The word resilience is used in psychology, ecology, and engineering. The meaning remains the same — resistance and recovery from distress.
What Is Resilience In Psychology
Resilience in psychology is the human ability to bounce back better from misery or adversity. Resilient individuals not only recover stronger from a crisis but often also find meaning in the experience. Ledesma (2014) defines psychological resilience as “the ability to bounce back from adversity, frustration, and misfortune.”
Resilience has many names: hardiness, toughness, spunk, tenacity, fortitude, mettle, grit, and strength. We use the term to mean our ability to recover from hardships and misfortunes. The resilient people fight the stressful events and pull through those experiences and often grow from it.
The good thing is it not a quality only some of us are born with. We all have resilience, some more and others less. Psychologists assure it is a skill that we can forge stronger with practice, like any other skill. They say our natural capacity for post-traumatic growth is quite remarkable. Post-traumatic growth means becoming a more capable person after a traumatic experience.
According to Ann Masten, professor at the University of Minnesota College of Education and Human Development, resilience is the “capacity of a dynamic system to adapt successfully to disturbances that threaten system function, viability, or future development of the system.”
Psychologist Bonanno On Resilience
A psychology professor at Columbia University, and pioneering researcher in the field of bereavement and trauma, George A. Bonanno revolutionized the field of resilience.
Bonanno found the way most of us respond to losses and traumas was not at all like what other experts thought.
Till Bonanno arrived on the resilience scene, psychologists held widely that it was rare for people to grow resilience soon after a traumatic experience. The accepted idea was that people who did not show a marked reaction to the loss before growing back to their normal selves were either lying to themselves or repressing their emotions.
Bonanno’s team surveyed 2,752 New Yorkers after the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center. They found 65% of participants had either none or only one symptom of PTSD six months.
Further, more than half of those who helped with the 9/11 rescue effort, or were at the disaster site during the attack, also reported few or no symptoms of PTSD.
Bonanno drew three path-breaking conclusions from the study:
- Resilience is different from recovery.
- Resilience is a common, not rare, trait.
- There are multiple pathways to resilience.
“Resilience is the core experience of human grief and trauma reactions,” says Bonanno. What he meant was people are resilient even while they are facing extreme stress or loss. They do not wait till the event is over to start the coping process.
Bonanno also shook the earth by claiming that grief therapy does not offer any overall positive benefit. He pointed out that it does more harm than good, as about one-third of the people become 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)
Bonanno found while most can figure out effective ways to handle life’s challenges, some do so in messy ways. He coined the phrase “coping ugly” for such processes.
In “coping ugly,” the resilient people often develop characteristics that are not altogether their natural self. It happens while they are trying to control their situation and do something about it.
For example, people recovering from a calamity may suddenly start to behave as narcissists.
The Meaning of Resilience
In positive psychology, resilience means the ability to —
- put up a brave face in times of adversity and hard times,
- use the available strengths and resources to resist and cope,
- recover and flourish from the event and experience.
The resilient people often find a purpose in the adverse experience and grow more capable out of it. The German philosopher Nietzsche knew about it, and had said:
What does not kill me makes me stronger.
All of us can learn to be more resilient. But when a person gives in to the view they cannot build resilience, they become more prone to accept vulnerability and defeat easily.
What Resilience Does Not Mean
Resilience does not mean we reject our negative and unpleasant emotions.
When we deny our negative emotions, we unconsciously yield to them. This downgrades our resilience. But when we accept them and allow them to flow over us, we take back control and begin the process of recovering from the situation causing them.
Feeling and expressing our negative emotions is a sign of our mental strength. And that grows our resilience against them.
Why It Is Important To Have Resilience
Why is it important for us to bounce back?
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 a natural part of human survival experience after any major stressful event, as the Coronavirus pandemic. The resilient people are better able to handle adversity and rebuild their lives after any catastrophe.
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 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 against some serious mental health issues like depression and suicide.
Resilience is also one of the most important traits of happy people. And we humans are quite good at ultimately finding our way to happiness.
2 Limitations of Resilience
Positive psychologists have unearthed two limiting features of resilience:
- All are not equal: Even when we all have resilience, we do not have it in equal amounts. Some people are more resilient than all others.
- Less harsh is better: We are more likely to bounce back better when stressful events are less harsh and less often. And when we have people around to support us.
3 P’s That Block Resilience
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.
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.
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
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
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.
If you are a parent, then find time to read his award-winning book Building Resilience in Children and Teens: Giving Kids Roots and Wings to help build resilience in kids from the age of 18 months to 18 years.
Here’s a brief introduction to Ginsburg’s 7 C’s (competence, confidence, connection, character, contribution, coping, and control):
- 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:
1. Able to adapt to change. 2. Close and secure relationships. 3. Sometimes fate or God can help. 4. Can deal with whatever comes. 5. Past success gives confidence for new challenge. 6. See the humorous side of things. 7. Coping with stress strengthens. 8. Tend to bounce back after illness or hardship. 9. Things happen for a reason. 10. Best effort no matter what. 11. When things look hopeless, you don’t give up. 12. Know where to turn for help. 13. Under pressure, focus and think clearly. 14. Prefer to take the lead in problem-solving. 15. Not easily discouraged by failure. 16. Think of self as a strong person. 17. Make unpopular or difficult decisions. 18. Can handle unpleasant feelings. 19. Have to act on a hunch. 20. Strong sense of purpose. 21. In control of your life. 22. You like challenges. 23. You work to attain your goals. 24. Pride in your achievements. 25. You can achieve your goals.
• 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.
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 honestly can’t fathom what any of our tomorrows hold. And as human beings, we don’t like uncertainty. We prefer being in pain rather 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 ordinary life and human touch. We now seem to figure out the power of non-physical closeness in these times of social distancing.
We finally feel what passing by that stranger without looking up from our phone meant for us. We get it how good it felt to be in a city with humans around close enough to touch.
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 Pandora’s box and let loose all grief into the world. What we are left with now is just what Pandora had as the last thing inside her box — hope. And 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 is the resilience we would show as one person as well as one humanity. For it is the whole world against a virus now.
And we humans are one flexible and adaptable species.
In times like 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.
(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
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 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 solace is that the WHO assures us it is normal to feel sad, stressed, confused, scared, or angry during a crisis like this Coronavirus pandemic.
In the final say, it is not a situation we have opted for. Even so, we are stuck with it. We will adjust to this new normal and emerge stronger, wiser, and more humane as a world.
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Author Bio: Written and reviewed by Sandip Roy – a medical doctor, psychology writer, happiness researcher. Founder of Happiness India Project, and chief editor of its blog. He writes popular-science articles on positive psychology and related medical topics.
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