I had to write a paper in graduate school, and I can’t remember why I had to write it. But the topic I chose was resilience. At the time (still am), I was fascinated by the idea that people can endure insurmountable trauma in their lives yet still remain resilient.
Yet they find a way to “bounce back” and readjust their lives, knowing that this traumatic experience had turned their worlds upside down. After the healing has taken place, people found relief, meaning, and joy on the other side of their pain. They found a life worth living for despite the shitty things that happen to them.
And then I thought, what makes some people more resilient than others? From my research and my personal conversations with clients, I gathered a few highlights.
Master of your emotions.
Developing mastery over your emotions and your life is a game-changer because it allows you to clearly see and respond to life’s circumstances in ways that provide you personal growth. When you’re able to do that, you inadvertently build resilience because you become an active participant in the growth process. When you grow from difficult situations, you also increase your capacity to be resilient. Resilience is a muscle that anyone willing to do the work can strengthen over time.
But for many of you who grew up in tumultuous households, it impacts your ability to “quickly” bounce back from adversity. So, yes, those who are more resilient tend to have grown up in homes with many more protective factors. Protective factors are the ingredients in your life that help you become a stable adult—experiences such as positive relationships with parents or friends, support systems, and coping strategies. But if you’ve experienced the opposite of this, it doesn’t mean that you can’t, it just means it’ll take you a little more time. In all honesty, no one truly knows how resilient they’re going to be regardless of growing up in a stable home or not until they are actually faced with that adversity.
Strengthen your social circle.
Having a social circle is a significant part of everyone’s development. It makes sense, right? If you have a reliable support system, it’ll help you through stressful times in your life. You can lean on people, and they can possibly provide you with some insight to navigate difficult times. It’s too easy to deal with the hard stuff in isolation, but what counters feelings of hopelessness, sadness, anger, etc., is having access to a positive social network that you’re genuinely connected with. Some people have massive networks but no close friendships. There’s a difference.
Focus on the things you can control.
This suggestion is played out, but just because you hear it enough doesn’t mean that you’re putting it into practice. This is hard for a lot of people, so join the club. But, when life sends you for a tragic loop, it’s going to ask of you to make peace with anything that was outside of you. Some people are way too hard on themselves, blaming themselves for situations that weren’t their fault. Then, they carry a pile of guilt around in their everyday lives. You may need to reach out to someone to fully understand why certain things weren’t your fault and how to move past them.
How can you be a bit more resilient?
First, begin to reframe your thoughts, ask yourself if you have disempowering thoughts circling like sharks in your head? Are out for blood? In that case, put your thoughts on trial, literally. So, for instance, let’s say something scares you. Here’s a sample conversation:
You: Fear what’s up?
Fear: (Mumbles something)
You: Speak up. I can’t understand you.
Fear: Well, I don’t know about dating again. That last relationship cheated on me.
You: Okay, that’s valid. What would it take to rebuild trust again?
Ask fear and any other emotion that you might be experiencing valid and logical questions. Once you’re through processing what you need to process, it’s time to then be rational about the things that are holding you back and why. Obviously, many of these are easier said than done. This is why I always suggest people do micro acts of these things. In what micro ways can you reframe your thoughts, in what micro ways can you practice mastering your emotions, in what micro ways seek out your support systems for support, and what micro ways can you focus on what you can control?
This process requires a commitment on your part to work through your stuff, whether that’s trauma and any lingering pain, any self-doubts, any emotional blockages so that you can clear the path.
So, again put your thoughts on trial and have them tell you precisely what it is and why. And from there, you can create a game plan to move forward. Next, seek out your social connections, ask yourself, who can I reach out to for more support? Although it’s absolutely your responsibility to heal, life isn’t a solo journey. But, who can you bring on to hold space for you?
Resilient people can utilize their skills and strengths to cope and recover from challenges. Resilient people don’t think everything is rosy, and it’s not a matter of optimism. The idea that setbacks happen is that life is painful and challenging, but life is also beautiful and loving. It’s being able to live in that duality that helps you to become a more resilient person. And resilient people use their skills and strengths to get through challenging moments.
But what I know about human nature is our ability to bounce back, fight, and stand up and face whatever challenge is happening.
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