How to Build Resilient Communities

In this time of global change, we must meet our needs closer to home and rely on community more than ever.

What is a community?

Community is not a place or its people – it’s a feeling. It exists among people, and consists of feelings of belonging, trust, and acceptance. Community is created when people strive to meet common needs. Every community is unique and each one of us exists within multiple layers of communities including nuclear family units, extended family, neighbourhoods, gathering places, cities, and clubs.

How can we create resilient communities?

Resilient communities are those that have the capacity to weather the storms of change in order to enact transformation. Resiliency is a trendy term that describes the capacity to adapt in the face of difficulty and adversity. There are individual, relational, communal, cultural, and physical elements of resiliency.

The pillars of resiliency that we have relied on changed faster than anyone could have imagined during COVID-19. The mass gatherings founded on recreation, arts, religion, and culture that once helped us establish a sense of belonging and trust were on hold. We had to adapt and solidify resiliency factors that met our need for safety while increasing our sense of belonging.

Community is not a place or its people – it’s a feeling. It exists among people, and consists of feelings of belonging, trust, and acceptance.

What if we can do more than create resilient communities?

What if we could arrive at post-traumatic growth through the recent global experiences? Post-traumatic growth describes the possibility of moving beyond resiliency – 10 percent of those that experience intense and potentially traumatic situations arrive in a state of post-traumatic growth. This means that a person, family, or community becomes more than what they were before the crisis.

Within our layers of community, each of us has the opportunity to move towards growth and become greater than our groups have ever been. However, 10 percent of people, families, and groups will experience post-traumatic stress disorder. This results when the crisis experience becomes emblazoned into the person and relives itself each day.

What gets in the way of growth?

Humans have a tendency to identify another person’s behaviours as being motivated by who the person is, as opposed to their contextual environment; this is known as the fundamental attribution error. Paradoxically, we attribute our own actions to be primed by what is happening in our environment. For example, we might look at someone who has chosen to have two families in their bubble as being selfish, dangerous, and a bad person. We may not seek to understand and learn that there might be a reason outside of the family’s control or that there is a medically sound choice that prompts this necessity.

How can we avoid negativity bias?

The attribution error might be engaged and amplified during times of crisis due to our brain’s tendency to lock into the negativity bias. When our external environment triggers our threat response (fight, flight, or freeze), the brain has a built-in mechanism that attunes to danger. Noticing perceived danger can become habit – our brain will fixate on all the negative aspects of a situation, even creating them if they are not there.

Remember, this is all part of our survival strategies. When our environment is in a state of uncertainty and chaos, this can trigger our negative brain and increase the pull towards the fundament attribution error.

How do we build communities that enhance a sense of belonging and acceptance during times of uncertainty and chaos?

Here are four ways we can support the possibility of post-traumatic growth to build our families, neighbourhoods, and communities: 

1. Increase your awareness

We must personally commit to noticing our own tendencies toward protection when crisis and chaos ensue. This includes noticing our capacity for the fundamental attribution error. Are there times when we make judgements on other’s actions and personalize the motivation for what we perceive as a fallacy? How can we shift the personalization of action and ask questions about the context in which a person has made their decision?

We must also be aware of the negativity bias showing up. How often do you notice the negative aspects of life and communities? How can you train your brain to see the positive? This may take conscious intention and require soothing the alarm bells of the brain. This does not mean wearing rose-colored glasses, but rather paying equal attention to the uplifting and life-enhancing experiences that are always present.

Resilient communities are those that have the capacity to weather the storms of change in order to enact transformation.

2. Build on strengths

What are the strengths of your family? Your community? Your organization? Every group has them. For example, in my rural Northern community of 800 people, one of our strengths is food. Throughout the COVID-19 lockdown, three food programs were created to ensure that every member of the community had enough to eat. While in my large family, our strength is communication and arts, we began a weekly zoom dance gathering in which we played music and danced together. We then had a sharing session for a few hours following.

Know the strengths of your communities and build on them. Remember, resiliency is about adapting and post-traumatic growth incorporates adapting with awareness and intention. Identifying strengths and developing them will support growth and transformation.

3. Amplify the unique nature of your community

Each layer of community has unique needs, strengths (explored above), and challenges. Some communities need more funding while others need a greater sense of giving. Some have more elders while others have more young families. Some are rural and connected to nature while others need greater access to nature.

Clearly defining the aspects of your community will help determine the pathway to resiliency and growth. For example, our community has a number of Elders who did not have contact with others. Because of this, programs were created to ensure continual phone check-ins and drive by parades were held to celebrate the Elders.

What are the needs in your community layers? How can your community’s strengths meet those needs and create a greater sense of belonging and trust for all? Crisis can immobilize action as people’s thresholds of managing become overwhelmed. The immobilization response can melt into compassion and empathy as needs are identified and as action is taken; these are the antidotes to traumatic experiences.

4. Expect chaos to transform

One of the laws of system transformation is that chaos must exist in order for growth to occur. The chaos creates the energy for change. Chaos can feel frightening and alarming, which can mobilize the fundamental attribution error; negativity bias; or the fight, flight, or freeze response. If we expect chaos and seek to ride it like a great ocean storm – knowing there are clear skies on the other side – we can mitigate the experience of fear and bring our best selves to action.

We have the power to direct the outcomes that uncertainty and chaos brings to our communities. Will your communities move towards post-traumatic growth and resiliency? As members of our communities, it is up to each of us to steer the ship through adversity and towards greater trust.

For more FREE RESOURCES on this topic and others, visit our free resources page.


Nataschaa Chatterton

MA – Trainer, Crisis & Trauma Resource Institute

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