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27 March 2014 | 09:54

A simple definition of resilience, by Stefan Vanistendael

 

The concept of resilience is central to BICE, where it is applied in all actions concerning children. But what is resilience ? Stefan Vanistendael, head of research and development at BICE, explains what is behind the word.

What is your simple definition of resilience?

Resilience is the ability of an individual or a group to overcome great difficulties and to prevail in life. It could be injury, or complete poverty, a serious illness, mourning, or other problems. Anne Frank’s journal or the life of Nelson Mandela are famous examples of resilience.

We all know someone, a friend, neighbour or colleague, who has had a difficult life, but has emerged positive, upbeat, and without pretensions. Beyond resistance, there is an ability to rebuild life, or even to transform misfortune into something positive, such as the blind person who becomes an excellent musician.

It is not easy to study resilience ; we cannot observe it, we can only study its consequences on a way of life.

Does resilience exist everywhere ?

Yes, this phenomenon has been recognized in many different cultures and countries. But there is no universal definition of human resilience. Indeed, many languages have no word for it. English is one of the few languages to have a common word for the concept : resilience or resiliency. Many languages have adopted this word for their own use. 

How can we promote resilience in an injured or traumatized person ?

Certain elements appear to contribute to resilience : to feel oneself to be accepted by another person – without this meaning necessarily an approval of behaviour – this element is often considered to be the most important ; the discovery of a positive meaning in life ; a framework, the feeling of control over one’s life, a positive yet honest self-image, a series of social and other skills, a constructive sense of humour. This list is by no means an exhaustive one.

Resilience is not a technique, but it inspires a viewpoint which, while recognising the problems, goes beyond the purely remedial to seek out inner resources and positive elements which will help to reconstruct a life.

Very often, this process is supported by friends and family. However, in certain cases, professional assistance is required.

To learn more, see Stefan Vanistendael’s publications in our online shop (all in French): “Résilience et Spiritualité” or “Droits de l’enfant et résilience”. Also online, an account by Tim Guénard in our latest quarterly review “Enfants de Partout” (PDF in French). 

© Dc Johan Van Der Vloet