Resilience After Trauma: From Surviving to Thriving

There are many noted viewpoints and theories regarding the effects of trauma on human development and the ability to be resilient when faced with life-changing events. Scholarly reviews on human development vary from a scientific approach to a spiritual perspective. Theory on human development denotes that life consists of a series of typical stages from which all humans must evolve. Traumatic experiences during any of these stages could impair, hinder, or delay an individual’s ability to function in a culturally and acceptable manner. Normal human development from infancy to late adulthood ideally indicates mastery and resilience at each stage. Scholarly research on human development goes back to the early days at the onset and study of psychology. Twentieth-century healthcare practitioners continue to study the effects that trauma has on development. Incorporating spiritual development throughout the lifespan into the therapeutic process for victims of trauma is being considered as a positive intervention with irrefutable and long-term results.

Trauma can exhibit a negative impact on a child’s development, but children may show resilience in the face of disaster. The American Psychological Association explains trauma as “an emotional response to a terrible event like an accident, rape, or natural disaster.” Although trauma has been defined as the above, any negative encounter or situation one may experience has the potential of being distressing to that individual. There are various kinds of adverse childhood experiences comprising of acute – a solitary, perilous incident such as a car accident or natural disaster, chronic – a frequent, extended exposure to adverse circumstances particularly bullying or child neglect/abuse, and complex – an exposure to terrible reoccurring experiences, for instance, ongoing domestic violence (Herbers et al., 2014). According to Sattler and Font (2018), resilience is a dynamic mechanism of optimistic acclimatization, ensuring the existence of a serious threat. Resilience may be seen as minimized anguish from a stressful situation and the ability to manage a stressful ordeal with a lowered impact on a person’s daily life and development.

Subsequently, trauma affects each child’s development differently. At an early age, educators and health professionals are among the first to normally identify and advocate for a young victim of a traumatic situation or event, for example, homelessness, death, abuse, or natural disaster. Very young children may display poor verbal abilities, demonstrate regressive behaviors, or exaggerated crying. In contrast, older children may show signs of unreasonable or aggressive behavior, encounter digestive issues or headaches, and concentration challenges (Sciaraffa et al., 2018). Unless preventative measures are taken at an early stage of the traumatic disturbance, these children may mature into adults with PTSD, chronic health concerns, proclivities towards drug addiction, and relationship challenges. Many determining factors lead to developmental challenges in victims of childhood trauma. When children experience affliction, the neural pathways typically used for the development of cognitive and emotional growth is being retarded as the neurotransmitters responding to the distress is disrupting their progression. Cortisol, the stress hormone located in the adrenal gland, is released during times of exorbitant amounts of stress; this can influence a person’s awareness, emotions and may provoke memory lapses as well as a person’s physical health (Sciaraffa et al., 2018).

Maltby and Hall (2012) extend our understanding of trauma with children as those who are abused, neglected, or exploited by a caregiver resulting in irrational behavior, severe mental disorders, and emotional deregulation. Resilience is a constant pattern of efficaciously adjusting to problematic, disconcerting life experiences, flourishing in the face of adversity, after trauma, catastrophe, detrimental risks, and sources of stress. One of the most notable features of complex traumatic stress is the failure of the child’s caregivers to provide protection that so that the child feels that the parent is physically, emotionally, or mentally absent or passively allows the trauma to take place in the presence of the offender. A child’s development becomes warped and distorted when the strong do as they please, the frail acquiesce, and caregivers are knowingly sightless. Finally, the child or adolescent feels left alone and abandoned. Preliminary research confirms that traumatic and adverse childhood experiences hasten dysfunction of the neuroendocrine stress system (Maltby & Hall, 2012). The release of excess cortisol is associated with prolonged and childhood stress. Childhood trauma is associated with neurobiological changes with intellectual deficits as adults modulate according to the trauma experienced.

Nevid (2017) proposes Jean Piaget’s cognitive development learning theory. According to Nevid (2017), a child is born with a schema or mental framework to help them understand their world or environment. Piaget refers to the preoperational stage to be from two to seven years. This is when children are forming a symbolic representation of the world in which they live (Nevid, 2017). Though their thinking processes are somewhat limited at this stage, they demonstrate what he refers to as egocentrism, where they view the world from their point of view. To give an example, from birth, a child becomes accustomed to knowing daddy and mommy as their protectors, nurturers, and loving parents. One day this particular structure ceases to exist because of death or divorce. As a result, Piaget’s cognitive development theory proposes that during this stage of development, in order for the child to continue functioning efficiently, the child will either adapt to the new demand of not having both parents (original schema), assimilate a new schema of having just one care provider, protector, and so forth, or accommodate to meet the challenge of this traumatic event or stressor.

While some children might develop at a normal pace and with no residual damage, trauma can exhibit a negative impact on their development. Still, children may show resilience in the face of disaster because trauma affects their development differently, with many determining factors leading to developmental challenges in victims of childhood trauma. However, given the right environment, children can rebound from many traumatic or anxiety, causing events. According to Nevid (2017), fostering resilience can be explained as “the process of capacity for or outcome of successful adaptation despite challenging or threatening circumstances.” Wong et al. (2015) propose the Urie Bronfenbrenner theory that suggests that the cultural support tools that exist within parent-child interactions (microsystems), extended family (mesosystem), and the community, school, and church (exosysem) can help to create and foster the wellbeing of the child. Further, according to Lev Vygotsky’s sociocultural theory of cognitive development proposed by Nevid (2017), learned skills, values, and behaviors strengthen at-risk children and help them regulate their behavior by external influences. In retrospect, early intervention can lessen developmental delays and learning disabilities later on in life for some children. As a consequence, Nevid (2017) describes traumatic stressors as potentially life-threatening events that can cause developmental crises. In addition, Wong et al. (2015) state that human development is multifaceted, multidimensional, and contextual and should be viewed from an interactive perspective. As such, the effects of trauma can vary from those that adults experience and those experienced by children.

