While certain factors might make some individuals more resilient than others, resilience isn’t necessarily a personality trait that only some people possess. On the contrary, resilience involves behaviours, thoughts, and actions that anyone can learn and develop. The ability to learn this is one reason research has shown that resilience is ordinary, not extraordinary.
Life may not come with a map, but everyone will experience twists and turns from everyday challenges to traumatic events with more lasting impact, like the death of a loved one, a life-altering accident, or a serious illness. Each change affects people differently, bringing a unique flood of thoughts, strong emotions, and uncertainty. Yet people generally adapt well over time to life-changing situations and stressful situations—in part thanks to resilience.
Psychologists define resilience as the process of adapting well in the face of adversity, trauma, tragedy, threats, or significant sources of stress—such as family or relationship problems, serious health problems, or workplace and financial stressors. As much as resilience involves “bouncing back” from these difficult experiences, it can also involve profound personal growth.
While these adverse events, much like rough river waters, are certainly painful and difficult, they don’t have to determine the outcome of your life. There are many aspects of your life you can control, modify, and grow with. That’s the role of resilience. Becoming more resilient not only helps you get through difficult circumstances, it also empowers you to grow and improve your life along the way.
Resiliency is not...
Being resilient doesn’t mean that a person won’t experience difficulty or distress. People who have suffered major adversity or trauma in their lives commonly experience emotional pain and stress. In fact, the road to resilience is likely to involve considerable emotional distress.
Like building a muscle, increasing your resilience takes time and intentionality. Focusing on four core components — connection, wellness, healthy thinking, and meaning — can empower you to withstand and learn from difficult and traumatic experiences.
Resiliency in real life...
I recently witnessed resilience in our dog Gracie.
We have invited Gracie into our home recently. She is a retired puppy mama – 4 years old and cute as a button. Part of our agreement to the breeder was to have her spayed. No problem, we have a great vet and I actually thought that going through this experience with her would help us bond. We had also recognized that she needed some dental work done – so the vet was asked to do that procedure at the same time.
By the end of her surgery day she had lost her “lady parts” as well as 16 teeth. Her dental work was more extreme than we had anticipated and 6 of her teeth were considered major extractions.
When I picked her up I realized 2 things:
I am wholly and completely in love with this little 4 pound munchkin.
There was a long recovery road ahead of her.
Armed with meds, cautions, and Gracie we headed home. Let’s just say both ends of her little body were in bad shape. She napped most of the evening and was “allowed” 2 tablespoons of food that evening if she was up to it. When she woke up she took her food – thank you very much – and I’d like more please. I was told that if she didn’t eat in the morning after surgery she was to go back to the vets to get fluids. Eating was NO problem for our girl. Blessed with great friends, I had numerous offers to watch Gracie while I walked Diesel (her big bro).
Here’s what I learned. She recognized she was surrounded by love (connection), she stepped into her recovery like the trooper she is and was far more active then the vet tech suggested she would be in a short period of time (wellness), I know that there were times when she could have just laid in her bed – but she forced herself to get up to eat, sniff and snuggle (healthy thinking), and she was heavily motivated by being able to be independent again (meaning). I also know that she has not read or been trained in resiliency. It’s innate to her – I wonder is it innate to humans as well? Is it something that we may lose sight of on occasion, but by reminding ourselves of the four core components can we step back into the best version of our resilient selves?