Psychological resilience is the human ability to bounce back better from a misery.
Resilient people not only recover from their setbacks, but often also find a meaning in their suffering. As a result, they grow from it.
(Resilience is) The ability to see yourself in the dark abyss of failure, humiliation or depression and bounce back not only to where you were before but to even greater height of success, happiness, and inner strength.— Everly Jr, Strouse, & McCormack, 2015
Resilience In The Shadow of A Pandemic
A pandemic can test us to our extreme limits. It can blur and warp our imaginations because the future doesn’t seem anything like our known past.
In quarantine, it can break us from the inside, brick by brick. To start with, it can melt our weekends and weekdays into a crazy haze.
Our constant keepers during these times of uncertainty are fear and gloom.
We’re in fear because we truly can’t fathom what any of our tomorrows hold.
And as human beings, we don’t like uncertainty. We prefer rather being in pain than being kept in the dark about what’s in store for us.
We’re in gloom because we have lost most of our sense of normal life and human touch.
We now seem to figure out the power of non-physical closeness in these times of social distancing.
Finally, we feel what passing by that stranger without looking up from our phone meant for us. We get it how good it felt being in a city with humans around close enough to touch.
We are now a planet of lonely humans living indefinite lives.
We don’t know how and when it’s going to end. We don’t know how much more pain humanity has to endure.
It looks like someone opened the Pandora’s box and let loose all grief into the world. What we have now is what Pandora was left with in her box — hope.
Our best hope today is the time-honored promise: this too shall pass.
Till that day comes, when it all passes over, what we do would be our resilience.
It’s resilience we would show as one person as well as one humanity, for it’s actually the whole world against a virus.
And we humans are one flexible and adaptable species.
What Does It Mean To Be Resilient
Resilience means the ability to bounce back from adversity.
Resilience is not something only some of us are born with. We all have it in us, and we all can build it. The resilient people often find a purpose in the experience and grow more capable out of it.
We humans are not just capable of resilience, but also rising up and coming back stronger after a fall.
The German philosopher Nietzsche knew about it, and said:
What does not kill me makes me stronger.— Nietzsche
Psychologists know it too, and assure us resilience is a skill we can learn to add to its strength.
In fact, our capacity for post-traumatic growth — that is, thriving and growing into a much more capable person after a traumatic event — is quite remarkable.
There’s something native and deep-rooted in us that makes us resilient.
(Resilience is) The ability to bounce back from adversity, frustration, and misfortune.— Ledesma, 2014
However, even when all of us have resilience in us, it’s not there in equal amounts. Some people are more resilient than others.
We’re more likely to bounce back when the stressful events are less harsh and less often, and when we have people around to support us.
Resilience doesn’t mean we reject our unpleasant emotions. Doing so doesn’t help; we yield to them when we snub them.
But when we accept our negative emotions, and let them flow over us, we take back the control. Then we get to choose what to do with them.
Showing your emotions is a sign of your strength. — Brigitte Nicole
Embracing our negative emotions means we label them clearly. The psychologists call it affect labeling.
By attaching the exact words to our emotions, we get an insight into what’s going on in our bodies.
It helps better if we were to declare “I feel fearful” than a fuzzy “I feel kinda strange.”
An easy way to remember it is — you name it and you tame it.
In 2007, Creswell and his team of researchers found when we label our difficult emotions, the amygdala (the fear center of the brain) becomes less active and less likely to trigger a stress response in the body.
In 2018, Fan and Bollen, and their colleagues took their research on labeling of emotions to Twitter. After analyzing the emotional content of the tweets of 74,487 Twitter users, they found the negative emotions build up slowly but go back to their previous levels sharply when they get labeled.
Just saying the words “I feel bad” almost immediately brought emotions back to their baseline. — Bollen
Why Is Resilience Important
Why is it important to bounce back?
Resilience is important as it gives us the strength to process and overcome hardships. Those who lack a strong resilience can buckle under pressure, and turn to unhealthy ways to cope with stress.
Resilience is a natural part of human survival experience after any major stressful event, as this pandemic. The resilient people are better able to handle adversity and rebuild their lives after any catastrophe.
