179 – The Role of Resilience When Facing Adversity: Part 1

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Dr. Jackie Parke joins Sandie Morgan and Dave Stachowiak to discuss the role of resilience in lives with high-risk factors. Jackie is a licensed psychologist and Assistant Professor of Psychology at Vanguard University in Southern California who focuses on resilience-building among youth, evidence-based treatment for mental health disorders, and refugee mental health. Together they examine risk factors and protective factors that influence a person’s vulnerability, as well as how resilience plays a role in their future.

Key Points

  • According to Grotburg, resilience is “the human capacity to face, overcome, and be strengthened by or even transformed by the adversities of life.”
  • Risk factors include individual, family, and social or community characteristics that are associated with increased vulnerability in a person’s life.
  • Researchers think that the total number of risk factors a child experiences may weigh more heavily on vulnerability than the particular type of risk factors they experience.
  • Protective factors include the individual, family, and social or community characteristics that are associated with positive adaptation.
  • Two of the five factors related to resilience are social support and coping or self-regulation skills (factors continued in Part Two).


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Dave: [00:00:00] You’re listening to the Ending Human Trafficking podcast. This is episode number 179, The Role of Resilience when Facing Adversity: Part 1.

Production Credits: [00:00:10] Produced by Innovate Learning, maximizing human potential.

Dave: [00:00:31] Welcome to the Ending Human Trafficking podcast. My name is Dave Stachowiak.

Sandie: [00:00:36] And my name is Sandie Morgan.

Dave: [00:00:39] And this is the show where we empower you to study the issues, be a voice, and make a difference in ending human trafficking. Sandie, I don’t know how often we say the word resilience, but certainly, that word comes up for me just about every time we record an episode of thinking about not only the resilience that all of us need in this work against human trafficking. But of course, the resilience most importantly of the people who are affected by this. And I’m really thrilled to welcome our guest today. She’s a pal of ours at Vanguard University and her name is Jackie Parke. Dr. Jackie Parke is a licensed psychologist who serves children, adolescents, college-age young adults, and their families. She’s currently an assistant professor of psychology at Vanguard University of Southern California. Her clinical and research areas of focus include resilience building among youth, evidence-based treatment for mental health disorders, and refugee mental health. And I know she’s going to really be helpful to us Sandie on some more perspective on this. Jackie, we’re so glad to welcome you to the show.

Jackie: [00:01:45] I’m so excited to be here. Thank you both for having me.

Sandie: [00:01:48] Well Jackie, when I first met you, you opened a door for me when I’m working particularly with survivors and aftercare for human trafficking but also with a lot of my kids who have come out of some kind of domestic violence situation because one of the things I’ve seen is trauma-informed care is very helpful. But why are some of my kids doing really well and others not? And it was like you showed me the next step. So that’s why I was so excited to have you bring that to our listeners, so welcome to our show. And where we’re going to start off with let’s just talk about the definition of resilience. \.

Jackie: [00:02:35] So there are different definitions of resilience in the literature. So, researchers kind of debate, and I’ve seen you know over the past few decades this debate happening, but there’s one definition that I lean toward in particular because it has more of a positive emphasis. And I saw this in the literature by Grotberg in 1995, “Resilience is the human capacity to face, overcome, and be strengthened by or even transformed by the adversities of life.”.

Sandie: [00:03:12] Wow. So, the “transformed by adversities of life” that caught me by surprise.

Jackie: [00:03:19] Me too, and that’s the piece that I really appreciate about this definition is that it’s saying yes people have adverse experiences that they face, that they can overcome but perhaps there’s even a pathway there where by way of the adversities they have faced, people can actually be transformed by those experiences.

Sandie: [00:03:44] So the idea that resiliency is like a little rubber ball that when you squeeze it regains its shape is really different in the context of this definition. And I think for a lot of us in this field and not really thinking through about resiliency we’ve sort of had this okay either it’s going to regain its shape or it’s not.

Jackie: [00:04:10] I think that’s what most people would imagine when they consider resilience you know can this person get back to who they used to be. You know when I talk with clients sometimes in therapy when they’ve been through adverse experiences sometimes they’re thinking of OK I need to get back to who I used to be, my old normal, my old self. But a hopeful, futuristic post-traumatic growth view of this would say well actually you’ll find a new normal and is it even the case that you might emerge from these really difficult experiences with new strength and new capacities and a new degree of transformation that wasn’t there before.

