The Power of Resilience
The Power of Resilience
When we look for a definition of resilience, I like to say that it is: knowing how to cope despite setbacks, barriers, or limited resources. Resilience is a measure of how much you want something and how much you are willing, and able, to overcome obstacles to get it. It has everything to do with your emotional strength. There is no negotiating if you are willing to do it or not; it is simply a matter of how you will best get to the goal.
Your Story Matters
Have you ever wondered what makes it easier for some people to bounce back after a tragedy than others? Or why hundreds facing the same life-changing event wind up on drastically different paths? Imagine a young woman whose childhood was rife with trauma: perhaps she grew up in impoverished conditions, where she experienced chronic abuse, and lacked a proper support system. Now imagine this same young woman went on to earn an advanced degree and developed a nonprofit organization to help underprivileged youth living in poverty.
Though not often so cut-and-dried, stories like this are not uncommon; unfortunately, neither are their counterparts. Let us now imagine that this woman had a sister, who began using drugs at an early age, and struggled with addiction and homelessness throughout her life. What was it about these two women that led them to have such strongly contrasting outcomes?
The answer lies not only in the development of resilience in its many forms, but in our personal narratives, or the stories we tell ourselves. Each of these concepts has a tremendous impact on the shape that our lives take, and what will differentiate those who bounce back from those who never fully recover. Let’s unpack them, one by one.
Resilience has taken on many meanings throughout its long history, but scientists who study both stress and resilience say it’s helpful to think of it as an emotional muscle that can be strengthened at any time. The American Psychological Association defines resilience as, “the process of adapting well in the face of adversity, trauma, tragedy, threats or significant sources of stress – such as family and relationship problems, serious health problems or workplace and financial stressors”. Resilience is not a trait that is either present or absent, but consists of behaviors, thoughts, and actions that experts agree can be learned and developed by anyone. It is therefore not our exposure to potentially traumatic events that determines later functioning, but how we respond to them.
Resilience has been historically difficult to measure, largely because it emerges, or fails to do so, only in the presence of adversity. If you have been fortunate enough to face few challenges or obstacles, it may be difficult to gauge just how resilient you are. Furthermore, the types of stressors we experience vary widely, in both duration and intensity. While the intensity of acute stressors, such as experiencing or witnessing a violent crime, is often high, more chronic stressors may produce less stress, but their cumulative impact is far greater.
So just how can you strengthen your resilience muscle? Having a loving and caring support system, both inside and outside of the family, is one of the key components, or protective factors, in building resilience. Additionally, maintaining a positive view of yourself and your surroundings, the ability to manage intense feelings and impulses, is ideal. The ability to problem-solve, good communication skills, and the capacity to develop realistic plans and see them through are a must.
Another well-researched protective factor is maintaining an internal locus of control, or believing that you, rather than your life circumstances, impact your successes. In fact, a more internal locus of control is tied to perceiving less stress and performing better and shifting from an external to an internal locus results in improvements in psychological well-being and work performance.
Building resilience is not a one-size-fits-all journey but is unique to each person’s personal identity and development and may hinge on one’s cultural practices and beliefs. Therefore, it is important to understand that not all approaches work for everyone. Similarly, as not all individuals respond the same way to a traumatic event, the strategies they adopt will vary depending on their given response style.
Some common strategies for building resilience include: establishing strong social ties within your family, circle of friends, or community; accepting change as a natural part of life; viewing crises as obstacles to be surmounted; seeking opportunities for self-discovery; and taking care of yourself through engaging in activities you enjoy and find relaxing.
*excerpt from my book, “I Said to Myself…false beLIEfs that won’t let me B.R.E.A.T.H.E.”