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How Do We Acquire Resilience? 

How Do We Acquire Resilience? 

By Kim Byrd-Rider

‘Which came first, the chicken or the egg’ describes the conundrum: Where does human resilience come from? The answer to this question may hold the solution to obtaining resilience. The chicken represents positive affect and actions. The egg represents realistic positive coping skills. Researchers are not sure if positive affect and actions must be squared away to build positive coping skills or vice versa. A third element in addition to the chicken and the egg is the egg incubator: high self-esteem and feelings of self-efficacy. Like the incubator or hen’s warmth, they must be present for development. (Rutter,1985; Faulman & Moskowitz, 2000; Rutter, 2013). Attainment of any or all of the previous foundational elements of resilience is rather allusive. Let’s examine these elements and, more importantly, solve the puzzle of how to attain them. 

First is the chicken. Positive affect and actions described by Falkman & Moskowitz (2000) includes positive re-appraisal of events and infusing positive meaning into ordinary events. Personal significance of the event meaning is important, too. When people infuse personal meaning into events, it soon becomes a global meaning “that defines one’s identity in the aftermath of trauma” Falkman & Moskowitz (2000, p. 651). People with a negative affect (involved in emotional discharge, escape avoidance, and rumination) will have a tough time developing positive affect, making resilience quite out of their reach. Although contrived positive affect and negative affect present very differently to the observer, they have equally limited power to help develop resilience. The positive affect must be genuine in order to contribute to resilience (Horney, 1950). 

Second is the egg. Goal-directed coping skills based in reality are necessary for resilience. Performing this process involves gathering information, evaluating resources and task-oriented actions based on realistic parameters (Rutter, 1985).  According to the book Neurosis and Human Growthwritten by renowned psychiatrist Dr. Karen Horney (1950), the common condition of neurosis ensures the generation of unrealistic goals in humans due to the neurotic ‘search for glory’ syndrome which develops in most everyone. The neurotic solution of ‘search for glory’ grows from people’s desperate need to feel meaningful to themselves. People posses a compulsive need for power and significance which they achieve through their imagination and move toward, against or away from others to get it. Realistic goal setting does not predominantly occur in the epidemic human condition of neurosis (1950). For example, the possibility of normal walking for paraplegia patients with complete spinal lesions is extremely limited and not close to normal if achieved. Walking normally is an unrealistic goal. Yet, it ranks as the number one goal in popularity among those patients (Scivoletto, 2014). 

The third supporting or ‘incubator’ components to positive actions, affect and coping are high self-esteem and feelings of self-efficacy (Rutter,1985, p.608). Again, according to Dr. Horney, high self-esteem is not attainable by the typical person due to the presence of neurosis (the idealized false-self).  The typical person swims in a sea of neurotic dictates, taboos and ‘shoulds’.  Via their imagination, people evolve false artificial and strategic ways to cope with others and override genuine feelings, wishes and thoughts.  Genuine feelings, wishes and thoughts are the foundation of authentic high self-esteem and self-efficacy. The process of developing high self-esteem and self-efficacy is too laborious. Instead of persevering through the hard work of growing into them, people quickly and easily substitute a pride system for it. The pride system consists of rationalizations, justifications and externalizations with the supremacy of the mind and the magic of imagination at the pride system’s core (Horney, 1950). Authentic high self-esteem and self-efficacy hence are unavailable to the typical person. If there is no ‘incubator’, there is no chicken produced. Neurotic pride of the false-self exponentially decreases the possibility of ever developing resilience. (Dr. Horney, 1950, p. 21). 

This analysis deflates all hope of obtaining resilience but there is a solution. This paper takes the position that trying to willfully and orderly develop the chicken, the egg or the incubator is a waste of time. The solution is to shed the neurotic false-self by cultivate the authentic true-self where the chicken, the egg and the incubator reside, caged but waiting to emerge. By definition high self-esteem, realistic productive imagination and true, as opposed to contrived, positive affect rest in the uncultivated and fallowed true-self (Horney, 1950). The real question is: how does one shed the imagination driven false-self and grow into the true-self to acquire resilience plus the additional benefits of self-actualization: clear, deep and spontaneous feelings, thoughts, wishes, interests, ability to tap true resources, resource strength, will power strength, special gifts capacity and self-expression (Horney, 1950, p.17)? In the Capacity for Self-Awareness Theory there are a combination of six things to diligently do to reach self-actualization (Jongman-Sereno, 2017): 

  1. Think consciously about the future (set realistic goals, etc.) 

  1. Introspect on inner states (mindful practices, positive psychology, etc.) 

  1. Observe and evaluate personal characteristics (empathy, reality checks, therapy, mindful practices, etc.) 

  1. Imagine how we are perceived by others (empathy, reality checks, etc.) 

  1. Engage in volitional self-change (therapy, behavior modification strategies, effort, etc.) 

  1. Be a good consumer of psychological science (learn more about psychology research findings, religions, ancient psychology, philosophy, etc.) 



Folkman, S. & Moskowitz, J. T. (2000). Positive affect and the other side of coping. American Psychologist, 55,647-654. 

Horney, K. (1950). Neurosis and human growth. New York, NY: W.W. Norton & Company. 

Jongman-Sereno, K. (2017). Personality and self-knowledge. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University, Psyc E-1707. 

Rutter, M. (2013). Annual research review: resilience-clinical implications. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 54(4), 474-487. 

Rutter, M. (1985). Resilience in the face of adversity. British Journal of Psychiatry, 147 (1), 598-611. 

Scivoletto, G., Tamburella, F., Laurenza, L., Torre, M., & Molinari, M. (2014). Who is going to walk? A   review of the factors influencing walking recovery after spinal cord injury. Frontiers in Human            Neuroscience, 8, 141. 






I'm Dr. Kim
Byrd-Rider, PT

In our Soul School at Firm Water Road, we are dedicated to helping people create healthy habits that can last a lifetime. Our program combines various modalities, including positive psychology, mystics, physics, and lifestyle medicine, to help our clients achieve optimal wellness. We specialize in Healthcare Workers, Military Members, School Teachers, and Students, but our holistic approach to wellness is beneficial for everyone. Let us help you achieve your health goals today.  Join us at or subscribe to the youtube channel

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