Sandie: [00:04:53] And looking at it from my perspective, I’m thinking I don’t want her to go back to her old normal because that’s why she was so vulnerable and so I want her to have a new strength. So, tell us how that works especially from a child perspective, you’ve done a lot of work with adolescents.

Sandie: [00:05:13] Well first off, I think thinking about an example that you just gave of not wanting someone to go back to the vulnerable self that they were experiencing. I think what happens is that people have to develop a capacity to dream and to hope of a new, better future. And so, it takes them, and it takes the people around them coming together to have a creative vision for who they can be. You know, loving the person for who they are now, but creating that new hope for future and vision of who they can become. So, part of this in terms of child psychology, child psychologist talks about developmental pathways. And this is basically a term for just the trajectory of a person’s life over time. And it’s complex, is not linear, it’s not formulaic but it’s basically this mysterious combination of what are the risk factors a person has experienced and with their lives and what are the protective factors. And of course, we could get all philosophical about free will and to what extent do we choose and to what extent do we have dominion to scripter [00:06:26] or Meyvis. But [0.2] what we study in child psychology is what are the risk factors? What are the protective factors? And then how do people fare over a time? What is the developmental trajectory of their lives?

Sandie: [00:06:40] That seems really complex so maybe break this down for us. Let’s start with risk factors.

Jackie: [00:06:47] The risk factors, I’ll give you my definition here. Risk factors are individual, family or social and community characteristics that are associated with increased vulnerability in a person’s life.

Sandie: [00:07:03] Is that going to be like the difference between growing up in a gated community and growing up in a 10-story apartment building?

Jackie: [00:07:15] That would be a community level risk factor, yes. So, these risk factors can be on the individual level, the family level, or the social community level.

Sandie: [00:07:28] Give us some examples of individual and family?

Jackie: [00:07:33] So an individual risk factor would be a child who is very in terms of their temperament, maybe they’re very inhibited or reserved and they tend to internalize or keep everything inside. So certainly, it can also be a strength. I’m an introvert so I’m not going to say that that’s necessarily a negative thing, but what if a child experiences something traumatic or someone harms them in some sort of way and because of that temperament they’re not going to tell anyone. They’re going to keep it inside and they’re going to internalize that experience. We would then consider that an individual risk factor.

Sandie: [00:08:12] So these are the kids that think that the fight mommy and daddy are having is their fault?

Jackie: [00:08:19] Yeah, they could have a tendency in terms of their thinking patterns, bullying themselves or keep everything inside. And in some sense developmentally, kids when they’re younger tend to blame themselves anyway, but if they going to blame themselves and then they’re going to keep it inside and they’re not, for example, going to go to school and tell a teacher or share with a trusted adult, that could be a risk factor.

Sandie: [00:08:43] So then what would be the next important part of identifying the impact of those risk factors?

Jackie: [00:08:52] So as we said it is complex, so the risk is a really complex construct and we look at things like what are the different types of risk that are present in a person’s life or in the family? What is the number of risk factors that are present? What’s the timing.? You know obviously, if this does occur earlier in life when we’re more vulnerable in the formative years, that’s different than if we’ve had a solid developmental foundation up to the age of 16 or 17 and then encounter risk. And the pattern of all these factors, they all interact. But really what researchers are thinking is that it seems to be the total number of risk factors that weigh more heavily rather than the type of risk factor. So, in other words, if for example an individual child has a really inhibited, or withdrawn, or even internalizing type of temperament. And then their family has a number of risk factors like domestic violence, and substance abuse, or mental illness. And then social the family is isolated, and the child doesn’t have a lot of friends, and they live in a dangerous community where there’s a high level of crime. [00:10:07] The number of those risk factors accumulate to increase the risk that they face. [4.8]

Sandie: [00:10:14] So can you like say okay if we have more than 10 risk factors this will happen? Or we need 20 and then it puts them in this category? Do they create a chart like that?

Jackie: [00:10:26] I don’t know that I’ve seen a number like that in their research, but I think part of the complexity of this is that it’s also not deterministic. So, what we’re saying is this person faces an unusually high level of odds that are against them in life. The cards that they’ve been dealt in life are unusually difficult. However, we can’t necessarily conclude from that that their life will turn out in an x, y, or z way because of resilience. So, we can probably think of examples of people who faced a huge number of those factors and yet somehow mysteriously they’ve been transformed by those experiences and they have come out of those experiences later in life in a positive way.

