Resilience - Trait or learned behavior?


Many of us go through a lot in our lives and for some of us the hardships even begin in early childhood. Be that with the divorce or death of one of our parents, sexual or mental abuse, bullying, frequent and unpleasant changes of environment, alienation, sickness, anxiety or depression.

Others are luckier and have a good and happy childhood only to face adversity and loss later in life. It could be with our own marital problems and divorce, illness, the deaths of our loved ones, problems at work or with our business, bankruptcy, immigration, moving away, litigations, debt and so on.

Yet some of us experience exceptionally traumatic events such as personal assault or rape, severe accidents, natural catastrophes, war or terrorist attacks. Events that deeply traumatize us and leave us feeling raw and bare, vulnerable and fragile even completely shattered, left to pick up our pieces without knowing how to put them back together again.

No two people react the same way to the same events. Some of us may go through hell and back yet bounce back and move on. Others may experience less traumatic events than the first yet get totally floored and become incapacitated for life. What determines this variability in the effects of stress and trauma? Is it simply a difference in strength of character and resilience or is there more to it?

“Resilience is the process of adapting well in the face of adversity, trauma, tragedy, threats or significant sources of stress — such as family and relationship problems, serious health problems or workplace and financial stressors. It means "bouncing back" from difficult experiences.

Resilience is not a trait that people either have or do not have. It involves behaviors, thoughts and actions that can be learned and developed in anyone.”

So, what helps?

According to an article of the American Psychological Association the following points seem to be the most helpful. To read the article and learn about resources, please click on the link:

Research has found that perhaps some of the most important keys to resilience are flexibility and social connection.

•    In order to be flexible one needs to be able to maintain a healthy balance when dealing with traumatic or stressful events. Allowing strong and/or painful emotions to come to the surface without getting trapped in them while at the same time knowing when it is in our best interest to block them in order to be able to continue to function.

•    Focusing on finding a solution  to our problems while at the same time taking the time for ourselves and our well being, to rest, relax and nurture ourselves. It is important to take good care of our body’s and mind’s needs. Good nutrition, adequate sleep, engaging in things that we enjoy doing. Soothing our spirit in any way that suits us best, be it through meditation, prayer or anything that gives us a sense of connection and restores our sense of hope.

•    Spending time with our loved ones and nurturing our relationships in general. Knowing when to delegate responsibilities, trust others and trust ourselves. Learning how to accept help and support as well as give it to others.

•    Changing our angle of perception of the events that happen in our lives, the way we interpret what we experience and the way we respond to those situations. Keeping things into perspective and in context.

•    The only certainty in life is that everything changes, nothing remains the same. Focusing on and obsessing about the things we can’t control is a waste of precious energy which we could use to focus on what we can change and have control over.

•    Using a step by step strategy. If overwhelmed, put one foot in front of the other, don’t look at the top of the mountain you need to climb. Focus on what you can do at that very moment and just do it, bit by bit, one day at a time.

•    No matter what, do take action, no matter how small. Do not sit and stare at a stressful or traumatic situation frozen. Once you overcome the initial shock, take appropriate action. Engaging yourself takes you out of victim mode and makes you part of the solution.

•    The more you act, the more confident you will feel and more in touch with yourself and your abilities. This alone will help you feel better about yourself, become more hopeful, more positive. The more positive you feel the more you can focus on what you want to achieve. Maintain your focus tightly locked on what you want instead of what you fear.

•    Finally, keeping the learning and releasing the trauma. It may be that you may discover strengths in you, you never knew existed. That you create a deep and meaningful connection to others. That you develop a deeper sense of appreciation of life and what is precious and important for you. It is different for everyone.

An analogy I use with my clients is that of a driving on an icy road. You need to keep your attention and focus on where you want to go. In general remain as cool and focused as you can, flexible and non reactive. Act consciously and in measure to the present moment. Don’t take no for an answer, keep looking, researching, digging for a solution. Carve your way out if you must. Know when to ask for help and do so. Most importantly never, ever give up! 

Learn how to see the beauty and goodness in you and around you, no matter how small or insignificant it may seem. Do not allow your thoughts to keep you hostage because they can lie. Anxiety and depression are the greatest liars and only know how to paint dim pictures. Do not allow them to rob you of your sense of inner peace and balance. 

On the other hand do not beat yourself up for experiencing unpleasant or horrid emotions. Give yourself permission to feel but do not stay stuck in one emotional place. Do not remain trapped in an addictive loop of fear and scaring yourself. Keep walking, keep moving forward. Be curious, be observant, be appreciative. 

Always remember than everything changes, nothing can remain the same forever. By the same token though, trust that you can overcome, that because something bad happened once it doesn’t mean it will happen again. You change you evolve, life changes and evolves.

Align yourself and your inner essence with what you want to create, how you want to feel, who you want to be. Maintain a clear and unobstructed mental and emotional ‘connection’ to your Inner Dream so that you can turn it to Outer Form and into reality. 

You can do this. You do not need to remain enslaved to the grips of your past experiences. You live here, in the present now, keep both your body and mind together, as a team, working on creating new paths, new solutions, new states of being.

Shit happens to everyone, the important thing is what you do with it. Will you allow it to destroy your life no matter how long or short? Or will you do your best to make the most of it? It all depends on what you think you deserve and are capable of. On your beliefs.

You can change your past beliefs into new ones that will better serve your present. Don’t keep old negative beliefs with you, they belong in the past, you don’t live there anymore. Be ruthlessly selective in what you choose to keep and what you decide to discard. 

A healthy balance of positive, empowering beliefs together with seasoned and emotionally sorted out learning is what will give you the confidence and inner peace to make your way through life.