I have always believed, and I still believe, that whatever good or bad fortune may come our way we can always give it meaning and transform it into something of value.” ~ Hermann Hesse
The way in which you deal with the stresses and our ‘new norm’ bestowed on us by the pandemic, could be an indication of how resilient you really are. Resilience is defined as the ability to withstand or recover from difficult situations. It’s the ability to ‘spring back,’ in spite of all odds. It’s how you’re able to restore equilibrium in your life during or following upheaval. In recent months many of us have encountered many new challenges, personal, economic, psychological and/or emotional, and it’s certainly a good test of resilience.
Even under normal conditions, we all have a certain amount of adversities in our lives. Much of how we deal with an adversary basically has to do with our attitude. We don’t have to look too far away from our circle of friends and family to see the different reactions to the challenges presented by the pandemic. Positive self-talk can do wonders in dealing with scary or unknown situations, and negative thoughts can easily activate the brains’ fear center. Chances are that those who have coped well are flexible, and generally have the ability to cultivate happiness in their lives through balance and wisdom.
Those who are resilient have a certain sense of empowerment or are able to easily shift their perspective. This means that during stressful or challenging times, they are able to reframe their situation. In addition to maintaining a sense of optimism, they are most likely able to regulate their emotions. Some studies have shows that resilience might be inherited, but it’s not all nature—early childhood experiences and environments play a role in how resilient we become. Many of those who have had severe childhood trauma or those who moved a lot, such as military families, tend to be more resilient.
The Resilience Theory states that it’s not the nature of the adversity or challenging situation that is most important, it’s how you deal with it that is important. This is the same philosophy used when teaching memoir. It’s not about telling your story, but it’s about how you reacted to your story and how it transformed you. Positive psychology is connected to resilience theory because they’re both about formulation a beneficial way to foster our health and well-being. In fact, it’s been suggested that those who’ve had exposure to various degrees of lifelong adversity had better mental health and well-being outcomes than those who have had little or no adversity.
Further, there are those who are more open to new experiences and there are those who get strength from adversity as this is their way of coping with a potential threat. According to Tennen and Affleck (1999), in their study, “Finding Benefits in Adversity,” “The individual who is more open to experience—imaginative, emotionally responsive, and intellectually curious—might be particularly likely to meet the challenge of adversity through a philosophical reorientation and a new direction in life plans.” (p. 286).
In general, most people have a large capacity for adaptation and to overcome threatening events and experiences. While some individuals might be innately more resilient, there’s no doubt that resilience can be practiced and developed, and like the old adage saying, ‘from all bad comes good,’ and that when one door closes, another door opens.
Fletcher, D. and M. Sartar. (2013) Psychological Resilience: A review and critique of definitions, concepts and theory.” European Psychologist. Vol 18. pp. 12-23.
Moore, C. (2020). “Resilience Theory: What Research articles in psychology teach us.” Positive Psychology.com.
Seery, M.D., Holman, A.E. & Silver, R.S. (2010). “Whatever does not kills us: Cumulative lifetime adversity, vulnerability and resilience.” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 99, pp. 1025-1041.
Tennen, H., and G. Affleck. (1999). “Finding Benefits in Adversity.” in Coping: The Psychology of What Works, by C.R. Snyder, Ed. New York: Oxford University Press.
Wallace, A. (2019). “A Key to Mental Resilience: A Meaningful Life. Endeavour College of Natural Health. February 20.
Originally Published in Psychology Today, September 7, 2020.