What doesn't kill them doesn't make them stronger: Questioning our current notions of resilience

Child Abuse Negl. 2018 Apr:78:71-84. doi: 10.1016/j.chiabu.2017.12.011. Epub 2017 Dec 15.


This study expands on earlier analyses of the data generated by a cross-sectional study involving a random sample of 5149 middle-school students with a mean age of 14.5 years from four EU-countries (Austria, Germany, Slovenia, and Spain), in which every fourth respondent (23.0%) had been physically abused by his or her parents and almost every sixth respondent (17.3%) had witnessed physical spousal abuse. Contrary to expectations, some of these youths reported no engagement in peer violence and no symptoms of depression, which meant that they could be considered "resilient." Given their precarious conditions, we inquired into how these young people functioned on other protective and risk indicators when compared to non-violence exposed peers. Using Bonferroni post-hoc tests, we conducted an analysis of variance based comparison of levels of risk and protective factors on three groups of violence and depression-resilient youth (low, middle and high family violence experience) with those participants who reported no family violence or abuse, no depression and no use of violence. The violence and depression-resilient participants reported significantly higher levels of aggression supportive beliefs, alcohol consumption, drug use, verbal aggression towards and from teachers and use of indirect aggression, along with lower levels of social and personal protective characteristics such as self-acceptance, emotional self-control, optimism about the future, and positive relations with parents and teachers, than students without family violence experiences. We therefore concluded that while some family violence exposed young people may not engage in violence or experience depression, this does not automatically imply an absence of other challenges and calls into question our current notions of resilience.

Keywords: Adolescents; Physical abuse by parents; Physical spousal abuse; Protective factors; Resilience; Risk factors.

Publication types

  • Multicenter Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Aggression / psychology
  • Austria
  • Child Abuse / psychology*
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Depressive Disorder / psychology
  • Domestic Violence / psychology
  • Female
  • Germany
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Parents / psychology
  • Peer Group
  • Resilience, Psychological*
  • Risk Factors
  • Slovenia
  • Spain
  • Spouse Abuse / psychology
  • Students / psychology
  • Substance-Related Disorders / psychology