Sandie: [00:11:17] I can think of an example and it was a Vanguard student in my Family Violence Class. And I had to bring to life the whole idea of adverse childhood risk factors. We do the adverse childhood experience quiz and most of my students are very informed by processing that personally, but some students have very high scores. And at the end of class one of the students came straight to my side with their quiz and said, “am I going to be okay? Look at my number.” And she had an 8 and I looked at her and I said the fact that you’re a student in a university, I know that the next half of this class after the break we’re going to do a resiliency quiz, that you are going to be OK. But that was the first thing she looked at that number and thought there’s no hope for me. And I think there are a lot of people who have that response.

Jackie: [00:12:22] Yeah. I love how you talked with that student and you reassured her because I think we have to be careful that we don’t draw conclusions from these concepts of risk and protective factors that wouldn’t be accurate. So, I think it’s always a matter of talking about this in a way that creates the most hope for people in a realistic way. But it also doesn’t over conclude anything about people’s lives because really anything is possible.

Sandie: [00:12:53] I love the fact that anything is possible so nobody’s on a pathway where there is no hope. And that kind of leads us into talking about what are those protective factors in that complex continuum that you’re talking about?

Jackie: [00:13:11] So it’s a complex combination of risk factors and protective factors. And then we said too the mysterious, philosophical aspects of free will and human choice. But the protective factors are those factors that will shore up the person’s internal resources. And in a sense make them less vulnerable, make them stronger as they encounter adversity in life. And so, these protective factors are individual, family, and social or community characteristics that are associated with positive adaptation.

Sandie: [00:13:48] So define positive adaptation for me before we talk about the factors.

Jackie: [00:13:54] Yeah, sorry this is getting a little bit of clinical jargon, but that’s OK. I mean I’m working with youth, but positive adaptation just basically means this person is doing well in life. They may be able to go to school, or they’re able to hold down a job, or they’re able to be known and to know other people in their social relationships. They’re able to have friends, maybe to have a dating relationship or to marry. And so, it’s just a way of saying they’re doing well.

Sandie: [00:14:20] Real positive. I did well in the traffic today. Yes, that was a positive adaptation to the stress of commuting in Southern California. I’m going to start framing it that way because I do feel like this idea of resilience can be transferred to so many parts of our lives where we feel a lot of frustration, and road rage might be one of those things. So, right Dave?

Dave: [00:14:48] Yes. It’s a necessary skill in Southern California.

Sandie: [00:14:52] So we have the same, what I’m thinking through now as I’ve listened, the risk factors included individual, family, or social community characteristics. And now the protective factors are from the same place. They’re not somebody riding in on a white horse. So, show me how that works.

Jackie: [00:15:12] So an example of an individual protective factor would be something about this particular person. Or in the case of a child this particular child that is a strength of theirs, that bodes well for their future. So, I mean there are so many examples we can think of that maybe this child is really intelligent, or is artistically creative, or is good at sports, or they have a great sense of humor. Any of those could be individual protective factors. Family protective factors may be that the family itself is intact, that the parents are still together, the child has both parents in their lives. It could be that maybe if that child doesn’t have contact with their two biological parents, perhaps they have a grandmother, or a grandfather, or an aunt and uncle that they’re extremely close with. They have a sense of family to that person. Socially, maybe the child has a strong friend network or friends who are a positive influence on them. And then in terms of community maybe they live in a community that has resources that are supportive of their growth. Maybe they live in a safer community compared to others. Maybe they were born into a higher [00:16:30] yes [0.4] neighborhood. Those are examples of protective factors.

Sandie: [00:16:35] So when you mention community protective factors that are like positive activities. It always reminds me when I talk to community groups that want to do something to end human trafficking and they want to go open a shelter or something. And I ask them what they’re doing now and they’re doing an after-school dance club or they’re doing a Saturday soccer team for their community and the kids all get uniforms and things. And I say don’t stop doing those things because those are precursors, those are points of intervention early on that might change how a young person’s life ends or continues. And so now seeing that that’s on the protective factors, I want listeners to think back to what they are doing in their community that contribute to protective factors for the very kids that they want to do something for. A white horse strategy may not be the most effective way to intervene.

