11. Resilience: Relevance to Military Context – Positive Psychology

CHAPTER 11

Resilience: Relevance to Military Context

Rajbir Singh and Lokesh Gupta

Maharishi Dayanand University, Rohtak, Haryana

Abstract   Life is full of positives and negatives, some of them being moderate while others a few are intense. When someone fails to reconcile and manage severe negative experiences, it takes him to the blues. However, many of us sail through and again come to the normal track of life to face further naturally occurring challenges. Previous severe negative experiences help us to bounce back for positive adaptation in the context of significant adversity or risk. They are now better psychologically prepared and can call upon particular resources when facing risk and disadvantages. Present-day work context is highly challenging and full of social conflict and not even free from trauma caused by unexpected hazards. People who display effective coping mastery and positive adaptation tend to be resilient. The concept of psychological resilience has been linked to not only recovery and sustained purpose, but that of growth too. The construct is expanding from personal psychological resilience to collective psychological resilience. It is, therefore, expected that resilient group/work force shall be capable to coordinate and draw upon collective resources to deal with adversity. Positive Military psychology has gained acceptance amidst great excitement. It has helped in moulding soldiers to be successful and resilient. Military operation, long term or short term, are full of risks and challenges which naturally creates a need to think of outcomes and prepare for its bipolar variants. In military environment, being highly strategic and counter strategic, oddities are not uncommon. Therefore, there should be specific programmes to build resilience at the personal and group levels by evolving models from clinically successful cases where the resilient patients have been found to follow proper treatment regimen, better prognostics, and future control and even extended life expectancies. In work context, several benefits from industrial and organizational psychology have come up when hardiness training has been effective. The concept of salutogenic hardiness and combination of certain positive effects associated with character strengths are considered imperative by certain resilience building models. Although it shall be a paradigm shift and shall also require a high correlated character strengths including personality are factors combined to develop resilience building models. Although it shall be a paradigm shift and shall also require a high correlated character strengths including personality are factors combined to develop resilience building models. Although it shall be a paradigm shift and shall also require a high level decision in military organizations, some initial affirmative experiences and boldness to change a mindset would facilitate the adoption of resilience-building models.

While asking the lay meaning of the term ‘Resilience’ from a large group of Indian Army officers during a training programme, it was observed that majority of them (80%) understand it in terms of bouncing back and effective coping (68%). However, when asked to choose among the several conventional meanings (for example, ‘Is conditional to adversity’; ‘Ability to bounce back’; ‘Capacity for adapting psychologically, emotionally, physically’, ‘Post traumatic growth’, ‘Effective coping’, and ‘Is a trait, an ability and a skill’, taken as alternatives for the meaning of resilience), ‘ability to bounce back’ was the most popular, followed by ‘effective coping’ at the second place and ‘capacity for adapting emotionally’ at the third place.

Life is full of positives and negatives, some of them being moderate while a few severe. Making adjustments in each life stage, coping with unexpected setbacks, or handling the daily stresses of life can turn a crisis into an opportunity for growth. Resilience, as described by American Psychological Association (2011), is similar to taking a raft trip down a river.

On a river, you may encounter rapids, turns, slow water and shallows. As in life, the changes you experience, affect you differently along the way. In travelling the river, it helps to have knowledge about it and past experience in dealing with it. Your journey should be guided by a plan, a strategy that you consider likely to work well for you. Perseverance and trust in your ability to work your way around boulders and other obstacles are important. You can gain courage and insight by successfully navigating your way through the water. Trusted companions who accompany you on the journey can be especially helpful for dealing with rapids, upstream currents, and other difficult stretches of the river. You can climb out to rest alongside the river. But, to get to the end of your journey, you need to get back in the raft and continue

(American Psychological Association, 2011, p. 8)

Psychologists have been studying resilience since the 1970s and research has demonstrated that there are many aspects to resilience (Reivich and Shatte, 2002; Seligman, 1990). Masten (2001) defines resilience as a set of processes that enable good outcomes in spite of serious threats.

In recent years, the discourses on ‘resilience’ have emerged in which elements formerly identified as human ‘attributes’ such as courage, will power, fortitude and character have been reconfigured as ‘coping strategies’ or ‘skills’ that can be learned by anyone.

