Sunday, February 2, 2014

Are You Resilient? What Is Resilience, Anyway?

Here’s a non-scientific definition: The ability to recover or “bounce back” from loss, stress, or disappointment – setbacks that can cause people to doubt their self-confidence and self-esteem; reduce their ability to perform normally; or even lead to depression.
  • Recover from being laid off to seek new employment or a new career.
  • Recover from the death of a loved one to engage in healthy relationships.
  • Recover from a bankruptcy to pursue new opportunities.
  • Recover from a devastating natural disaster to rebuild again.
  • Recover from the horrors of combat to regain peace of mind and the ability to perform at one's best.
Are you resilient? Do you want to be more resilient?

The first thing you need to understand is that “resilience” is not a single trait. Instead, the ability to bounce back psychologically comes from a combination of behavior patterns I call personal strengths.

Perseverance. This pattern has to do with the refusal to give up while there is still a reasonable chance of success. Non-resilient people tend to give up when the going gets tough. And it will; life is like that. Resilient individuals hang on in spite of repeated adversity.

Courage. This is the willingness to take risks. Non-resilient people back off and shut down when they feel fear. Life itself is uncertain and risky. Resilient people do what has to be done anyway, even when the stakes are high.

Composure. This is the habit of being mentally tough – keeping emotions under control even during moments of high stress and pressure. When faced with crisis, danger or disaster, non-resilient people “lose it” or “choke.” Their emotions take over, rendering them ineffective. Resilient people keep on functioning, dealing with issues and solving problems.

Acceptance. This means calling on personal strength to acknowledge reality, no matter how grim it may be. Non-resilient people go into denial. Resilient people are able to deal with the world as it is because they face it head on.

Optimism. This pattern is not about focusing strictly on the positives of a situation – that would be a form of denial. True optimism has to do with acknowledging both the downsides and the upsides – in other words, a balanced, realistic view. Non-resilient people are so overwhelmed by adversity that they can no longer see the realistic upsides, advantages and opportunities. Resilient people use their balanced view to see what's possible, no matter how awful a situation is.

Probably most people would like to be more resilient. The military would like to help their warriors be more resilient. Presumably this would reduce the frequency and severity of cases of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Many service members return from tours in a combat zone stronger than when they left – what is referred to as “post-traumatic growth.” There is some truth to the phrase, “If it doesn’t kill you, it can make you stronger.”

Yes, but only if you're already strong with the personal habits that equate to resilience – perseverance, courage, composure, acceptance, and optimism.

It's worth remembering that the more you exercise behavior patterns like these. the stronger they get. You can become more resilient if you exercise them more often.

“Whatever we learn to do, we learn by actually doing it: men come to be builders, for instance, by building, and harp players by playing the harp. In the same way, by doing just acts, we come to be just; by doing self-controlled acts, we come to be self-controlled; and by doing brave acts, we become brave.” - Aristotle (384-322 B.C.)

Post by Dennis E. Coates, Ph.D., Copyright 2014. Building Personal Strength .

1 comment:

Beth said...

Resilience and the hardy personality has long been a subject of great interest to me, Denny. I believe certain elements of hardiness (or lack of it) come with the package when we're born. Perhaps by understanding the mechanism better, and its importance, at-risk folks could be given training or coaching or therapy (something) at an early age to be able to make better use of the tools you mention.