Post No.: 0580
Resilience comes not from avoiding failures but from facing them openly and picking oneself up again and again. It’s about inward aspects like self-awareness and self-care, and outward aspects like having a clear purpose and forming positive relationships.
Resilient people don’t avoid negative emotions or try to delude themselves into feeling fine – they accept, rather than suppress, negative feelings like stress or depression during challenging times, while at the same time can recognise, recall and continue to feel joy, love, gratitude and hope.
Resilience can be improved if one has strong interpersonal or social support, close yet flexible family attachments, stability, independence yet also access to essential resources, strong community services and infrastructures, and a sense of connection to and harmony with the community and natural environment. So reliable and supportive social relationships are key to resilience, as is self-compassion, having realistic goals and the feeling of progressing towards them.
It also helps to have a high self-esteem, strong general cognitive capabilities, good planning and organisational skills, creativity, problem-solving skills, insightfulness, awareness, moral-reasoning skills, strong emotional intelligence, empathy, emotional regulation techniques and a good sense of humour. Woof!
The past cannot be changed hence a hopeful and optimistic future orientation, goals, a sense of meaning or purpose, high perseverance and the ability to look at the bright side of life are key too. Religious or spiritual perspectives might help in this regard, to give us things to believe in that afford us relief or the belief that we’re not alone and everything’s going to be all right in the end.
Broad-framing is about seeing the bigger picture, and we can learn to reframe negative events to understand that in the bigger picture we sometimes win and sometimes lose. Therefore the gratitude for what we’ve (still) got must never be overlooked or forgotten. We can learn to try to find the opportunities within threats, to accept the things we cannot change, and to focus on working towards changing the things we can. Resilience doesn’t mean trying to block out or deny one’s emotions and feelings, and it doesn’t mean stoically accepting societal ills or injustices when societal change is what’s actually called for. We’re not saying don’t complain and just take it on the chin if you’re getting abused. It’s about continuing to fight for what we believe in while feeling optimistic that our efforts will eventually pay off.
It’s also crucial to listen to one’s needs, such as eating healthily, exercising regularly and resting when tired. We need to keep physically healthy so that our bodies are best able to bounce back from any injuries or other physical challenges, as well as to give our minds the energy and confidence to face any mental challenges as best as possible – we’re less likely to be fit for any kind of fight when our body is saying ‘no’ even when our mind is saying ‘yes’. These are all skills or habits that can be learnt and developed.
Unhelpful ways to respond to adversity, fear, shame or betrayal are to get angry and break things, pushing people away, blaming yourself harshly, wallowing in sorrow or pretending that nothing happened.
Instead of ruminating on or attempting to repress the memory of what happened – change the narrative by figuring out the silver linings, bright sides or positive things that resulted from the experience.
Practice mindfulness meditation, like mindful breathing – to train some physiological control, and to concentrate on the present rather than the past that cannot be changed or the future catastrophes that might never happen.
The willingness to accept being wrong and the ability to absorb criticism without being discouraged makes us resilient, as well as admired. Taking risks, failing, but persevering, are essential to building resilience – and one way to practice this is through sports or personal physical challenges. Post No.: 0402 explained how tough conditions make us tougher.
If a fear is holding your life back then face your fears in a gradual and systematic way – you’ll learn that what you can imagine is typically worse than the reality. If a child has had a traumatic first experience with, say, insects, then he/she will need small and safe steps with insects since forcefully pushing him/her could make the traumatic and stressful association with insects worse. Alternatively, if he/she subsequently constantly avoids getting close to insects and the association with them isn’t made more positive or neutral (preferably as soon as sensible) then it’ll only reinforce the notion that all insects are scary as he/she grows up.
But practice self-compassion – don’t be perfectionist or harsh on yourself and understand that you’re not alone in how you feel. If you struggle with this then think about how you’d treat a good friend with the words, tone and care you’d articulate to them.
And fur-give others, as well as yourself – we all make mistakes, and it’s for your own well-being to forgive others if they’re no longer negatively affecting your life, and possibly no longer in your life at all.
Constant negativity saps the energy out of anyone. Some parents are so excessively risk-averse and over-protective with and/or so critical of their own children that they just stifle them. It may be borne from the parent’s own life experiences or fears but, although we must assess risks and be critical to some degree, we’ve got to let children at least attempt their dreams and ambitions and teach them resilience as opposed to protecting them from all potential hurt. Again, it’s not about getting hurt or not but being able to get back up again. And it can become a self-fulfilling prophecy to keep telling or implying that your child is useless or incapable too. Now this isn’t therefore about constantly telling your child that they’re the greatest – it’s about praising their efforts and resilience whether they succeed or fail.
