Resilience as a dynamic, contextualized process among lesbian women

Rolfe, Meghan Elizabeth (2017) Resilience as a dynamic, contextualized process among lesbian women. (PhD thesis), Kingston University, .


Psychological research on resilience has not adequately included minority populations, specifically lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans and queer (LGBTQ) people. Additionally, LGBTQ research has been limited by its problem-focused paradigm which does not adequately account for the strengths that are found within this population. However, resilience may have a unique function within LGBTQ people. For instance, how might individuals thrive despite or as a result of enduring sexuality-related stressors and discrimination? This thesis engages with these issues/questions across four quantitative and qualitative studies. The aim is to examine how resilience functions within a LGBTQ and specifically lesbian context. The findings show that a heterosexual sample and LGBTQ sample had statistically similar levels of resilience (as measured by the Connor-Davidson Resilience Scale), although the LGBTQ sample endured cumulatively more lifetime trauma. However, higher levels of trauma in the LGBTQ group were not associated with lower levels of life satisfaction, positive adjustment, or well-being. Subsequent qualitative analyses examined the influences on and processes of resilience in experiential accounts from lesbian women. The high resilience participants reported traumatic experiences during their lives, whereas low resilience participants did not, although all women reported homophobic experiences. Many of the findings yielded by this analysis echoed resilience research among other groups. If the findings apply beyond these participants, generic strategies for promoting resilience may be applicable to lesbian women. A further qualitative analysis explored the multidimensionality of resilience. The results highlighted that resilience is not the sole responsibility of the individual; rather, the family unit, the workplace and larger societal sphere play an influential role. A qualitative longitudinal case study with a participant was then conducted that paid close attention to factors associated with the dynamic nature of state-like resilience. The emphasis was on understanding what processes led to an increase in resilience over time. The main themes developed through this analysis included the strengthening of family relationships, the positive initiation of action towards personal growth, the development of internal affirmation of self, prioritization of mindfulness, and the discovery of meaning through self-reflection. A final quantitative survey-based study applied variables that were identified as important in the qualitative analyses (mindfulness, cognitive flexibility, personal and collective self-esteem and lesbian identity). The aim was to discover if these variables correlate with one another on a large-scale sample to better understand the process by which resilience fluctuates over time within a marginalized group. Findings indicate that self-esteem was the most significant predictor of resilience in a lesbian sample, followed by mindful non-reactivity, and psychological flexibility. The lesbian-specific measures were not as strongly related to resilience which reiterates the potential for the application of generic resilience-promoting interventions. A detailed intervention is then presented in the final discussion chapter which includes individual, group, family and societal segments. Overall, the contribution of this thesis lies in the development of novel research that highlights the strengths found in lesbian women. This in turn can help advocate for the equality of LGBTQ people as well as expand the current understanding of psychological resilience.

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