We all experience stressful or even traumatic events in our lives. Why are some people able to cope with stress and trauma and others aren’t? The answer may be resilience. You may have heard the phrases “emotional resilience” and “psychological resilience” tossed around interchangeably. Both translate to the same attribute: A capacity to adapt to and cope with stress, and to overcome adversity without becoming psychologically dysfunctional (such as slipping into a persistent negative mood or true clinical depression).
You can think of resilience as a coat of armor. Resilience is a kind of hardiness that helps you not only cope with the stresses of everyday life, but protect you in the future when you’re confronted by stressful situations or traumatic events.
How resilient are you? To help you assess your own resilience, take a look at the characteristics commonly associated with high-resilience individuals…
Characteristics of a Resilient Person:
- Can “bounce back” quickly during hard times and recovers easier when there are traumatic experiences
- Can manage anxiety effectively and use it to solve problems
- Able to process through grief or loss without falling into depression
- Bolsters optimism, takes chances – embraces life as opposed to engaging in harsh self-criticisms and dwelling on negative self-images
- A “where there’s a will, there’s a way” attitude
- Tendency to view problems as opportunities, and makes the most of those opportunities
- Deep-rooted faith in a system of meaning; for example, the bond of marriage, spiritual, philosophical or psychological
- A healthy social support network (e.g., significant other, family, friends, work colleagues)
- Maintains better physical health
- Ability to adapt and competently handle a wide variety of problems
- Ability to persevere, navigate through the fallout after a crisis
- Possesses strong self-efficacy: Has confidence in her own ability to cope with adversity, whether independently or with assistance from others.
While the resilience factor may be partially genetic, there’s often a connection between low resilience and growing up in an environment where there was little emotional support. What we internalize from our parents, we are able to give to ourselves.
For example, Cindy has parents who listen and support her when she’s troubled. Therefore, when hard times strike, she’s better able to support herself. Lisa, however, had parents who were dismissive and unresponsive when she spoke of her emotions. As a child, she felt scared and threatened when hard times came because she held her emotions inside and felt stuck in them. As an adult, she doesn’t “bounce back” as easily in hard times because she doesn’t have the skills to support herself.
That’s why good therapy can actually strengthen a person’s ability to be resilient. When we are listened to and supported the way we need to be, we can internalize that feeling of being supported and begin to support ourselves. Emotions don’t take over and keep us stuck. When we can process our emotions quickly, we can actually use those feelings to help us make good decisions, which helps us feel better.
It’s important to understand that resilience is a dynamic quality, not a permanent capacity. You can always make more. And you can never have too much.
People with low resilience often find themselves worn down and adversely affected by life’s stresses. But those with a high tendency to recover quickly have learned the art of self-renewal; not only are they able to cope well with severe stressors, they actually experience those stressors as learning and growth opportunities. For instance, one person who loses their job might sink into a helpless depression, while another might see it as an opportunity to reinvent themselves, and even look forward to the change and challenge.
Certainly developing good problem-solving and decision-making skills can boost your resilience factor, but it’s also important to build a strong social support system (e.g., family, friends, work colleagues, community organizations).
I believe that the secret formula for resilience is:
Growth = Challenge + Support