Does Resilience Originate From Life Dilemmas? With Special Reference to Institutionalized Adolescents
Special Articles / Jasmine George, Ilango Ponnuswami / Scientific Writing and Publishing in Social Work
This paper explores the resilience of institutionalized adolescents from strength based perspectives. It is an optimistic attempt to changethe repeated cliché about adolescence as a “time of stress and strain”. Five institutionalized adolescent boys were interviewed and the data analyzed in a qualitative manner. Dent and Cameron (2003) describe resilience as the flexibility or ability to rebound from adversity, to cope with, adapt positively and to manage major difficulties and disadvantages in life. This paper looks at the link between resilience and multiple adverse conditions. The findings suggest that strength is originating from deficit.
Key words: Resilience, institutionalized adolescents, strength based perspectives
Resilience refers to the process of overcoming the negative effects of risk exposure, coping successfully with traumatic experiences, and avoiding the negative trajectories associated with risks. Assets are the positive factors that reside inside the individual like stress tolerance, self-efficacy, competence which are interconnected and enable the individual to face the harsh realities of life. But the process of internalizing all these components in an individual remainsinquestion. Considering the current strengths based approach prevailing in social work practice, resilience is strength rather than deficit. Does strengthoriginate from deficit? Institutionalized children have no proper place either in the family or in society and are officially placed in or committed to a specialized institution. It is obvious that they have faced enormously distressing events in childhood. These callous realities can produce either a strength like resilience or deficits like negative coping styles. If a depressive environment can produce resilience it will be strength from deficit. The current study highlights the resilience of institutionalized adolescents and analyzes its origin from a strengths based perspective.
Material and Method
This study was undertaken with institutionalized adolescents in Kerala in the year of 2011 using a semi structured interview schedule. The major areas of inquiry were explored- history of their life in street, self-concept and self-awareness, goal of life, problem solving skills, ability to bounce back from crisis and relationships with others. The researcher first noticed the problem when as trainee at an institution where children are accommodated. Most of the children are adolescentsand were rescued from the streets. She came into contact with adolescents who lived in awful circumstance, where the problems of poverty and abuse were prevalent. Some of the adolescents with whom she had conversation seemed to have an inner strength and a desire to achieve success despite of their misfortunes. Whereas, non-institutionalized adolescents, livingat home, under the care and protection of their parents seem to be more vulnerable. Children can be left without parental care due to socioeconomic, moral and psychological reasons. Growing incidences of neglectful parenting, family cruelty and violence facilitate the process of institutionalization(Hodges &Tizard, 1989).The research presented in this paper expressthe effect of unfavorable events before institutionalization in shaping the children as resilient. Does deficit result instrength? Five institutionalized adolescent boys were interviewed because I wanted to study from a strength based approach.This study introduces a novel positive face to adolescents as those who preserve the spark of creativity and freshness in mind.
Review of Literature
Resilience embraces the ability of an individual to deal more effectively with stress and pressure. Every person has an amazing internalized power to defeat the hurdles of life successfully. Unfortunately decades of social work practice had concentrated on pathology based medical model where problems, needs and deficiencies are accentuated (Lubbe&Eloff, 2003:80). Contemporary social work acknowledges the strengthsand/ or assets of the individual and the resources in his environment that can be mobilized to help him with his problem and empower him to bounce back from a crisis (Macdonald, 1997:115).
Adverse circumstances can produce positive as well as negative consequences. Sometimes crisis shape the individual to overcome it and strengthen the innate resilience capacity. The resilient person has the competence to deal with the obstacles which confront him successfully and at the same time he is able to focus on achieving his goals. This idea is echoed by Hauser (1993:3) when he suggests that resilient individual demonstrates good individual adaptation despite adverse events and experiences of misfortunes. Similarly, crisis can make the individual a victim of the circumstance in an unconstructive way. Some may even develop behavioral and emotional disorders (Steyn, 2006).
Thedata obtained from the interviews were manually analyzed. Recorded interviews helped to be clear in the process of analysis. All the findings are based on how they bounce back from streets and its influence on of their current life in institution.
I am respectful of myself
All the institutionalized adolescents in the study showed a positive attitude toward self. They had to suffer misfortunes in childhood like overcoming being hungry due to being without food, sleeping on foot pathsand associated fears, and living without baths. Even though and despite all these facts, institutionalized adolescents articulated an attitude of self-confidence and self-worth.
