Mental & Emotional Health

Becoming Resilient: The Ability To Bounce Back and Thrive

How a person deals with stress can mean success or failure throughout their life.

When faced with a stressful situation, a personal setback or trauma, do they feel confident that they can both face and work to resolve the issue? Or do they react to life’s stressors through a lens of frustration, fear and self-doubt.

Do you know someone who regularly reacts and succumbs to life’s setbacks; a person who blows things way out of proportion, or alternatively, one who hides their head in the sand.

Or someone who routinely portrays himself or herself as a victim of circumstance of some other “external” factor of which they have no control.

If so, you likely know someone who is not resilient.

Ask a psychologist about resilience and you will hear that it is a protective behavior that helps a person adapt and respond to stressors. Those stressors can be small everyday hiccups (commute traffic, not getting that new job) or they can be more acute traumas (violence, loss of a loved one). Regardless of the stressor, people without resilience are more apt to view a stressful situation as a threat rather than as another life challenge that needs to be successfully dealt with. They will be more likely to express blame (on others), self-doubt, and pessimism; while less likely to feel they themselves are capable and in control of solving the problem.

But is that person stuck with being that way forever? Is resilience a trait, like eye color, that you either have or don’t have? Or is it something that can be changed and developed over time?

Resilience can be developed

Resilience has been studied for some 40 years. The word itself means, “To rebound”.

Initial research that looked at examples of successful behavior in stressful situations focused on the children of schizophrenic parents; why didn’t these children suffer greater psychological problems given their chaotic and stressful home environment? The researcher’s conclusion? Many of the children had developed great resilience, the ability to roll with the punches while reaching out and finding support and connections at school or elsewhere. The children also possessed a particular perception about their reality: that they could affect their everyday situation and control their destiny.

Researchers found that how a person views a situation – how they framed it and their sense of control – was key to their resilience. Two people could experience the same stressor with two completely different outcomes. It was all about how each person interpreted and responded to the stressor.