Resilience implies a systematic, widespread, organizational, structural and personal strengthening of subjective and material arrangements so as to be better anticipated and tolerate disturbances in a complex world without collapse, to withstand shocks, and to rebuild as necessary… a logic of resiliency would aspire to create a subjective and systematic state to enable each and all to live freely and with confidence in a world of potential risks

(Lentzos and Rose, 2009, p. 243).

Recovery, sustained purpose and growth are three cardinal features of resilience. When stress disturbs the pace of ongoing performance, many quickly restore the previous level and even sometimes better than the earlier, that marks the recovery of function. More so, in this process, the first priority becomes the safety, survival and conservation of resources which altogether shifts the focus from the purpose; however, resilience helps to sustain the purpose despite temporary shift. Passing through these initial troubles furthers the growth of the person enabling him to tackle the same stressor with ease next time.

Resilience is considered as a process, which involves many systems from cells to individuals to families to societies. An individual may be said to have more or less capacity for resilience, but the actual pattern of an individual’s behaviour results from many interactions, both within the person and then between the person and environment. Because of the involvement of many interactions resilience cannot be viewed as a single trait.

Many definitions on resilience consider that it is an ability to bounce back from adversity, positively adapting to adverse conditions and function well even while facing unexpected harmful/adverse situations. Resilience covers many concepts like awareness of personal resources, effective communication with family and friends, detection of threat, reaction to adversity (sometime resistance) and recovery of pre-event functioning. Resilience is a hypothetical concept coupled with situation. We can judge resilience in terms of adaptive behaviour of an individual with positive outcomes of risk/adversity. After all, resilience is a never-ending process in life and adversity is the hard reality of life. The term ‘resilience’ had been in use for long in material sciences, environmental sciences and even economics (resilient buildings, resilient ecology, resilient economy, etc.). Quite frequently the term resilience is prefixed with ‘psychological’ and thereby emphasizing that it is a psychological phenomenon—while referring to human beings. However, its description has recently been extended from individual to social/collective domain of behaviour. More often, we have been talking of resilient communities. Psychological resilience has two levels: Personal/Individual and Collective Psychological Resilience [Organizational and Community in McAslan’s (2010) description].

Personal Psychological Resilience is the key for creating a dynamic culture and having people who are ‘fit’ and ready to seize new opportunities and respond to the demands of business both now and in future. It is a sort of psychological preparedness. Personal resilience is a multifaceted concept, and it includes mental level of resilience (self-confidence, desire to achieve, mental toughness, etc.), emotional ability to be resilient (emotional intelligence), physiological ability of resilience (proper diet, exercise, relaxation, quality sleep, etc.) and individual personality (purpose/meaning of life, hardiness, etc.). Norris, Tracy and Galea (2009) suggest that resilience represents just one of a number of categories of reaction by adults (that is, resistance, resilience, recovery, relapsing/remitting, delayed dysfunction and chronic dysfunction) following exposure to trauma or severe stress.

Collective Psychological Resilience refers to the way in which groups or crowds of people ‘express and expect solidarity and cohesion, and thereby coordinate and draw upon collective sources of support and other practical resources adaptively to deal with adversity’ (Drury, 2009, p. 21). Collective psychological resilience covers all aspects of personal psychological resilience and recovery in term of mass emergencies (for example, flood, earthquake, war, thunder, tsunami, terrorist attack, etc.). It also includes teamwork, leadership, social norms, group cohesiveness, etc. The people around us make a protective shield and reduce the risk of harm. Understanding the psychological resilience at the level of community is not simple as the process implies the interplay of individuals, families, group as well as the physical environment. Different theorists have offered to enhance resilience of communities (for example, Adger, 2003; Paton and Johnston, 2006; Pendall, Foster and Cowell, 2007). Some protective factors have been suggested as frequent and supportive interactions, shared norms and values, better information and adaptability at the community level (Mayunga, 2007; Norris, Stevens, Pfefferbaum, Wyche and Pfefferbaum, 2007). The military is working like a community and work for the welfare of communities.