Ask reflective questions about the techniques and strategies they used to succeed, such as, “How did you deal with any problems that arose?” or, “What part of that did you most enjoy?” Focus them on the processes and attitudes that lead to success, rather than on the results, since knowing the results doesn’t tell anyone how to (re)create them.
Or if you do praise a result then make it as specific as possible, rather than general. For example say, “You played well today” rather than give a global compliment such as, “You play well.” Building self-esteem is vital but global compliments might induce complacency and a pressure to live up to these supposed standards where they’ll look and feel bad if they fail to match them in reality. This can result in a risk-averse or fear-of-failure attitude, which reduces motivation, and so they might pick the easy routes in the future and thus learn precious little and gain fewer XP points. And they might find challenges far less enjoyable, which means that they’ll less likely work on them in their own time. If they subsequently do get a low mark, their motivation may collapse altogether because they’ll feel like they don’t live up to the ‘best’ tag, and a sense of helplessness could set in because they’ll feel the issue is inherent in them rather than being an issue of effort at the time. They may then possibly lie about their grades to save face (a drop feels greater from the top) or cheat to meet the result they expected to consistently get.
Self-esteem isn’t so much created through praising outcomes. (This, when done irresponsibly, can actually lead to narcissism, and therefore ironically, insecurity.) True self-esteem (or better – self-compassion) is about having mindfulness of your own thoughts and feelings, accepting that life is naturally full of highs and lows, being resilient and picking yourself up from the downs, planning ahead, learning patience, not being too self-critical, asking to share and asking for help, having a sense of a common humanity and generally treating yourself kindly, or at least fairly, for we’re often more harsh on ourselves than on others. Parents should judge and praise efforts, decisions and behaviours more than personal character. Parents should also provide empathy, and positively shape future behaviours rather than punish the past.
Say, “Your room is messy today” rather than, “You’re always messy.” And try to focus on giving positive feedback when deserved, and give it as soon as possible after a specific praiseworthy event; rather than only noticing and commenting when you want to give negative feedback. Try to ignore minor negative moments if you can rather than reward them with attention if they’re trying to seek attention for them.
It could just take one careless comment, a label, that sticks in a child’s mind. Praising efforts encourages kids to try and try again regardless of the setbacks, hence they’ll learn more. And if they fail then they’ll attribute it to a lack of effort rather than inherent ability. The ‘perseverance effect’ occurs when people stick to newly-formed beliefs (like an erroneous label) even when the evidence for those beliefs is completely refuted (whether regarding oneself or another person – hence the harm that can be spread with mere rumours or smear campaigns).
Labelling (explicitly or tacitly) a child early on, such as ‘the naughty one’ or ‘the easily frustrated one’, can potentially shape their long-tern behaviour due to the self-fulfilling prophecy effect. A parent might consciously and/or unconsciously treat this child differently in a confirmation-biased way, and because of this treatment rather than them being born inherently bad, they could grow up to do bad things (and then the parent might think ‘I was correct all along’!) This can happen in other contexts too.
Like many life outcomes, a person’s resilience not only depends upon their own personality but their environment, such as how much social and emotional support they receive, and what access to resources and other opportunities they have to bounce back with. Being financially secure helps when people talk about resilience, for one can throw money at problems. (One mightn’t even experience a problem that other people face at all if one is much wealthier than them.) This was evident under the COVID-19 pandemic, which was not a ‘leveller’ between the rich and poor whatsoever but amplified any initial existing inequities, such as poorer children finding it harder to adapt to studying at home when they lacked an Internet connection or even a computer. Some relatively luckily had parents who could work from home and thus support their lessons. So we cannot be judgemental when we believe that some people don’t seem to be as resilient or adaptable as others. And we must therefore ensure that public policies, social welfare and the wider environment are conducive for societal resilience in the face of crises too.
…So resilience is the ability to accept, cope with and bounce back from adversities. It’s an essential attribute to have because, for most of us, we’re inevitably going to face some terrible and testing times in our lives. Adversity can make us stronger if we can get through to the other side in one piece. It can make us think more flexibly and show us that we can handle future uncertainties because we’ve handled them before. Tough events can sometimes feel impossible to overcome at the time, but when we do overcome them with our efforts, or we manage to hang on until the passage of time heals us – sometimes with the help of others, which is more than okay – it can be a triumphant furry fist-pumping moment where we wouldn’t have wanted the script to have been written in any other way! Because, without an earlier loss or string of losses or an otherwise tough test of our mettle – we cannot later have an epic win!
Woof! If you have any great personal stories of eventually overcoming earlier failures or adversities then please tell us about them by using the Twitter comment button below.