What is Resilience?
A dictionary definition of resilience tells us that it is
- The ability to recover quickly from illness, change, or misfortune; buoyancy.
- The property of a material that enables it to resume its original shape or position after being bent, stretched, or compressed; elasticity.
Resilience is like a blow up ball – you can put pressure on it by squeezing it, but when you let go it quickly goes back to its original shape. It is able to bounce back.
When we use the term resilience to refer to a person, it is an individual’s capacity to withstand stress and catastrophe, which may result in the individual ‘bouncing back’ to a previous state of normal functioning, or simply not showing negative effects. Other terms often used are resourcefulness, mental toughness and hardiness.
Resilience is not something that you’re either born with or not. Resilience develops as people grow up and gain knowledge, better thinking and self-management skills. Resilience is found in a variety of behaviours, thoughts, and actions that can be learned and developed across the life span.
Being resilient doesn’t mean going through life without experiencing stress and pain. People feel grief, sadness, and a range of other emotions after adversity and loss. Being resilient is about working through the emotions and effects of stress and painful events, not avoiding them.
The following quote by Confucius sums this up very aptly.
"Our greatest glory is not in never falling, but in rising every time we fall."
What are the Characteristics of a Resilient Individual?
Research shows that resilient individuals think differently. They have a set of skills that allow them to persevere, manage stress and triumph in the face of challenge. A resilient individual…
- Is able to adjust emotions, thoughts and behaviours to situations and conditions of change
- Focuses on positive aspects and opportunities
- Perseveres and overcomes obstacles
- Recovers quickly from a setback
- Pursues everything with energy and drive
- Knows when he/she needs help and asks for it
- Builds and maintains good relationships and networks, and
- Manages conflict and criticism effectively.
Becoming More Resilient
Nearly everyone has the capacity to be resilient and we can increase this capacity no matter what our age or personal history. While there are, of course, some situations and conditions which are so extreme that no one could flourish, there are ways to become more resilient.
Find positive meaning in your life despite difficult or traumatic events
Being realistically optimistic about your situation can give you hope. It may help to try looking beyond the present and consider whether the future may be a little better.
Keep a long-term perspective and consider the stressful event in a broader context
Avoid seeing crises or stressful events as unbearable problems. Maintain a hopeful outlook, expecting good things and visualising what you want for the future.
Look for opportunities for self-discovery after a struggle with loss
As a result of coping with adversity, it is common for people to discover things about themselves. Many people have reported greater feelings of personal strength, better relationships with others, an increased sense of self-worth, a heightened appreciation for life, and a more developed sense of spirituality.
Have a positive view of yourself and confidence in your strengths and abilities
Maintain positive self-esteem. Having confidence in your abilities and trusting in yourself is a key element to resilience. Develop your self-confidence – attend self-development courses.
See yourself as in control
If your attitude and outlook is that of being a victim, then you will be a victim. But if you see yourself as being in control and a victor, then no matter what the circumstances, you will be a victor - even if the only thing you can change is your own attitude towards your circumstances.
Make and maintain quality connections with family, friends and colleagues
Surrounding yourself with people who will listen to you and be there for you, is crucial for building resilience. The ability to seek and accept help from others actually strengthens resilience. Social support can be found through friends, family, community groups and places of worship. Volunteering is another way to expand your circle.
People can learn effective ways to respond to adversity. We can also provide support for each other, which helps promote resilience. Close relationships with family and friends and a strong sense of community are among the most important factors in attaining resilience and happiness.
Seek help from others (tell others about your distress)
As mentioned above, the ability to seek and accept help from others actually strengthens resilience. Resilient individuals use all the resources they have at their disposal and this includes human resources.
Develop good problem-solving and communication skills
Developing your problem-solving and communication skills enhances resilience by enabling you to utilise all your resources which includes asking for help. Consider attending one of the talks or courses mentioned on this website.
Change is an unavoidable and vital part of life. Accepting change and adjusting to it allows you to maintain a positive outlook on life. Look for the positive that comes with the change, rather than the negative.
Accept circumstances that cannot be changed
Accepting circumstances that you cannot change frees you up to put your energy into the things you can control.
Develop realistic goals and move towards them
Learning to set realistic goals for yourself and taking steps to achieve them can help you manage stress and give you hope for the future. Achieving even the smallest goals can have a significant impact on your life.
Take decisive actions in adverse situations
When stressful life events occur, it is natural to become immobilized and to withdraw from others for a time. It is important to take decisive action as much as you can in order to mobilize your resources and recover.
Take care of your mind and body
However you do it, it is extremely important to take time for yourself and take care of yourself. Exercise regularly, get enough sleep, eat well, and focus on interests, creative outlets, or hobbies that you find relaxing. Part of self-care may also involve spending time with friends and family. In the case of parents, it is important that you take care of yourself so that you can be a stronger resource for your children. Of course, coping with stress in healthy ways and avoiding harmful coping strategies, such as substance abuse is part of self-care.
Have faith in some spiritual belief.
Whatever you spiritual beliefs, you can draw much strength, courage and comfort, which enhances resilience.
Myths and Facts About Resilience
Myth: Resilience is a trait. People either have it or they don’t.
Fact: Resilience is not a trait; it is a learnt skill. Resilience is a capacity that involves behaviours, thoughts, and actions that can be learned by and developed in anyone. Being resilient involves tapping into your resources, such as personal strengths and the support of family and friends.
Myth: Resilient people are immune to stress and negative emotions.
Fact: Resilient people experience just as much stress and negative emotion as anyone else, with just as much intensity. However, they also choose to experience positive emotions like gratitude, joy, kindness, love, and contentment in abundance. They are also able to find meaning and purpose for their lives, even in the face of loss and trauma.
Myth: Resilient people are independent, tough, and self-reliant; they don’t need much from other people.
Fact: The idea that someone should ‘stand on their own two feet and go it alone’ is a stereotype of western culture and a myth. Resilient people are resourceful, and friends and family are among their most important resources. Resilient people have strong social networks. They have close connections to family and friends and enjoy good relationships with colleagues. Resilient people are able to disclose their troubles to people close to them, and ask for help when they need it, without feeling bad or guilty.
Myth: Adversity makes people stronger.
Fact: People do experience positive changes in their lives after struggling with a crisis or trauma. But it’s not the adversity or suffering that makes people stronger - it is the process of struggling, learning, and persevering. In this process people experience their own capabilities and so gain confidence about overcoming future difficulties. They also experience the support of families, friends, colleagues and faith communities. Adversity motivates us to explore the environment, learn new things, and ultimately build new resources that help us to overcome future difficulties.
Myth: Healthy families don’t have problems and therefore don’t need to be resilient.
Fact: All families have problems. Healthy families have the coping and problem-solving skills to deal with them constructively – because they are resilient, not because they are healthy.