Resilience Framework in Military Context

This chapter emphasizes on military context which essentially is the interplay of individual (soldier), group (unit or battalion) and communities (families). It therefore, falls under collective psychological resilience and extends beyond military context during wartime. Organization of various types altogether forms communities which imply resilient organizations, that is, resilient community. Resilience in organizations is ensured by incorporating flexibility in its members, adaptability to shifting needs of materials and strong structure. Seville et al. (2006) suggest that a resilient organization is one that is ‘able to achieve its core objectives in the face of adversity. This means not only reducing the size and frequency of crisis (vulnerability), but also improving the ability and speed of the organization to manage crisis effectively (adaptive capacity). To effectively manage the crisis, organizations also need to recognize and evolve in response to the complex system within which the organization operates (situational awareness) and to seek out new opportunities even in times of crisis’ (Seville et al., 2006, p. 4). Two such attempts shall be illustrative of resilience pursuits in military context. In the United States, a comprehensive management framework has been provided for organizational resilience. It comprises anticipation, prevention, preparation and responding to disruptive event. However, in the United Kingdom, a broader framework includes analysis of critical national infrastructure, chemical and biological threats, transport security, intelligence and counter-terrorism, border force and immigration for national security and resilience. Thus, the construct of psychological resilience can be extended from individual through communities (organization) to nations, even globally.

Kumpfer (1999) has developed the resilience framework comprising process and outcome construct. Modelling under such a framework, he applied it extensively on youths in the context of drug addiction and de-addiction with positive outcomes. There are six major constructs in the model (four influence domains and two transactional points). There seems to be an appeal in the model for its application in military context. Some of the processes of resilience is not bounded by the static factors of the organization or context, the acute stressor or challenge, the environmental context, the individual characteristics and the outcome. For this purpose, the model has been simplified and suitably adapted (Figure 11.1). The description of influence domains supplemented with military context follows next.

Figure 11.1  Adaptive Version of the Kumpfer (1999) Resilience Model.

1. Stressors or Challenges

The resilience framework or processes begin with an initial event and ends with an outcome. Stimulus in resilience situation should be some type of stressors or challenges. Challenges help a person to face new stressors and to grow from the experience. This is the essence of resilience. In the military setting, there are so many stressors and challenges like high ambiguity, unpredictable enemy, diffused threat, powerlessness (Delahaij, Gaillard and Soeters, 2006; Stetz et al., 2007; Sharma and Sharma, 2008). There has been addition of newer type of stressor/challenges in recent wars, for example, Iraq war, Afghanistan war, global terrorism, low-intensity prolonged conflict at the borders between several nations, coalition defence forces, peace-keeping forces, and so forth. Soldiers are deployed in newer far-off territories with cultural and linguistic barriers. Work units are configured with unknown colleagues from different nationalities.

Quite often, the command is fractured and the purpose is not disclosed. Soldiers need to overcome these confusions, work hard to build trust and then survive in hazardous warzone. Prolonged cut-off from families (communication bar) feeling of isolation and powerlessness too add to the stressors. Overloaded thus mentally and physically they face the risk to life and injuries which stands already amplified by living amidst lethal weapons of mass destruction.

2. The External Environmental Risk and Protective Factors

It includes the balance and interaction of fatal risks and protective factors. Military personnel live in a risk-prone situation, and, for them, it is not possible to avoid risk in a military setting. So we should focus on enhancing protective factors like resilience building, unit cohesiveness, hardy leadership, recruiting and deploying resilient soldiers, high level of preparedness, promote soldiers’ collective efficacy, improved human resource practice within military team structure, timely positive and negative reinforcement, psychological debriefing, psychological first aid, and so on. A number of researchers (Bry, 1983; Magnusson, 1988; Rutter, 1993) have found that youth can adjust reasonably well to one or two risk factors or processes, but beyond two risk factors, the damage increases rapidly. In the military work settings and particularly during deployment in war, there is abundance of risk factors and, therefore, the quantum of probable damage is multiplicative. Research suggests that increasing the number of protective processes can help to buffer those risk mechanisms (Dunst, l995; Rutter, 1993; Sameroff and Chandler, 1975). Increased deployments entail other stressful changes in military units as well, such as an increased number (and intensity) of training exercises, planning sessions and equipment inspections, all of which increase the workload and pace of operations (Castro and Adler, 1999). Furthermore, more frequent deployments also involve family separations, a recognized stressor for soldiers (Bell, Bartone, Bartone, Schumm, and Gade, 1997). Recently, Matthews (2008) observed that military as a perfect ‘home’ for positive psychology and Comprehensive Soldier Fitness (CSF) is a unique approach to behavioural health in a large organization.

