The power and importance of resilience

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In light of many events over the past week, the most obvious being the horrific events that occurred in Orlando, I have repeatedly observed resilience in myself and others. According to the American Psychological Association (APA), resilience is “the process of adapting well in the face of adversity, trauma, tragedy, threats, or significant sources of stress. It means ‘bouncing back’ from difficult experiences.”

While the act of being resilient to me is an extraordinary human attribute, the APA states research has shown that the ability to be resilient is ordinary. This is a survival mechanism for us; while we can be experiencing great stress, we decide to move forward and continue to be productive in spite of it, if for no other reason than to fight back against those feelings of pain and prove to ourselves that it won’t stop us.

The APA states the following as factors that contribute to one’s ability to be resilient:
– The ability to make plans and execute them
– Positive mindset
– Communication and problem solving skills
– The ability to manage feelings and impulses

Most likely we have all experienced times when we felt more like retreating or we felt immobilized rather than wanting to press on and move forward. If tending toward resilience is not typical for you, however, take a look at the list above and see if you might need to do some work in one of those areas.

Obviously, events that call upon us to be resilient are quite varied in scope, nature, and traumatic impact. There are major differences between events where our lives are threatened or altered, when we experience loss of another, when something happens like theft or damage to something external, or when we are rejected in some way. The perspective of these becomes quite important, and it becomes important to remember that adversity – whether significant or more trivial – is part of life, and there is no avoiding it.

So the fact that we are going to experience it in one form or another (and most likely in many various depths) brings us back to what to do in the midst of that adversity, and tapping into resilience is one of those things.

As we all know, most cases involving resilience also involve relying on others. The building and strengthening of our own personal community around us is essential. In the face of outward tragedy, this seems to happen naturally. When it comes to something we are facing internally, however, it becomes important for us to reach out.

Building other skills based on the resilience-building factors mentioned by the APA can also help us. Sometimes we can build these skills on our own by reading material based on the subject or taking a seminar or course, and sometimes we need help from others. For many, just having someone with whom we can go through the learning or growth process is not only comforting, but it also ensures that it actually happens! This can be an accountability partner, or a coach, or sometimes both. The important thing is not the method so much as it is finding what works for you.

The APA also mentions the importance of flexibility, and this shouldn’t be ignored. It’s important to know when we need to experience disappointment and when we need to move on. It’s important to understand that sometimes we need to cry and grieve and sometimes we need to find things to occupy our minds. Sometimes we need to be alone, and sometimes we need to reach out and rely on others.

I honestly think that it is rare that someone is not experiencing some sort of adversity most of the time. I think it’s much rarer to experience those moments in life where every single thing is great, even though many times that’s the societal projection – everything is great! This can make our desire to admit difficulty in coping even tougher, as it seems like no one else is having any problems. This is the purpose of marketing; we show everything in its best light. Television and social media have echoed this, which oftentimes gives us the false impression that everything surrounding us is fabulous, and it’s only us that experiences frequent difficulty.

Here’s a reminder: it’s everyone. Fabulous celebrities and fabulous friends and fabulous mentors and fabulous family members are all experiencing difficulties. You’re not alone, and you never will be, unless you make the decision to close yourself off. I’m not talking about alone time here, but about shutting others out. This rarely, if ever, makes things better. You don’t learn and grow from things you don’t confront and work through, and support from others can help that happen. And yet this takes courage – that’s what resilience is about more than anything. It’s about having the courage to hurt or to fear and to move forward anyway. If you’re going to survive a life filled with adversity, and it’s not an option really, you’re going to need it.

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