Without resilience, the human species couldn’t have survived 200,000 years of disasters and adversities, and grow into the most intelligent beings on this earth.
Resilience is important because:
- it enables us to develop strategies for shielding ourselves against the catastrophic experiences,
- it helps us to hold on steadfast in our lives during the traumatic and stressful times,
- it serves us to guard ourselves from some serious mental health issues as depression and suicide.
Resilience, our ability to bounce quickly from difficulties, is one of the most important traits of happy people. And we’re quite good at ultimately finding our way to happiness.
Psychology professor at Columbia University, and pioneering researcher in the field of bereavement and trauma, George A. Bonanno revolutionized the field of resilience study when he declared how humans respond to loss and trauma is not anything like it was earlier thought.
He said resilience is actually the core experience of human grief and trauma reactions.
What Bonanno meant was that people are resilient even when they’re facing extreme stress or loss – not only after the event.
And, as he also said, grief therapy did not offer any positive benefit overall. Rather, he showed, more than one-third of people get worse on grief therapy.
When the worst possible news breaks, you will almost certainly get through it unscathed. Almost everyone does. — George A. Bonanno (The Other Side of Sadness)
Coping Ugly: Bonanno pointed out while most people figure out effective ways to handle life’s challenges, but some do it in a way that’s messy. He coined the phrase “coping ugly” for such processes.
According to Paula Davis-Laack, M.A.P.P. , resilient employees do these seven things differently:
- They develop high-quality connections.
- They manage their stress and avoid burnout.
- They are authentic, and work their values and strengths.
- They take care to pursue their passions.
- They stay, and try to keep themselves, inspired.
- They have mental toughness and flexibility.
- They manage changes and setbacks.
How To Build Resilience
First of all, we must realize resilience is learnable.
We can make ourselves more resilient by practice. But when we accede to the view that resilience can’t be learned, we accept vulnerability and defeat.
Resilience is more likely to be mastered or present:
- when one can avoid strong, frequent, or prolonged stress
- when the effects are buffered by supportive relationships
Pushing Back The 3 P’s
Martin Seligman, Father of Positive Psychology, notes the pessimists tend to believe bad events will last long, will undermine everything they do, and they are the ones at fault.
These are the 3 P’s that hinder our growth after adversity:
- Permanence — that this tough time will last forever
- Pervasiveness — that this will affect all areas of our life
- Personalization — that it has affected us the most, like no one else
We can and must learn to push back these 3 P’s that hampers our recovery and resilience.
Professor Seligman gave us the concept of Learned Optimism. It says we can learn to be more joyful and optimistic by consciously challenging our negative self talk.
When we challenge our negative internal voice, as optimists do, we learn to see our defeats as temporary setbacks, believe they are not our faults, and interpret the difficult situations as challenges to try harder.
We can pick up some resilience-building skills from the principles of learned optimism. These could be learning to break out of negative overthinking cycles, guard ourselves against catastrophizing, and look for the bright side when faced with setbacks.
4 Ways To Build Resilience
Some other factors that can make you more resilient are:
- a positive attitude/mindset
- optimism and hopeful attitude
- ability to regulate our emotions
- ability to see re-frame failure as feedback
6 More Ways To Build Resilience
According to The Resilience Institute, here is a short list of attributes when we seek to recover from serious adversity, in approximate order of impact:
- Strong relationships of respect, love and trust
- Impulse control and positivity
- Physical fitness, good sleep and nutrition
- Capacity to stay calm under pressure
- Ability to focus attention and be situation aware
- Ability to plan and execute effective solutions
We can learn to improve each of these, and can measure how we fare.
A Fine Example of Psychological Resilience
Amanda Lindhout, a Canadian freelance foreign correspondent, was kidnapped while reporting in Somalia in 2008. She was just 27 then.
Amanda was held captive for 15 months, and subjected to every form of torture, including rape. What we’re experiencing right now, isolated in our homes in self-quarantine, is nothing compared to hers.
The normal trajectory of human experience is that life will bring you to your knees at some point, if it hasn’t yet.
