Communal Sources of Resilience

Rawan Atari-Khan

Rawan Atari-Khan, Steps to Leaps Research Collaborative member.

Within the field of psychology, the concept of resilience has been frequently examined through a Western lens with a focus on individual traits that allow a person to cope with a stressful or traumatic experience. For instance, in individualistic cultures, an internal locus of control (i.e., the belief that you have control over what happens in your life) has been identified as one personal trait that can foster resilience. However, researchers know that resilience extends beyond these individual traits to include external factors, such as reliance on community and family, which tend to be factors more frequently utilized by individuals who identify with collectivist cultures. To explore alternative meanings of resilience, we conducted interviews with recently resettled Syrian refugees in the U.S. and asked them about the sources of strength they relied on to get through stressful and traumatic experiences. Themes from their responses included connection and care for family, emotional and tangible support from their community, and the use of faith to find meaning in pain.

These findings demonstrate that students can foster resilience beyond embodying personal traits encouraged within our individualistic society and rather, can draw strength and expand their coping mechanisms by relying on external sources of resilience following a traumatic experience. This is particularly true in situations that are completely out of our control. Internalizing blame for what happened may only cause further harm to our well-being. Rather, students can rely on their personal and faith-based beliefs to make meaning of the trauma, as this can provide some with feelings of comfort and strength. Students are encouraged to build a sense of community on campus, which includes fostering mutually supportive relationships where they feel supported by others and give that support in return. In doing so, healing through community becomes a real and available source of resilience.


Atari-Khan, R., Covington, A. H., Gerstein, L. H., Herz, H. a., Varner, B. R., Brasfield, C., Shurigar, B., Hinnenkamp, S. F., Devia, M., Barrera, S., & Deogracias-Schleich, A. (2021). Concepts of resilience among trauma-exposed Syrian refugees. The Counseling Psychologist, 49(2), 233–268.