There are numerous ways that can be used to counter the effects of trauma. For instance, faith is a powerful tool to help counteract the effects of childhood distress and suffering and to promote healing. Religion and spirituality supply an unmistakable impact on a victim of a traumatic event by providing supportive beliefs and passions that can encourage resiliency following adversity. A useful method that can be used to practice spiritual strength is prayer and meditation. Developing an attitude of gratefulness, being thankful daily, and focusing on what the future holds go hand in hand when developing a spiritual defense towards trauma. After distressing occurrences, victims usually experience surges of spiritual, emotional, behavioral, physical, and cognitive responses, which make them feel threatened and deranged. In her book, Elaine exemplifies these general responses from a biological perspective restructuring a person’s experience from humiliation and pathology towards biology and hope. The book also offers other models, the Community Resiliency Model and the Trauma Resiliency Model that provides tangible and realistic knowledge, which resonates with the biology of trauma.

First, the Trauma Resiliency Model is an inventive therapeutic framework for dealing with trauma. The bottom-up approach entails nine skills, which utilizes sensory consciousness for emotion integration and regulation. The purpose of this model is to provide “wellness expertise based on cutting edge neuroscience to humanity, one person at a time” (Miller-Karas, 2015). Miller assists people in learning this model to live wholly in the moment and flourish in their daily activities of living. To live a resilient life implies that a person can manage stress, be annoyed without losing your head. For this reason, this model enlightens people on how to recognize when they are emotionally unbalanced and provide you with ways to remain resilient, be in a calm state always. These are several skills Elaine teaches people to practice to be resistant to trauma. For instance, paying attention to vibrations and feelings, especially feelings of distress and wellbeing. Learning to separate these two feelings brings consciousness and can help a person move to less hurting feelings. Also, resourcing to create internal resilience and strength that strengthens perceptions of a person’s aptitudes and attitudes. Again, when a person understands how to be grounded, they attain a sense of self in everyday interactions and relationships. Finally, gesturing helps a person learn how to pay attention to automatic movement to enhance the reprocessing of the trauma, aid release, and promote resiliency.

Second, the Community Resiliency Model is also another profound approach, which Elaine discusses. This approach is sustainable and aimed at reaching vast numbers of people. Moreover, you do not need to be a mental health professional to train people. Any person with a sound mind can be skilled to train this approach and support people going through the healing process (Miller-Karas, 2015). The Community Resiliency Model is very versatile and very efficient in addressing natural and human-made calamities. It has been used in many countries and translated into different languages. The purpose of this model is to ensure an individual attains a state of wellbeing in spirit, soul, and body. Here are several skills, which Elaine trains people using this model for people in achieving the resilient zone. To begin with, a person is trained on how to pay attention to sensations and always told to pay attention to what is happening on the inside. Then identify the resource, where the person is expected to write three resources, circle one, and provide more information concerning your supply. Following this step is grounding, where a person is trained on how to notice sensations, which are safe and supportive at the present moment. A person is trained to the ground while sitting on a couch, standing against a hard surface, and paying attention to your feet while walking.

In conclusion, while some children might develop at a normal pace and with no residual damage, trauma can exhibit a negative impact on their development. Still, children may show resilience in the face of disaster. With the assistance of caring adults in combination with strong faith, children can overcome any diversity that may arise, be it during childhood or as an adult. As a result, the study of human development and the effects that trauma has on children and adults continues to be a broad but rewarding work in the field of psychology. The therapy and scientific progress is a never ending process that avails all of us endless opportunities upon which, through empirical research, we can obtain answers relative to creation, humanity, and the pursuit of counseling individuals through the lifespan.


Herbers, J. E., Cutuli, J. J., Monn, A. R., Narayan, A. J., & Masten, A. S. (2014). Trauma, Adversity, and Parent–Child Relationships Among Young Children Experiencing Homelessness. Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology, 42(7), 1167–1174. Web.

Maltby, L. E., & Hall, T. W. (2012). Trauma, Attachment, and Spirituality: A Case Study: Journal of Psychology and Theology. Web.

Miller-Karas, E. (2015). Building Resilience to Trauma: The Trauma and Community Resiliency Models (1st edition). Routledge.

Nevid, J. S. (2017). Essentials of Psychology: Concepts and Applications (5th edition). Cengage Learning.

Sattler, K. M. P., & Font, S. A. (2018). Resilience in young children involved with child protective services. Child Abuse & Neglect, 75, 104–114. Web.

Sciaraffa, M. A., Zeanah, P. D., & Zeanah, C. H. (2018). Understanding and Promoting Resilience in the Context of Adverse Childhood Experiences. Early Childhood Education Journal, 46(3), 343–353. Web.

Wong, D. W., Hall, K. R., Justice, C. A., & Hernandez, L. W. (2015). Counseling Individuals Through the Lifespan (1st edition). SAGE Publications, Inc.

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