3. Person–environment Interactional Processes

Whatever be the context/environment and the stressor, risks and protective factors are embedded within it, and a person (soldier) interacts by way of perceiving, selecting, modifying explicitly or implicitly some or all of the factors. In fact, it is the starting point of the interactional process where the individual matters and, therefore, it is assumed that resilience is teachable/trainable (Reivich and Shatte, 2002; Seligman, 1990; Reivich, 2010). Soldiers’ ability can be enhanced by training them to know their strengths, understanding others and regulating their cognitions and emotions.

4. Internal Resiliency Factors

Internal personality or cognitive capabilities have been organized according to the prior-mentioned resilience framework for self-factors into five major cluster variables:

(i) Spirituality or Motivational Characteristics

Our cognitions and beliefs are intrinsic motivators that trigger and direct our efforts to face adversity. These may be individualistic or of higher levels like spirituality, meaning in life, optimism, etc. Believing in the purpose of life, inner drive to help others, conviction on the purpose of their pain and suffering, belief in the healing through helping/caring others are the predominant characteristics of resilient people (Beardslee, 1983, 1989; Segal, 1986; Werner, 1986). Taylor (1983) found that maintaining hope in adversity helps the individual to achieve environmental mastery and perceived control. Purpose in life or existential meaning (Frankel, 1959) helps resilient individuals to endure hardships, because they believe that they must survive to complete their mission. Purpose in life may be part of a larger latent construct called spirituality (Dunn, 1994). Religious faith and affiliation is an important factor of individual resilience (Masten, 1994). Independence and belief in oneself and one’s uniqueness or speciality is an important trait of a person who tends to motivate resilient individuals towards positive achievement (Gordon and Song, 1994). Resilient individuals have more internal locus of control (Campbell, Converse and Rodgers, 1976; Luthar, 1991; Murphy and Moriarty, 1976; Werner and Smith, 1992) and are more hopeful about their ability to create positive outcomes for themselves and others. Perseverant (Bandura, 1989) and determined (Werner, 1986) cognitive style help the youth to be successful in chosen mission or direction.

Motivation and purpose in life can enhance through timely positive and negative reinforcement. Commanders can ensure a system of rewards and punishments contingent upon fair and objective evaluation of mission effectiveness. An excellent example of adequate and timely positive reinforcement is the incident when Major General David Tennent Cowan pinned his own Military Cross to wounded Field Marshal Sam Manekshaw (the then Captain) while fighting the battle against Japanese army during World War II. Identification and practicing of strength is a unique experience. Through this practice, a soldier identifies his strengths and feels one’s uniqueness or specialty. It helps all to build resilience in military. Curiosity represents one’s intrinsic desire for experience and knowledge. It involves the active recognition, pursuit, and regulation of one’s experience in response to challenging opportunities and developed resilience.

(ii) Cognitive Competencies

Intelligence helps to buffer or reduce life stress (Masten et al., 1988). According to Wolin and Wolin (1993), insight is the most important resiliency. It is the mental habit of asking penetrating questions of oneself and subsequently providing honest answers. Resilient youths have higher self-esteem associated with an accurate appraisal of their increased strengths and capabilities. They have resilient self-efficacy (Bandura, 1977, 1989) and the ability to restore self-esteem (Flach, 1988) after failure or disruption in homeostasis.

Planning ability has been found related to resilience in high-risk youth (Anthony, 1987; Rutter and Quinton, 1984a). Researchers have reported that problem-solving ability is a component of resilience (Anthony, 1987; Neiger, 1991; Rutter and Quinton, 1984b). An ability to foresee consequences of choices and to plan a bright future is the characteristics of individuals who successfully overcome negative environments. Mann, Harmoni and Powers (1989) suggested that planned behaviour can be successfully taught. Jacobs and Wolin (1991) believe that creativity in a person allows them to express and resolve inner conflicts through painting, photography, dance, music and writing. A soldier/officer should be creative; through creativity he can find immediate practical solutions to problems on hand. Creativity is often seen as a sign of mental health and emotional well-being. Creativity in military organizations does matter not only in wartime, but also in peaceful times. Creativity counters stagnation and predictability and provides a competitive edge.