We try to ready ourselves for what life might throw our way, but I know that not everybody is building that muscle of resilience, and it is that which carries you through.— Amanda Lindhout
She wrote about it in her 2013 bestseller A House In The Sky. Watch her speak:
The 3 Sources of Resilience
1. Personal Factors
The following personal factors all evidently contribute to resilience:
- Personality traits — openness, extroversion, and agreeableness
- Mastery, self-efficacy, self-esteem
- Positive interpretation of events, positive self-concepts and mindset
- Optimism and Hope
- Intellectual resourcefulness
- Psychological flexibility
- Social attachment and adaptability
- Emotional regulation and internal locus of control
- Positive emotions
Some other personal factors that influence resilience are age, gender, race, ethnicity, and stage of life.
2. Biological Factors
Findings from recent research on biological factors in resilience reveal harsh environments in early ages (as children growing in war-ravaged Syria) can affect the development of brain structure and function.
There can be changes in the brain size, the nerve networks, the sensitivity of receptors, and the production of neurotransmitters.
These brain changes in younger years can reduce the capacity to regulate the negative emotions, and lower their resilience to adversities.
Studies also show past and current life and social experiences can lead to sizable and long-term changes in genes. Later on, one can transmit these genes to the next generation. So, resilience as a trait can be genetically inherited.
3. Environmental Factors
The factors in one’s environment can sufficiently increase or decrease their ability to show resilience.
- Social support, including family, teachers and peers
- Stable family, good parenting, non-abusive father/mother
- Depression or substance abuse in the parents
- Good school and supportive community
- Sports and artistic opportunities
- No exposure to violence near home or neighborhood
The 4 Types of Resilience
Jane McGonigal, a gamer scientist, in her TEDx talk talks of four types of resilience. She said people who boost these four behaviors regularly live up to 10 years longer than those who don’t.
Here are the four types:
- Physical resilience — you are physically resilient if you don’t sit still longer than an hour at a time. You keep moving, especially when you don’t feel like it. I don’t know about you, but as I age, the temptation to sit on the couch or to nurse a pain by not moving is high. A physically resilient person works out the kinks and makes physical activity a priority.
- Mental resilience — you are mentally resilient if you test your brain. Do puzzles. Play board games. Try new hobbies. Read new books. Stay engaged in work. Grow a garden. In short, mentally resilient folks stay challenged.
- Emotional resilience — you are emotionally resilient if you engage in regular reflection on things beautiful, fanciful, visionary. Emotional resilience exercises our capability to imagine, dream, plan and create. It fortifies the soul. Emotional resilience allows us to find positive things even when circumstances stay grim.
- Social resilience — when you stay in touch with others socially, you are being socially resilient. Hugs and handshakes stimulate the brain. Having a friend who you look forward to visiting with and taking the initiative to stay engaged is social resilience.
The 5 Skills of Resilience
According to Glyn Blackett of Stress Resilient Mind, the five key resilience skills are:
- Attention – flexibility & stability of focus
- Letting go (1) – physical
- Letting go (2) – mental
- Accessing & sustaining positive emotion
According to Leonie Hurrell, however, there are seven key skills of resilience:
- Resilient people are autonomous
- Resilient people have a realistic awareness of self
- Resilient people are adaptable
- Resilient people are optimistic
- Resilient people are pragmatic
- Resilient people are socially connected
- Resilient people demonstrate self-compassion
The 6 Competencies of Resilience
Master Resilience Training (MRT) is a 10-day resilience-training program that is offered by the United States Army. It is a joint effort between the Positive Psychology Center at the University of Pennsylvania and the United States Army.
The goal of this training is to build resilience in non-commissioned army officers. Learn more about it here.
The resilience training curriculum is designed to build the following six core competencies of resilience:
- Mental Agility
- Strengths of Character
The 7 C’s of Resilience
Pediatrician Kenneth Ginsburg specializes in building resilience in kids. He developed the 7 C’s model to offer a practical approach for parents and communities to prepare children to thrive.