Jackie: [00:17:45] Absolutely. And the examples that you gave of what that community was doing already, I mean those are protective factors and preventative as well. So, to do activities like that that are already in existence to gain a sense of belonging, they gain a sense that there is something that I can be a part of that I can participate in my community. Or I’m part of this group and part of this team, there’s something about my life that is so much bigger than just me and I can make a positive contribution. There are adults here who are overseeing what’s happening, and they sort of have eyes on these youth and can speak positively into their lives. And all of that can promote resilience.

Sandie: [00:18:31] So you just said protective becomes preventative. That’s a huge correlation for me to see that and hear that because people want to develop prevention curriculum and there’s always a conversation, there’s new legislation we talk about here, but really strengthening our efforts at protective factors is preventative. OK so let’s look at the five factors related to resilience and you’ve already started talking about the whole idea of being on a team and we’ll do part of them now and part of them we’ll move on to a second podcast because we do try to stay true to our 30-minute format. So, we’re going to start with the factors related to resilience and cover two now and the other three in part two. So social support, talk to us about that, Jackie.

Jackie: [00:19:34] Yeah, so I had to pick five of the main factors that I’m seeing as I read through the research and there are many factors. But if we start with social support, it seems like a very important one because social support is going to support all of the other factors that we talk about. So, what we mean by social support is having a sense that there are people who are on their team. That if you face an adverse experience in life, if you go through something difficult, you’re walking through a trial you know there are people who will come alongside you, who will link arms with you and you can trust them. They will love you unconditionally and you have a sense of belonging and community with those people. It’s kind of like your tribe. And you can see how this would take a different form from person to person, but you know it may be positive family support, it may be positive peer relationships, it may be a mentor who’s in your life and is available to you, it could be positive role models. It could be any number of these factors.

Sandie: [00:20:47] So when we’re trying to identify, because I know a lot of people listening to this are doing aftercare with survivors and they’re having a hard time pulling this person into the community may be in a residential care or a drop-in center. And so how would we go about helping someone actually identify that we’re on their team if it seems like they’re very much withdrawn?

Jackie: [00:21:21] It’s a difficult question.

Sandie: [00:21:22] And that’s why I’m asking Dr. Jackie Parke because it’s a hard question.

Jackie: [00:21:28] Thanks, Sandie. It is an important question, and I would imagine it varies from person to person. But honestly, it may take some time and some patience because especially when people have been through such difficult unimaginable experiences they may not know what it’s like to have people on their team. That may be an entirely new experience for them. And so, for someone that is really struggling to integrate as part of a group or struggling to integrate into a residential care setting, I would think it’s going to take time and it can’t be something that we force. But it’s that slow, gradual process of building trust over time through relationships and it would depend on the setting. But obviously, that means that over time staff would have to be experienced, trustworthy, keeping their word, as being safe or consistent. But also, the other people that they’re around in that setting who as well are not staff who maybe are other survivors for example. And that will take time, that will be very difficult for someone who has never had this before.

Sandie: [00:22:48] So let’s go to number two.

Jackie: [00:22:55] Number two is coping and self-regulation. So, this is a basic psychological skill that’s involved in resilience that promotes resilience. And this is the skill of being able to cope with emotions by identifying our feelings and then making choices in the midst of those feelings. So, this allows us to freely navigate our emotions, rather than being dictated by our emotions or enslaved to them. So, in other words, I’m not controlled by my emotions, I’m not the victim of my emotions, but when I am upset, or I’m stressed or angry or I’m afraid I have a menu of options in terms of choices I can make to self-regulate and to calm down.

Sandie: [00:23:47] I like that idea of a menu of options because I can mentally see being on a screen and choose the drop-down menu and be thinking okay I am not going to get out of control here, I’m actually going to take a step back and breathe or something like that. I’m not going to be angry and that’s a really difficult thing to set up for me to think that I could make a choice. I thought well this is how I’m feeling. So how does that work?