Judgement and Critical thinking are the cognitive competencies that help in facing challenges and building resilience. Emotional-motivational state of curiosity appears to fuel positive emotions such as excitement, enjoyment and attentiveness (Ainley, 1998; Kashdan and Roberts, 2002), facilitating complex decision making (Kreitler, Kreitler and Zigler, 1974) and goal perseverance (Sansone and Smith, 2000).

Cognitive competence: Academic and intellectual skill can be measured at the time of recruitment and deployment. Personal insight, self-esteem, planning ability and creativity can enhance through various cognitive tasks, puzzle solving (requires both physical and mental loads), and team/unit based activities. Taggar (2002) designated team creativity-relevant processes (for example, team citizenship, performance management, effective communication, involving others, providing feedback and conflict management) where the interactions among the team members support the application of individual creative resources and result in creative group performance.

(iii) Behavioural/Social Competencies

Citizenship, social responsibility, loyalty, teamwork, leadership, integrity, vitality and zest are the behavioural/social competencies. Citizenship represent a feeling of identification with and sense of obligation to a common good that includes the self, but that stretches beyond one’s own self-interest. Youths from better-educated families are more positive about civic participation (Chapman, Nolin and Kline, 1997), and youths who get involved in political or quasi-political activities tend to be more tolerant (Avery, et al., 1992). Youths who are capable of acting competently in several cultures are more successful. Additionally, bi-gender competence is related to increased resilience and success in life among women (Dunn, 1994). Wolin and Wolin (1993) reported that resilient individuals have a capacity for intimacy. Many researchers (for example, Iversen for example, 2008; McTeague, McNally and Litz, 2004; Rona et al., 2009) observed that relationship of improved well-being and readiness with higher levels of unit cohesion; and, unit cohesion which may serve as a resilience factor for Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and combat stress reactions.

Leadership is an interpersonal process, so we are focused on the psychological interaction between leaders and the led. Hardiness has emerged as a set of personal characteristics that help people turn stressful circumstances from potential disasters into opportunities for enhanced performance, leadership, conduct, health and psychological growth (Maddi, 2002; Maddi and Kobasa, 1984). Leaders who are high in hardiness themselves exert influence on their subordinates to interpret stressful experiences in ways characteristic of high-hardy persons. Several studies with cadets in training to be military officers lend support to the notion that leaders, high in hardiness, may influence subordinates to think and behave in more hardy or resilient ways (Bartone, 1999; Milan, Bourne, Zazanis and Bartone, 2002). Hardy leaders are exemplary in the way they handle the challenges by inspiring the entire social unit under their command. They are eager to take on the challenges as it further develops hardiness in them. Behavioural/social competencies like citizenship, teamwork, leadership can enhance through collective efficacy, multi-cultural experiences, interactive and good relation between troops soldiers and officers.

(iv) Emotional Stability and Emotional Management

Self-regulation has two faces: (1) cognitive regulation and (2) emotional self-regulation; both bring essential features of resilience at individual level. In the military context, there is always an intermingling of cognition, emotions and vigour. No training situation can replicate the real war situation. The successful outcome of the war always requires the global/total application of all such resources available in the situation. We can employ them effectively only when we are in a position to manage our emotions. It is beyond emotional intelligence. Some psychological skills like mental imagery, self-talk, goal-setting and organizational skills can be learned that help in managing emotional instability at the time of adversity (Eccles and Feltovich, 2008). Resilient individuals are characterized as reasonably happy people who are at least not prone to depression or negative appraisals of the reality characteristic of depressed individuals. Resilient people work well and play well (Garmezy, 1974). Resilient individuals recognize feelings and can control undesirable feelings such as fear, anger and depression.

Emotional stability/management: Selection and deployment of soldiers for the mission that need a higher level of resilience should be followed by an emotional intelligence test and development of emotional stress management skills.

