Resilience is not only powerful, it’s empowering! Many of us are naturally resilient but the exciting news is that it can be learnt! The American Psychological Association (2021) defines personal resilience as “the process of adapting well in the face of adversity, trauma, tragedy, threats, or significant sources of stress”. George Bonnano (2004), Professor of Clinical Psychology at Columbia University described resilience as “the capacity to continue to move forward in the face of difficulty”.
Whether it is the APA’s “adapting” or Bonnano’s “to move forward” – resilience is much more than bouncing back, it’s about harnessing adversity to acquire knowledge and skills to ‘bounce forward’. The ability to bounce forward and grow from adversity is the hallmark of resilient individuals. Resilience is not a coping but a learning construct.
Instead of falling in a heap or hiding from life’s inevitable difficulties via a stream of unhealthy non-coping strategies, resilient people face them head on. It’s not that they experience less grief, pain or loss; they don’t. To be resilient means to replace the common either/or mentality with one of both/and. Flexibility of thought allows those who are resilient to harness the inherent energy in difficult situations to forge a path forward.
There are six characteristics that resilient individuals typically exhibit:
- Emotion regulation. The ability to stay calm under pressure. Emotions are kept in check and attention is paid to behaviour. Resilient people rarely let their desires get ahead of their rational mind when faced with a difficult situation.
- Optimism. A belief that things will turn around. An ability to minimise subjectivity in the assessment of situations. Resilient people do not assume the worst and then extrapolate that out forever.
- Causal Analysis. The explanatory style used to explain good and bad things. An ability to usefully identify the causes of problems, as well as successes, so as to not repeat the same mistakes. Usually coded on the three dimensions of personal (me/not me), permanent (always/not always), and pervasive (everything/not everything) ways of thinking.
- Self-efficacy. A belief in one’s ability to be effective. Replace why me with why not me.
- Empathy. The ability to notice the cues of others as to their psychological as well as emotional states. Although arguably less teachable than the other characteristics, people can still learn techniques to improve how they read people and situations.
- Reaching out. Linked with self-efficacy, resilient people are comfortable asking for help. They do not see it as a sign of weakness. In fact, the opposite would probably be more accurate.
So, all these can to some extent be developed if people are invested, motivated and tenacious.
Some strategies for resilient living:
*Learn to take responsibility because we are all responsible for our actions.
*Seek to serve or help others-we can improve the quality of life around us.
*Practice daily gratitude. People who practice genuine gratitude do not take things for granted and have the inner knowing that even though they are going through difficulties all will be well. We learn not to be grateful not for tragic events but for our response to them.
*Failure is to be embraced NOT feared -it’s a prerequisite for success. It teaches us how to struggle with adversity and how to move forward with courage and understanding.
*The cup is half full not empty. Reframing is an important skill for resilience. It is the ability to focus on what is right, useful, and beneficial.
*Capabilities that undertake resilience can be strengthened at any age.
Age-appropriate activities that have huge health benefits can improve resilience. For example – regular physical exercise, stress reduction practices, programs that actively build executive function and self-regulation skills.
*Spend time laughing
We can recover our resilience and eventually ‘bounce back’ with greater strength and courage, ready to handle future stress and hardship.
Bonanno, G. A. (2004). Loss, Trauma, and Human Resilience: Have We Understood the Human Capacity to Thrive After Extremely Aversive Events? American Psychologist, 59(1), 20-28.
What is Emotional Resilience and How to build it? (2021, November 25). Positive Psychology http://positivepsychology.com>emotional
Ackerman, C. (2021, November 25), What is Resilience and Why is It Important to Bounce Back. https//positivepsychology.com/what-is-resilience/