Resilient children view themselves as lovable and worthy of respect and care, this self-esteem is grounded in values of respect for others, a desire to contribute, and experiences of mastery and competence. Resilient children have a positive self-concept and a strong feeling of self-worth (Kalil& Kunz, 1999: 97). The majority of the respondents found that a positive self-concept and thriving to wipe out the unfortunate memories of past life through a bright future. One respondent suggested that,
I am very fortune to be here as the part of this institution, which altered my life entirely and I belief in my strengths to create an India without street children. (John)
This comment highlights his constructive attitude which guides him to reach the particular dream. The uncertainties faced in streets mold him as resilient as a having self-worth. Now they are enjoying all facilities and are able to have food, education and sports. These supportive environments are unimaginable when they were in streets. The reality of institutionalized life is helping them towards a successful future. Another respondent noted that the process of self-evaluation made him to improve gradually to be a respective personality.
Before going bed it was my hobby to have a look through every minutes of the day. Sometimes feel happiness and satisfaction. (Siva)
I can control absolutely when I am inclined to react upon others especially to peers. (John)
John knows his strength and weakness especially in the area of emotional expression. Self- concept helps the individual to assess his strengths and weaknesses, yet hewas ready to accept the deficits then he is able to make change in significant areas if he feels it’s necessary. Self-esteem is the sum of self-confidence, a feeling of personal capacity and self-respect, a feeling of personal worth. . This particular optimistic feeling leads the individual to a wonderful life.
I want to create an India without street children
Resilient youth have goals, educational aspirations, persistence, hopefulness and a sense of bright future (Krovetz, 1999:121). There is a famous Chinese proverb- ‘if you want to know your past, look into your present conditions. If you want to know your future, look into your present actions’. The past will determine who you are now. Michael dreams to create an India without street children. I think his vision is derived from his life experience, because he knows the uncertainties of being a street dweller. In addition he has a strong internal locus of control which makes it possible to hope, to plan and to set personal goals.
I would spend hours on end kicking a ball on my own, almost putting all of my energy to become a national player and forget everything else.(Mani)
I can’t imagine a boy or girl like me wandering through the footpaths in search for food. My whole life is dedicated to those deprived of a colorful childhood. Even now I can remember the face of my younger sister. (John)
Institutionalized adolescents are capable of setting goals to create a nation that does not have street children. The common theme is that they had to eradicate the phenomenon of streetism. Their emotions while remembering past days in streets were palpable. Some of them were longing for respectful professions. Their profound loss of parents and denial of human rights in childhood prompted them to dream for a bright future by setting realistic goals.
I want to become a software engineer. (John)
I am admiring the profession of police; I want to be a courageous police officer. (Michel)
I have trusting, loving relationships; I CAN solve problems
If one of my friends is in trouble, I am there. I am serving and supportive. (Siva)
John emphasizeshis friendsmake life in the institution more colorful. He finds his friends very supportive and also he sees himself as a supportive friend.
My friends are everything, I laugh with them and they are always with me. I like to pretend as fool to make my friends happy. (John)
Sociability and a well-developed sense of humor have been found to be productive as their social competence elicits the support from others.
Now it is not that problematic, but I had suffered a lot there was none to support me and society could never accept me”. But at present he knows the importance of establishing and sustaining friendships. Now I can’t live even a second without my friends. (Raj)
McWhirter et al (1998) have identified several core skills which are essential for satisfying social relationships and for more effective interpersonal problem solving, developing and maintaining relationships, sharing laughter and jokes with peers, knowing how to join a group activity and interacting with a variety of peers and others. In addition, Joseph (1999:28) found thatresilient children have a proactive approach to problem solving, not waiting for others to do things for them.The participant considers them competent with a well-structured support system.
Now we are looking after well and we got food every day, mostly we have got everything. (Mani)
He sees his institution and caretakers have been supportive and always getting emotional and spiritual support. Porto Alegre’s (2010) findings revealed that positive contacts and high life satisfaction in the institution may indicate that the institutional acceptance constitutes a source of support and satisfaction. The external support system can reward the child abilities and skills and provide him with a sense of meaning and internal locus of control or a belief system by which to live (Werner& Smith, 1998:95). Majority of the resilient literature proves that mode of parenting and family environment is an important factor in the process of resilience development. When a family has a strong and consistent set of values or a consistent set of expectations, rules or structures within the family, this also serves as a protective factor for adolescents (Donald et al, 2002:224). However, here it is very clear that the institutional care and support substitute with parental care and support.
I can stay with risk and task; solve problems
All the institutionalized in this study proclaimed that they are able to face challenges in life and had already experienced a lot which is unimaginable for a human being. Trouble made them bold. Adversities in streets strengthen the child’s response to single or multiple stresses.