(v) Physical Well-being and Physical Competencies

Good health (Werner and Smith, 1982, 1992), health maintenance skills (exercise, good diet and sleep), physical talent development (Masten, 1994) and physical attractiveness (Kaufman and Zigler, 1989) have demonstrated that good physical status is predictive of resiliency. Vitality describes a dynamic aspect of well-being marked by the subjective experience of energy and vitality (Ryan and Frederick, 1997). At the somatic level, vitality is linked to good physical health and body functioning, as well as freedom from fatigue and illness. On the psychological level, vitality reflects experiences of volition, effectance and integration of the self at both intrapersonal and interpersonal levels. Psychological tensions, conflicts and stressors detract from experienced vitality. At a strictly psychological level, vitality is associated with experiences of autonomy, effectance and relatedness. Vitality not only appears to be a correlate of health and well-being, but, also may actually contribute to it.

Figure 11.2  Adapted Version of Kumpfer (1999) Resilience Process Model.

Physical competencies can enhance through autonomy, intimacy and relatedness. Support for autonomy has been shown to be positively associated with an individual’s vitality (Ryan and Frederick, 1997). Autonomy and relatedness or intimacy increases vitality (Reis, Sheldon, Gable, Roscoe and Ryan, 2000). In the Indian military context, our selection, training as well as daily routine practices mostly focus on physical competencies of soldiers in spite of motivational, cognitive, behavioural and emotional competencies.

5. Resilience processes

Resiliency model shows that stressors or life challenges not balanced by external enviro-social protective processes or bio-psycho-spiritual resiliency factors in an individual can lead to imbalances in homeostasis or disruption (Flach, 1988). The resilience process model created by Kumpfer (1999) is multi-level (Figure 11.2).

The Resiliency Model is based on two aspects: (1) reintegration, and (2) intervention processes. There are four levels of reintegration: (1) resilient, (2) homeostatic, (3) maladaptive, and (4) dysfunctional reintegration. Likewise, there are four intervention processes, namely: (1) envirosocial protective, (2) envirosocial enhancing, (3) envirosocial supportive, and (4) envirosocial reintegrating processes. If the stressors faced by the individuals are not balanced by the biopsychospiritual/envirosocial protective processes, then it may either lead to disruption or result in imbalance of homeostasis. The presence of envirosocial supportive and envirosocial reintegrating processes may play a vital role in mitigating disruption and attaining various levels of reintegration. The intensity of disruption varies from person to person depending upon his experience and the way the situation is perceived. For example, those who are able to perceive disruption in a positive way are likely to grow from experience, whereas those who fail to take it in a constructive way often experience depression and negativism.

The same model can be applicable in the military settings also. For example, a war may induce lot of stressors on soldiers. During such situations, the presence of envirosocial protective factors (that is, unit cohesiveness, advanced weaponry, strengths of soldier, etc.) and biopsychospiritual protective factors (that is, faith, goal determination, intelligence, self-efficacy, emotional management skills, etc) may play an important role in dealing with the challenges, thus resulting in resilience or homeostatic reintegration. However, the inability to handle stressors may often result in disruption and disorganization. This can be mitigated by developing envirosocial enhancing support (that is, immediate help from outside sources/additional military forces) and enviro-social reintegrating processes (that is, base camps, immediate medical facility, facilities for transit of injured soldiers to safe zones, reunion bonding with battalion, family/friends, etc.).

Conclusion

It goes undoubtedly true that the operational situations and deployment conditions of soldiers always remain coupled with numerous inherent stressors and environmental pressures. Keeping these in mind, there is always a paramount requirement of fostering resilience among the military personnel so as to make them prepared to face the adverse situations boldly and recover from their negative influences in better and adaptive ways. It can be achieved by means of qualitatively enhancing and improving various types of protective factors around soldiers. Protective factors such as unit and family environment, social support system, welfare-oriented supports, and trustworthy leadership, etc., are some of the helpful factors in this pursuit. Qualitatively improved environmental protective factors will help generate ‘positive person-environment interactions’ which, in turn, will create an optimistic psychological climate around soldiers that will be conducive for focusing on their internal strengths while facing adversities. As it has been observed that resilience is trainable, impetus should be given to run dedicated programmes for resilience building among soldiers. Such programmes will certainly prove beneficial for the development of ‘personal internal resiliency’ factors among soldiers and, thereby making soldiers to appropriately use the various adaptive processes during adverse circumstances. Also, since there exists a relatively scarce empirical work in the domain of military resilience, more empirical researches concentrated on military population will make a long-lasting positive contribution towards making soldiers more resilient in future.

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