Why is it that when life deals one of its inevitable blows, some people are able to bounce back to their old happy self in no time at all (or maybe even better than their old self, because they’ve amazingly managed to glean some pearl of wisdom from their adversity) while others are completely flattened by it?
The difference lies in that ineffable quality we call resilience. It’s something we want to instil in our kids so they can deal with the rejections and disappointments of life, and even as adults we could all benefit from this kind of psychological fortitude.
If you find it extra hard to recover from emotional struggles – whether they be relationship difficulties, grief and loss, financial or work stress – you might wonder if it’s possible to increase your own level of resilience. Is it like a muscle we can strengthen and grow by our own efforts?
The good news is that there are many known factors that contribute to strong psychological resilience, and it is most certainly within your power to do something proactive if you feel you could use some help in this area.
- Having warm, supportive relationships creates an emotional safety net where we can land safely and take time to recover from our wounds. If you’re in emotional pain, having someone to confide in can make all the difference to how quickly you recover.
- Resilient people tend to have an optimistic way of explaining the bad things that happen in life. Specifically I’m talking about the 3 Ps of Personalisation, Pervasiveness and Permanence. An optimist tends to say things like “These things happen to all of us” (non-personal); “It’s only this one area of my life that is affected” (non-pervasive); and “This too shall pass.” (non-permanent). If you tend to have the more pessimistic explanatory style of “It’s all my fault. My whole life is ruined. I don’t know if I can ever recover from this”, you might benefit from considering the three P’s and re-working your self-talk.
- Being able to manage your emotions in a healthy way is an important skill. A great many people fear that if they allow themselves to experience the full force of their emotions they will be completely overwhelmed, so instead they actively avoid or suppress their feelings. Learning and practising mindfulness can help you to open up and experience your own suffering in a healthy, balanced way so that you can process your experience and move on.
- Self-compassion is about being kind to yourself in times of difficulty or perceived inadequacy (i.e., when you stuff something up). Launching into painful self-criticism when things go wrong is most people’s default reaction but this only adds insult to injury when things are already tough. Practising self-compassion is a proven buffer against depression.
We’re all different and what works for one person might not work for another so I’d suggest looking for opportunities to try out various strategies and finding your own formula for resilience building. And remember that just as you don’t build a bicep with one gym visit, cultivating resilience should be an ongoing process.