Kassis, W., Artz, S., Maurovic, I., & Simões, C. (2018). What doesn’t kill them doesn’t make them stronger: Questioning our current notions of resilience. Child Abuse & Neglect, 78, 71-84. DOI: 10.1016/j.chiabu.2017.12.011
Upwards of 30% of adolescents experience physical abuse and/or witness interparental violence in Canada. Assessment of resilience following family violence exposure is often limited to a few discrete outcomes (i.e., violent/aggressive behavior or depression) and prioritizes personal ability to positively adjust within experiences of adversity. Resilience is perceived as an “on-off” dichotomy – a person is or is not resilient. The authors suggest we must shift from this approach to a holistic interactive model that includes an analysis of levels of violence exposure, an ecological matrix of individual, family, social risk and protective factors, and accounts for cumulative risk.
In a previous analysis of their data, the authors tested a binary approach to resilience; participants who reported family violence exposure but did not report physical aggression against peers and depression were considered resilient. In the current study, the authors utilized a sub-sample of 2565 adolescents which included all adolescents who reported no peer aggression or depression, and experienced varying levels of family violence exposure from none to high. As expected, individuals with no family violence exposure, depression, or peer aggression reported highest in protective factors and lowest in risk factors. Amongst the resilient youth, study results suggest that family burden, defined as exposure to family violence (parental physical abuse and/or witnessing interparental violence), is associated cumulatively with higher levels of family violence, depleting protective factors and higher levels of risk factors (alcohol consumption, authoritarian parenting, inconsistent parenting, lack of empathy to fellow students, and aggression supportive beliefs). Furthermore, participants in the resilient groups without peer aggression and depression also had many other vulnerabilities that suggest resilience is not unilateral. The findings in this study support using a holistic dynamic complex modeling of resilience to assess protective factors and adverse effects of family violence exposure.
The analysis utilized one-way variance-analysis with Bonferroni post-hoc tests to assess 16 individual, family, and social protective and risk factors. The subsample was drawn from the European school-based STAMINA-project Formation of non-violent behavior in school and during leisure time among young adults from violent families. The study is limited as a cross-sectional analysis that cannot assess ongoing or progressive effects of family violence on risk and protective factors. The interactive and cumulative approach to family violence exposure pushes us to think more complexly about resilience as a dynamic process that is holistic not individualistic in nature.