, beliefs and motivations are perceived as being possessed by the other.
  • Schizoid fantasy: Tendency to retreat into fantasy in order to resolve inner and outer conflicts.

Level 3: Neurotic

These mechanisms are considered neurotic, but fairly common in adults. Such defences have short-term advantages in coping, but can often cause long-term problems in relationships, work and in enjoying life when used as one’s primary style of coping with the world. They include:

  • Displacement: Defence mechanism that shifts sexual or aggressive impulses to a more acceptable or less threatening target; redirecting emotion to a safer outlet; separation of emotion from its real object and redirection of the intense emotion toward someone or something that is less offensive or threatening in order to avoid dealing directly with what is frightening or threatening.
  • Dissociation: Temporary drastic modification of one’s personal identity or character to avoid emotional distress; separation or postponement of a feeling that normally would accompany a situation or thought.
  • Intellectualisation: A form of isolation; concentrating on the intellectual components of a situation so as to distance oneself from the associated anxiety-provoking emotions; separation of emotion from ideas; thinking about wishes in formal, affectively bland terms and not acting on them; avoiding unacceptable emotions by focusing on the intellectual aspects (solitude, rationalisation, ritual, undoing, compensation, and magical thinking)
  • Reaction formation: Converting unconscious wishes or impulses that are perceived to be dangerous or unacceptable into their opposites; behaviour that is completely the opposite of what one really wants or feels; taking the opposite belief because the true belief causes anxiety
  • Repression: The process of attempting to repel desires towards pleasurable instincts, caused by a threat of suffering if the desire is satisfied; the desire is moved to the unconscious in the attempt to prevent it from entering consciousness; seemingly unexplainable naivety, memory lapse or lack of awareness of one’s own situation and condition; the emotion is conscious, but the idea behind it is absent.

Level 4: Mature

These are commonly found among emotionally healthy adults and are considered mature, even though many have their origins in an immature stage of development. They are conscious processes, adapted through the years in order to optimise success in human society and relationships. The use of these defences enhances pleasure and feelings of control. These defences help to integrate conflicting emotions and thoughts, whilst still remaining effective. Those who use these mechanisms are usually considered virtuous. Mature defences include:

  • Altruism: Constructive service to others that brings pleasure and personal satisfaction.
  • Anticipation: Realistic planning for future discomfort.
  • Humour: Overt expression of ideas and feelings (especially those that are unpleasant to focus on or too terrible to talk about directly) that gives pleasure to others. The thoughts retain a portion of their innate distress, but they are “skirted around” by witticism, for example, self-deprecation.
  • Sublimation: Transformation of unhelpful emotions or instincts into healthy actions, behaviours, or emotions, for example, playing a heavy contact sport such as football or rugby can transform aggression into a game.
  • Suppression: The conscious decision to delay paying attention to a thought, emotion, or need in order to cope with the present reality; making it possible later to access uncomfortable or distressing emotions whilst accepting them.

Other Defence Mechanisms

Pathological

  • Conversion:
    • The expression of an intrapsychic conflict as a physical symptom; examples include blindness, deafness, paralysis, or numbness.
    • This phenomenon is sometimes called hysteria.
  • Splitting:
    • A primitive defence.
    • Both harmful and helpful impulses are split off and segregated, frequently projected onto someone else.
    • The defended individual segregates experiences into all-good and all-bad categories, with no room for ambiguity and ambivalence.
    • When “splitting” is combined with “projecting”, the undesirable qualities that one unconsciously perceives oneself as possessing, one consciously attributes to another.

Immature

  • Idealisation:
    • Tending to perceive another individual as having more desirable qualities than he or she may actually have.
  • Introjection:
    • Identifying with some idea or object so deeply that it becomes a part of that person.
    • For example, introjection occurs when we take on attributes of other people who seem better able to cope with the situation than we do.
  • Projective identification:
    • The object of projection invokes in that person a version of the thoughts, feelings or behaviours projected.
  • Somatisation:
    • The transformation of uncomfortable feelings towards others into uncomfortable feelings toward oneself: pain, illness, and anxiety.
  • Wishful thinking:
    • Making decisions according to what might be pleasing to imagine instead of by appealing to evidence, rationality, or reality.

Neurotic

  • Isolation:
    • Separation of feelings from ideas and events, for example, describing a murder with graphic details with no emotional response.
  • Rationalisation (making excuses):
    • Convincing oneself that no wrong has been done and that all is or was all right through faulty and false reasoning.
    • An indicator of this defence mechanism can be seen socially as the formulation of convenient excuses.
  • Regression:
    • Temporary reversion of the ego to an earlier stage of development rather than handling unacceptable impulses in a more adult way, for example, using whining as a method of communicating despite already having acquired the ability to speak with an appropriate level of maturity.
  • Undoing:
    • A person tries to ‘undo’ an unhealthy, destructive or otherwise threatening thought by acting out the reverse of the unacceptable. Involves symbolically nullifying an unacceptable or guilt provoking thought, idea, or feeling by confession or atonement.
  • Upward and downward social comparisons:
    • A defensive tendency that is used as a means of self-evaluation. Individuals will look to another individual or comparison group who are considered to be worse off in order to dissociate themselves from perceived similarities and to make themselves feel better about themselves or their personal situation.
  • Withdrawal:
    • Avoidance is a form of defence.
    • It entails removing oneself from events, stimuli, and interactions under the threat of being reminded of painful thoughts and feelings.

Relation with Coping

There are many different perspectives on how the construct of defence relates to the construct of coping; some writers differentiate the constructs in various ways, but “an important literature exists that does not make any difference between the two concepts”. In at least one of his books, George Eman Vaillant stated that he “will use the terms adaptation, resilience, coping, and defense interchangeably”.

Refer to Coping (Psychology).

Book: Building Motivational Interviewing Skills

Book Title:

Building Motivational Interviewing Skills: A Practitioner Workbook.

Author(s): David B. Rosengren.

Year: 2017.

Edition: Second (2nd).

Publisher: The Guildford Press.

Type(s): Paperback and Kindle.

Synopsis:

Many tens of thousands of mental health and health care professionals have used this essential book – now significantly revised with 70% new content reflecting important advances in the field – to develop and sharpen their skills in motivational interviewing (MI).

Clear explanations of core MI concepts are accompanied by carefully crafted sample dialogues, exercises, and practice opportunities. Readers build proficiency for moving through the four processes of MI – engaging, focusing, evoking, and planning – using open-ended questions, affirmations, reflective listening, and summaries (OARS), plus information exchange.

In a large-size format with lay-flat binding for easy photocopying, the volume includes more than 80 reproducible worksheets. Purchasers get access to a companion website where they can download and print the reproducible materials.

New to This Edition

  • Fully revised and restructured around the new four-process model of MI.
  • Chapters on exploring values and goals and “finding the horizon.”
  • Additional exercises, now with downloadable worksheets.
  • Teaches how to tailor OARS skills for each MI process.
  • Integrates key ideas from positive psychology.