[00:24:24] Well it is how you’re feeling. So, I think of it kind of like a two-part skill. So, the first part is just recognizing oh I’m really angry right now and how angry am I on a scale from 1 to 10. And my anger is like at an eight, it’s really high. And if someone has helped me think through this skill beforehand, I know that when I’m at an eight-something that really helps me is punching a pillow. I’m not saying that’s my personal example but for some people, that’s what helps them. I’ll give a personal example for me like when I’m stressed out I really need to go for a run or I need to exercise and that’s what’s really helpful for me. But it seems like the key is for people to be able to recognize how they’re feeling, to give language to their emotion. So, is it anger, sadness, fear, is it a combination of those? And then in the midst of recognizing that, to acknowledge that they can make a choice. And the difficulty of this is that it also makes us responsible for what we do with our emotions. So, we do have choices. The advantage of that is that it’s also empowering people, it’s saying in the midst of feeling so intensely you still can make a choice about this and you have the power to choose how you respond.

Sandie: [00:26:02] So the role of finding meaning at that moment is a way of creating more controls so then it continues a cycle of building your strength in that area is kind of what I think I’m hearing.

Jackie: [00:26:20] Yeah because especially when people have survived traumatic experiences or very difficult experiences they are accustomed to experiencing overwhelming emotion states like horror, or terror, or rage and so these wash through them in a way that can feel very uncontrollable. These experiences can stay in their body and in their nervous system and in their thinking patterns in a way that feels very uncontrollable to them. They can even feel like I can’t help it, this is just happening to me. But part of the healing process is to say yes this is happening to you. You are feeling horror right now or you are the feeling rage right now. But we want to increase a person’s sense of control, their sense of personal control that even when they’re feeling that level of horror they can make a choice. It doesn’t mean that they’re not feeling it, doesn’t mean that we’re going to stuff it down and make it go away. It means how can you navigate that in a way that restores a sense of control to you. And how can you avail yourself of again this menu of options that you have developed of choices you can make that help you to cope and to calm down. And there are examples, and again it varies from person to person, but this is where things like relaxation skills, grounding skills, exercise, being able to laugh at a situation having a sense of humor, or like you said finding meaning making meaning of the situation in a way that is accurate and that is helpful. And all of these things are examples of what can restore that sense of personal control and they’re coping.

Sandie: [00:28:07] I go back to my original example of road rage and when someone cuts me off I do try to assign meaning to that. That gives me back control so I’ll say well isn’t this a great opportunity for me to be forgiving and build my own patience and perseverance so that I can dismiss that instead of holding on to that anger, but that’s you know driving to work and I’m not dealing with the kind of trauma and terror and horror that so many of our survivors are. So how do I say something to them that helps them identify their coping skill?

Jackie: [00:28:54] I think one of the keys is to have a conversation about this before they reach that point. So, when someone is at an eight or a 10, their body and their brain are so overwhelmed that they’re not going to be able to think through you know what my coping options are here what helps me to calm down. So, it’s a matter of when a person is in a calm state making even a list with them, writing down what are some things that help you and you can bring suggestions to the table as well. If people even just go online to Google, you can type in something like coping skills worksheet or self-care strategies. And if you google those phrases you can find Handouts that on one page, there’s a whole menu of options that people could pick from, you know to circle the ones that you’d like to try or that you think might help you in the future.

Sandie: [00:29:51] Okay well we’re going to continue this conversation in part two on our next podcast. In the meantime, the link to Dr. Jackie Parke’s website is www.JackieParke.com. So I just want to make sure that resource is there as we start talking about this more in depth and as we transition and close out part 1, I want to remind everybody because I know some of my students are going to be listening to this podcast and the takeaway from this podcast is the definition of resilience that Dr. Parke gave us to begin with. Grotburg’s “The human capacity to face, overcome, and be strengthened by or even transformed by the adversities of life.” So, Dr. Parke, we’re going to come back and talk to you again on our next podcast. Thank you so much for today.

Jackie: [00:30:58] Thank you for having me.

Dave: [00:31:00] And we’re inviting you to take that next step as well while you’re waiting for the next conversation, Part two of our conversation coming up here in two weeks. If you’ll hop online and download a copy of Sandie’s book, The Five Things You Must Know, a quick start guide to ending human trafficking. It’s a great complement to today’s conversation. It will teach you the five critical things that Sandie’s identified in her research and work that You should know to join the fight against human trafficking. You can get access to that by going to endinghumantrafficking.org. While you’re online, also remember that our Ensure Justice conference is coming up in early March 2019, March 1st and 2nd. You can find out more about Ensure Justice at ensurejustice.com and we’ll be back in two weeks for part two of the conversation with Jackie Parke. Thanks, Sandie, Take care.

Sandie: [00:31:57] Thanks, Dave.

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