During the past 10 years, there has been a growing trend in psychological research toward understanding the role of resilience in coping with challenging life circumstances, ranging from trauma to daily anxiety. The mental health field has historically focused on how to “cure” or “remove” unwanted emotions and behaviors. However, modern research has focused on teaching people how to create personal traits which serve as buffers to life’s stressors.
What is Resilience?
Resilience has been found to be a valuable trait, which is inherent in many people but can be learned and continually applied by those who are willing to adopt this trait. However, a person must be open to viewing any of life’s stressors as part of human existence and as a catalyst for change and growth, not as a fearful or debilitating experience. Resilience can be an ongoing tool for working through trauma, depression, anxiety, and emotionally painful relationships with family members, romantic partners, and other significant people in one’s life. Resilience is characterized by cognitive and behavioral skills which enable an individual to overcome difficulties and to view all life experiences as opportunities for growth and control over one’s well-being.
The beginning point of developing resilience is the acceptance of circumstances and people as they are. The main goal of developing resilience is to focus on the thoughts, behaviors, and emotions which ARE in one’s control. Furthermore, by looking back at one’s strengths in previous times of distress, any individual can learn how to use these strengths toward empowerment when confronting any present or future difficult life situation.
Resilience = Well-Being
Well-being is currently being studied more than happiness, because it represents one’s satisfaction with life, even in the midst of stressful or painful circumstances. While researchers have historically studied the factors which create happiness, more attention has focused on how well-being develops and if it is more crucial to an individual’s mental health than being “happy.” Developing well-being requires one’s willingness to be genuine and authentic, which means acknowledging one’s flaws and accepting flaws in others without trying to change them. Well-being involves an absence of negative emotions and the continual harnessing of positive emotions, regardless of external events. This particular aspect of well-being has been linked to resilience.
Well-being is represented by an overall contentment with one’s relationships, career, and oneself in general. A high level of well-being has also been found to correlate with better physical health, a greater sense of spiritual groundedness, healthier social relationships, and greater work productivity. Most importantly, people with higher levels of well-being have been found to have a strong sense of purpose and meaning in life. After reading the previous information in this post about resilience, you can easily see how resilient people would have greater well-being than those who allow negative circumstances to overwhelm them.
While it takes motivation and effort on the part of the client, there are specific ways to create and sustain resilience as a lifelong buffer to stressful and painful circumstances. Resilience exercises can enable any person to go from fear and confusion to empowerment and control of any life event. Visualizing how one would like to be is the first step toward resiliency. One’s thoughts have the power to create joy and hope or to create sadness and fear. By learning to observe each and every life moment, both positive and negative, any individual can become the wise observer and not the fearful reactor. Resilience is a form of raw courage which can be applied to any life situation.
First, I assist the client in making a strengths list. Secondly, I educate the client in clarifying, evaluating, and revising negative or irrational thoughts. During this process, I prompt the client to think about how one may catastrophize difficulties or perceive that one has no control over one’s life. The goal is to adopt a more rational and empowered thinking pattern toward past, present, and future life events. When feeling overwhelmed by a present stressor or a painful memory, the client is encouraged to visualize one’s best self as taking control of this challenge and using it as a valuable learning opportunity. While there will always be stressful events in life, a person can change how these events are viewed. A third exercise is to teach the client some proactive and assertive cognitive and behavioral strategies for confronting and managing disturbing circumstances. This involves breaking down overwhelming problems into small, manageable steps, such as identifying just one goal to accomplish for each day which can move the client in the desired direction. Fourth, I help the client to develop some realistic goals and a specific action plan for achieving each of these goals. The fifth and most important exercise is teaching the client how to use mindfulness of one’s thoughts, behaviors, and emotions. Mindfulness involves identifying past-oriented or future-oriented thoughts and putting one’s thoughts into the present moment. This is accomplished by using a mantra, positive visualization, or other strategy for thought redirection.
The human brain has amazing abilities to work through hardships and pain. However, in modern society, hardships tend to be viewed as events which should be not acknowledged or which should be “gotten over” after a short period of time. Resilient people do not simply take on the “it happened for a reason” or “things will get better” attitude. On the contrary, resilient people accept painful or stressful experiences, as well as the resulting disturbing emotions and thoughts. Resilient people view such experiences, even though they may be horrific, unwanted, and unexplainable, as tools for gathering inner strength and wisdom. These tools can be carried on throughout one’s lifetime. Resilient people know that, even when given the worst circumstances, it is both necessary and possible to go through the real emotions and to tap into the inner strength which exists in all humans.
Resilient people have traits which serve as buffers to challenging events which are inherent during the life process. Resilient people derive clarity from disappointment, fear, anger, and irritation. This spiritual journey often requires stepping into the unknown while continuing to move forward and to embrace all emotions and thoughts which arise. By not trying to avoid or hide from one’s insecurities and fears, any individual can begin to gain a sense of freedom from past traumas and other negative life experiences. I have observed the following 9 specific qualities which are common in resilient people:
- A humble and genuine sense of self-awareness
- Positivity toward one’s daily tasks
- Assertive communication within one’s relationships
- A continual willingness to keep learning from any life experience
- Determination which is derived from one’s perceptions of hardships as challenges
- A sense of humour
- Frequent connection with supportive and understanding people
- A sense of purpose as a guiding and grounding force
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