“Oh… he rubbed chili powder in my eyes and brandished a hot iron rod close to my eyes. He wanted to put forth an example by torturing me.(Raj)
My uncle is cruel; he never behaved like a human being. (Siva)
We battled a lot for a life, but never have we can. (Michel)
The life of street taught me a lot how to overcome hunger without food, how to sleep in foot path without fear, how to live without bath and so on. (Mani)
It is not easy living on the streets but what I can do? I started to sleep under the bridge or inside any of the buses parked under the bridge.(John)
John’s response reflects the sadness and turmoil in their lives which contributed to remarkable courage and endurance. They did not have basic needs like food and shelter. Multiple adverse conditions, economic disadvantages, denial of human rights and catastrophic life events added to their resilience. Dent and Cameron (2003) describe resilience as the flexibility or ability to rebound from adversity to cope with, adapt positively to manage major difficulties and disadvantages in life. Resilient children are self-resilient, skillful and responsible individuals who are able to take charge of themselves(Joseph, 1994:31-34). Multiple stresses act as a facilitator to form resilience in them rather than produce negative outcomes. Individual and environmental resilience processes enabled the participants to function resiliently despite the harshness of streetism.
Resilience is a processrather than a particular character trait (Luthar et al, 2003). That is resilience included the personal attributes of an individual as well as the environmental factors. Individual characteristics are: effective communication, problem solving skills, social bonding, social competence, good self-concept, and an easy temperament, a strong internal locus of control, healthy beliefs and sense of future. Family support, influence of peers and occurrence of misfortunes constitutes the environmental factors. This study supports the belief that environmental factors play an important role in building resilience.
Does strength originate from deficits?
Strength perspective does not mean ignoring the real trouble or denying reality. It denies the fact that all people who face trauma and pain in their lives inevitable are wounded or incapacitated or become less than they might (Saleebey, 1996). Strength perspective provides a different way of looking at the entire structure including individual and community; seeing capacities and strengths rather than problems. Seeing the individual as unique, having traits, talents and resources that add up to strength rather than a case. Because the strength resides inside, the individual can resolve the experienced problems. If there is any undesirable behavior, it maybe that it has resultedfrom unfavorable circumstances. The impact of a negative environment can be rectified through the strength or resilience power.
Resilience should not be understood as the blithe denial of life experience, pains and scars; it is rather the ability to go on in spite of these (Rutter, 1985: Wollin&Wollin, 1993). Werner, Smith and Carlson (1997) reported that one out of every three children who was evaluated by several measures to be at significant risk for adolescent problem actually developed into competent and confident young adult at age 18. One of their central conceptualizations was that individuals have self-correction or self-righting tendencies. Therefore resilience is not a trait or a static condition but a continuing process. Stress demands opportunities and asks the individual to triumph over the hurdles. Through the self-righting procedure the individual became resilient by the support of personal attributes such as social competence, self-concept and perseverance. In this study the institutionalized adolescents showed resilience obviously showed they have been resilient by correcting the negative circumstances as strength. My argument is that they turn into resilient adolescent by the pain inserted by street life. In brief strength is originating from deficit.
Recommendations for practice
The present study concentrated on the resilience of institutionalized adolescents. Therefore the implications of the findings reflected on parents, teachers, and officials of institutions, councilors, social workers, researchers and others who seek the holistic development of adolescents are identified. Children, who are being separated from their families, have been placed in institutions. There is a direct relationship between the characteristics of the institutional environment- the conditions of stimulation, the learning conditions and patterns of maternal care provided by the caretakers- and the intellectual, social and personality development of these children. The officials at institutions should give positive reinforcement to these children so that they feel recognized and accepted by the society. The quality of the relationship between the staff and young people is likely to be a major factor in the process of resilience. The rationale is that, supportive and positive relationships between the staff and adolescents can contribute to ameliorating past negative emotional expressions and feelings. The institutional care takers may be the best target forproviding training, support and mental health consultation is they are likely to have the greatest influence in helping the young person to develop self-understanding and prospects for change.
Based on the discussion with institutionalized adolescents, I would argue that strength originates from deficits. Wounds bring courage. Resilience is a process starts from crisis or life dilemmas.In the process of developing the self, adolescents work at achieving the salient development task of establishing a sense of mastery and a sense of identity and also establishing autonomy and independence. Optimal development toward these tasks and successful functioning during adolescence appears to be depending on the personal and social characteristics that facilitate coping with the changes and challenges of adolescence. Resilience has been signified as a strong predictor of life success among youth. The researcher would feel grateful if the repercussions of the study lead the practical ways to wipe out the same cliché about adolescence as “time of stress and strain”. That will be helpful in shaping future of adolescence and thus making those shares in the prosperity of their nation.
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