Developing resilience depends on many factors in addition to achieving closure on previous life experiences. Those who are resilient have many of the following characteristics –
A Sense of Hope and Trust in the World
Those who are resilient seem to believe in the basic goodness of the world and trust that things will turn out all right in the end. This positive attitude allows them to weather times when everything seems bleak and to look for and accept the support that is out there. This approach toward the world gives them the ability to hope for a better future.
The Ability to Tolerate Pain and Distressing Emotions
Some people can deal with pain better than others, and this may have a biological component. For example, some can deal with the dentist without any difficulty, while others dread having a tooth drilled. The same holds true with emotional pain. Some people can tolerate anxiety and others become incapacitated in the face of stress. It is encouraging to know that, with the help of a professional therapist and some practice, one can learn to deal better with emotional pain. Biology is not necessarily destiny.
Interpreting Experiences in a New Light
Sometimes we look at situations in a way that keeps us stuck in a negative thinking pattern. Those who are resilient have the ability to look at the situation in a new way (this is called “reframing”) that can minimize the impact of the trauma in their thought process. One benefit of working with a therapist during a life disruption is that new and more objective definitions of the traumatic situation can be developed and this opens the way to handle the crisis more successfully. Resilient people take a creative approach toward solving a problem, reinterpreting old definitions in new ways.
A Meaningful System of Support
One of the best ways to endure a crisis is to have the support of another person who can listen and validate our feelings. Knowing that others care and will come to our support lessens the feeling of isolation, especially when tackling the problem alone. It is important to be selective in choosing people to trust, and no one person can be expected to be the perfect means of support. Often it takes several friends, each of whom can provide different kinds of support. Resilient people are proficient in making friends and keeping them. They have the judgment to know who their friends should be – as well as the ability to give and take in their interactions with others.
A Sense of Mastery and Control Over One’s Destiny
Resilient people seem to have a feeling of independence and a sense of their own life in perspective. They do not feel that they are at the mercy of forces that aim to crush them. When they see a problem, they tackle it – because ultimately they know that their survival and the integrity of their life values depend on it. They have a sense of personal responsibility and the self-discipline it takes to accomplish their goals. While they have a sense of their own independence, they also have the freedom to depend on others, setting appropriate limits on their dependency.
A Good Self-Image and Self-Respect
People who show resilience generally have been treated with appreciation, care, and love from early childhood on. They have learned to see themselves in a positive light and to see themselves as people who deserve to be treated with respect by others. When a life disruption creates a challenge to their self-image, they are able to restore their feelings of self-esteem quickly. Without a positive sense of self, some people find themselves stuck in a crisis, often secretly feeling that they deserve the negative experience which has transpired in their lives. Fortunately, positive self-esteem can be reinforced in therapy.
Self-Reflection and Insight
Resilient people have a capacity for learning. They are able to talk about their lives, their experiences, their thoughts and feelings. They can provide a coherent autobiographical account of who they are. They have the ability to develop an objective explanation of their strengths and weaknesses. One of the goals of therapy with a trained professional is to provide the person with the ability to reflect on their lives and, from this self-reflection, to develop insight into their current life circumstances. Rather than feeling defensive about their life circumstances, they are open to new ideas and are flexible enough to try new tactics for dealing with problems. Resilient people are able to learn from their mistakes, and they do not punish themselves because they have made them.
A Wide Range of Interests and a Sense of Humor
People who show resilience in the face of adversity are those who have a diversity of interests in their lives. They are open to new experiences and ideas. Because their lives are rich, they can draw on a variety of experiences when their lives are disrupted – a hobby, a different group of friends, a talent. They can find relief from the singlemindedness and worry which often accompanies a period of crisis. Finally, they can laugh. Humor has both psychological and physical benefits in relieving the stress of trauma because it encourages a swift change in our perception of our circumstances – and when our thoughts change, our mood follows.
Dr. Baya Mebarek, Psy.D., LMFT
San Diego Couples and Family Therapy serves the surrounding areas of Sorrento Valley Road as La Jolla, UTC San Diego, Del Mar, Rancho Santa Fe, Rancho Bernardo, Rancho Penasquitos, Poway, University City and Escondido.