Family Resilience

Family Resilience

Life might not be the party we hoped for,
but while we’re here we might as well dance.

Loss is inevitable. None of us escapes “The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune.” How do we best help families and communities heal from trauma and loss as they respond to persistent life challenges and adversity?

The positive concept of resilience, initially defined as an individual trait, constitutes the ability to withstand and rebound from stressful disruptive crises that interrupt developmental tasks. These include death and other traumatic losses as well as challenging distressing unexpected family transitions such as:

  • Separation and divorce

  • Chronic, severe and potentially life-shortening illnesses

  • Unemployment and financial impoverishment

  • Barriers to success for at-risk youth

Froma Walsh further defines family resilience as “Strengths Forged through Adversity” and highlights three goals of the process:

  1. Reducing stress and vulnerability

  2. Fostering healing and growth

  3. Empowering families to emerge strengthened, more resourceful, and better able to love fully and raise their children well

In focusing systemically on families and communities she highlights the intrinsic value of extended kin and non-digital social networks to meet challenges, make meaning and define a future purpose. The goal is to not just survive but to thrive in the domains of personal well-being, relationships and productivity.

Every “individual” crisis involves the entire family. A person’s death creates an “Emotional Shock Wave” that reverberates throughout the extended family system for many months or years after the salient event. Loss occurs on multiple levels:

  • Loss of the physical person

  • Loss of relationships

  • Loss of family content and structure

  • Loss of hopes and dreams for the future

Understanding the interactions between family structure, function and process enhances “the art of the possible,” and furthers dialogue to help families get safely through turbulent waters. Acknowledgement of the reality and shared experience of loss facilitates family reorganization and reinvestment in other relationships and life goals. Focusing on strengths and resource helps families develop the ability to struggle well and empowers families to overcome persistent adversity.

“A family resilience approach is a very positive and constructive way that we can use to teach families how to make sense of what has happened and how to move forward, as difficult as that may currently seem to be.” (Alison M. Heru, MD on Dr. Forma Walsh’s Family Resilience Framework)

Please feel free to ask any questions or to comment in the “Leave a Reply” box below. To request more information and/or schedule an initial consultation, click here . If you found this post helpful, please don’t keep it a secret. You are encouraged to click on the buttons in the second to the right hand column at the bottom of the page and share this article with your own networks.

Ronald B Cohen, MD, PC Ronald B. Cohen, MD
Bowen Family Systems Coach
1 Barstow Road, Suite P-10
Great Neck, NY 11021
(516) 466-7530

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  1. Teresa Ngigi on May 14, 2013 at 4:13 pm said:

    Very interesting article. My family experienced deep loss of loved ones, one after the other, and at some point we became numb and afraid to mourn because we somewhat felt that someone else will die and make it impossible for the mourning to take place. Starting November 2002, I lost my baby brother, my mom, my younger sister, my older sister and an older brother (all within 14 months), at a span of two to three months. Then after a couple of years, my first cousin, my loving auntie (the only sister to my mom), my dad, my uncle and another of my uncles (all maternal) all died. This loss was beyond our strength, and I must say that I have not gone through my grief well enough to let go.
    I however feel that our resilience as the remaining members of the family has helped us a great deal. We have learned to appreciate each other, tell each other that we love them, and be there for each other. These losses changed our family dynamics in a remarkable way.

    Thanks a lot for sharing.


    • Ronald B Cohen, MD on May 24, 2013 at 10:16 am said:

      Hi Teresa,

      Thank you for the privilege of sharing in your journey of healing, resilience, reinvestment and renewal. You speak of deep pain and sadness from the cumulative, repetitive experience of loss in such a short period of time. Living beyond the deaths of loved ones and making meaning of multiple losses requires profound strength, compassion and respect. Resilience is enhanced by significant attachments and relationships with parents, siblings, extended family members, intimate partners, and mentors. A positive outlook, hope, optimism, mutual support, empathy and collaborative problem solving expand the universe of accomplishable positive outcomes. The ability to struggle well, to make meaning out of adversity and to make loss matter is fundamental to emotional well-being.

      Resilience is facilitated by:

      • Hope, optimism and confidence
      • “Transcendence and Spirituality”,
      • Mutual support, collaboration and commitment
      • Open emotional expression, empathy and pleasure
      • Cooperation, flexibility and proactive problem solving

      Best wishes for continuing growth and transformation.



  2. Lauren Anzaldo on June 9, 2013 at 3:58 pm said:

    I appreciate the insight into family resilience and elements that foster healing and perseverance through crises. I might add that families come in all shapes, sizes, ages and orientations. Rather than conceptualizing resilience as a process that strengthens and empowers families so they can better raise children, a more encompassing vision of resilience would be the process of strengthening and empowerment that enables families to love fully and better care for family members. These members may be of any generation or ability. When families are resilient, all members can be safer, healthier and happier.

    • Ronald B Cohen, MD on June 10, 2013 at 11:12 am said:

      Hi Lauren,

      Thank you for highlighting my oversight. Families do indeed “come in all shapes, sizes, ages and orientations” and not all of them are child focused either initially or over time. We have certainly moved beyond the antiquated and archaic Oxford English Dictionary’s definition of a family as “a group consisting of two parents and their children living together as a unit”. On this side of the pond, Webster’s Unabridged has a more expansive view of a family as “a group of people united by certain convictions or a common affiliation”. Married heterosexual couples with children under 18 constitute less than a quarter of current American households. We can also add considerations of race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation and feminism. I have addressed some of these issues in posts about healthy and productive aging, mothers, couples, society, illness, divorce and young adults. A blog on fathers will be posted soon.



  3. Lauren Anzaldo on June 13, 2013 at 2:56 pm said:

    Thanks for clarifying, Ron. I appreciate your insight and comments. You provide great information.

    • Ronald B Cohen, MD on June 13, 2013 at 5:47 pm said:

      Hi Lauren,

      Glad I was able to address your thoughts, questions and concerns. Thank you for your attentive reading and response to my blog posts. Looking forward to continuing the conversation.



      PS My Father’s Day Blog has been published.

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