by Monica A. Ross, LPC
Having access to higher performing schools, access to financial assistance, and access to a mentor can give a child born into poverty the needed support to rise above circumstance. We know also that a sense of purpose, a sense of autonomy, problem-solving skills, and social competence are important factors in becoming resilient.
It is this fourth psychosocial factor, social competence, that I want to focus on in this post. What do we mean by social competence? Social competence includes the ability to self-regulate. It's also about having the personal skills necessary to adapt to one’s environment both from a cognitive and behavioral perspective.
Part of demonstrating resiliency is the ability to have empathy for others and to read social cues. A sense about the motivations and goals of others helps to inhibit selfish or impulsive tendencies. Resilience is about using all of the above skills—cognitive, behavioral, emotional—to have relationships that are meaningful and satisfying for all involved.
Those deeply impacted by childhood trauma may lack some of these necessary skills. The ability to share with others, to cooperate, and to settle conflict are all important social skills demonstrating social competence. But those impacted by trauma early on in life may, for instance, have difficulty sharing feelings and emotions. The child who had a parent who took up all of the energy in the room may later become the adult who struggles to express her feelings.
Growing up in poverty and having parents who are poor could later cause the tendency as an adult to have a fear of spending money. Or maybe a child grew up in a home with several siblings and was forced to share and nothing was his own—this too might foster selfishness in adulthood.
A child growing up in trauma and struggling to become resilient might have gotten the message from caregivers that the world is a harsh place and that people aren’t safe to be trusted. The grown adult at work might have the perception that the world is filled with people who put up road obstacles to his success.
It’s difficult to cooperate or to work together for a common benefit if you feel that the person you’re working with is working at cross purposes and doesn’t have your back. In fact, an overall sense of mistrust in life can leave a person always feeling at odds with the world and ready for battle or conflict, or almost an anticipation that conflict will occur no matter the situation entered.
The point is that as children we were vulnerable to the external environment we were brought up in. The adult who has learned to adapt based on survival needs does not deserve to be vilified for her experiences as a child. That having been said, as adults, we take responsibility for the course of our lives.
That includes evaluating any patterns in behavior that may have served us as children and were necessary for survival and adaptation, but that as adults hold us back in some way from fully engaging in life, from forming relationships with others, from meeting our goals.
So this piece about social competence, which includes the ability to regulate our emotions, to adjust our behaviors, and to be able to connect with others guards us from facing social rejection and the cascade of avoidance behaviors and feelings of loneliness that can flow from that.
Abelev, M. S. (2009). Advancing out of poverty: Social class worldview and its relation to resilience. Journal of Adolescent Research, 24(1), 114–141. doi:10.1177/0743558408328441