Proceedings of the 54th Annual Meeting of the ISSS - 2010, Waterloo, Canada, Proceedings of the 54th Meeting of the International Society for the Systems Sciences

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Disequilibrium, Development, and Resilience Through Adult Life

Pamela Buckle Henning


In the field of mental health, resilience is understood as a psychological characteristic intimately entwined with the experience of disequilibrium. Originally, the resilience literature focused on children. But psychological development can continue beyond childhood. Recently, psychologists have begun to examine the resilience that arises – or doesn’t – through the vicissitudes of adult life as well. Psychologically, a human being can be considered a complex system of drives, conflicts, capacities, hopes, etc. The human life span can be conceptualized as repeated experiences of stability and disequilibrium for a person’s psychological system. From that stability and disequilibrium come the emergence of new abilities and worldviews. One possible outcome of the experience of repeated psychological disequilibrium inherent to adult life is the development of psychological resilience. This paper examines the affective experience of psychological development through adult life, and it what it means to be actively receptive to development in a way that optimizes the growth of resilience throughout adulthood.

This article aims to make several contributions to the systems sciences. First, it brings psychology back into conversation with the systems community after an absence, in ISSS at least, of many years. Second, systems theorists have paid little attention to the affective experience of disequilibrium – a recognized systems process – in a human system like an adult person. Third, to the mental health community this paper seeks to communicate that perhaps much of the suffering and negative affect people experience through adulthood can be reframed from psychopathology to developmental transition – to disequilibrium, and the vulnerability and challenges that go with it.

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