- Competence — Competence is the ability to handle situations effectively. Parents can encourage children to focus and build on their strengths. They can let children make some safe mistakes so they could correct themselves.
- Confidence — Confidence is the solid belief in one’s own abilities. Parents can encourage cultivating the personal qualities like fairness, integrity, persistence, and kindness. They can Praise children honestly and specifically.
- Connection — Connection is giving your child your unconditional love, and empathizing with their positive and negative emotions. Parents can allow their children to have and express all kinds of emotions. They should not encourage them to suppress the unpleasant feelings.
- Character — Character is the fundamental sense of right and wrong so that the child is prepared to contribute to the world positively. Parents can encourage children to consider right versus wrong when making their choices. They should always be a role model to the child, as actions speak louder than words.
- Contribution — Children get a sense of purpose when they see how important are their contributions to the world, and this motivates them to take similar positive actions in future. Parents can teach the children the value of serving others who lack the good things in life. They can find opportunities for children to volunteer.
- Coping — Children who learn to cope with stress effectively become better at overcoming life’s challenges. They can learn to avoid unnecessary anxiety. Parents can avoid reacting emotionally when they feel overwhelmed. They can teach the children the importance of exercise, nutrition, sleep, and relaxation.
- Control — Children who get some control over the decisions that affect their lives, become more resilient as they know they have internal control. Parents can encourage their children to recognize and celebrate their successes, small or big. They can reward a carrying out of responsibility with increased freedom.
How To Measure Resilience
There are about 20 validated resilience scales. We can only mention a few here. To find out more about how the scales hold up against each other, check out this paper.
• RSA: Resilience Scale for Adults is a self-reported scale developed by Friborg, Hjemdal, Rosenvinge, & Martinussen, in 2003 to measure individuals’ protective resilience elements. Many scholars have used it successfully and applauded its validity and reliability.
• CD-RISC: The Connor-Davidson Resilience Scale (CD-RISC) was developed by Kathryn Connor and Jonathan Davidson in 2003 to measure resilience. It consists of 25 items:
- Able to adapt to change.
- Close and secure relationships.
- Sometimes fate or God can help.
- Can deal with whatever comes.
- Past success gives confidence for new challenge.
- See the humorous side of things.
- Coping with stress strengthens.
- Tend to bounce back after illness or hardship.
- Things happen for a reason.
- Best effort no matter what.
- You can achieve your goals.
- When things look hopeless, you don’t give up.
- Know where to turn for help.
- Under pressure, focus and think clearly.
- Prefer to take the lead in problem-solving.
- Not easily discouraged by failure.
- Think of self as a strong person.
- Make unpopular or difficult decisions.
- Can handle unpleasant feelings.
- Have to act on a hunch.
- Strong sense of purpose.
- In control of your life.
- You like challenges.
- You work to attain your goals.
- Pride in your achievements.
• BRS: There’s also The Brief Resilience Scale. The BRS is a reliable means of assessing resilience as the ability to bounce back or recover from stress and provides information about people coping with health-related stress.
The BRS is negatively related to anxiety, depression, negative affect, and physical symptoms when other resilience measures and optimism, social support, and Type D personality (high negative affect and high social inhibition) were controlled.
In times as this, when the future isn’t something we can look forward with absolute hope, we can look back into our past and collect our strength from there.
We can flip through the things we did before that went right and do those things again.
When we rewind, and look at the hardships we have faced before, we can gain courage from the lessons of our own resilience.
We can also find fun in not doing things we had to do before whether we liked it or not, as taking the morning shower or wearing the formal pants.[A thing of note here is that the WHO assures us it is normal to feel sad, stressed, confused, scared or angry during a crisis like this.]
In the final say, it’s not a situation we have opted into, nevertheless, we are stuck with it. We’ll adjust to this new normal and emerge stronger, wiser, and humaner as a world. And resilience will be the flag bearer of our every strategy from here on.
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Author Bio: Sandip Roy is psychology writer, happiness researcher, and medical doctor. Founder of Happiness India Project, and chief editor of its blog. He writes popular-science articles on positive psychology and related topics.
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