Resilience in nature is often defined as the ability to bend without breaking, or to return to an original condition. Resilience in human beings is the capacity to weather adversity, to encounter difficulty and to bounce back, and to even grow from our struggles.
Resilience is important because no matter what we would like to believe, we can’t insulate ourselves from misfortune. The fact is, no one gets out of this life without experiencing struggle and suffering. And it is often these very challenges that give our lives meaning.
So, how do we meet the inevitable challenges of being a human being without breaking? And why do some people seem more resilient than others? The answers to these questions are complicated. What we know is that it is not the result of one specific gene, one psychological trait, or one social system. And no matter what we received or didn’t receive in the genetic or familial lottery, we can become more resilient.
What Factors Contribute to Resilience?
In the book Resilience: The Science of Mastering Life’s Greatest Challenges, Steven Southwick and Dennis Charney identify certain factors that many resilient people display or have available to them.
Realistic optimism is the ability to look at the obstacles life throws in our path through a lens of possibilities, lessons to be learned, and growth to be achieved.
Facing our fears instead of running from them helps us see how fear is nature’s way of preparing us to respond to danger. We can then either succumb to fear or employ it as an ally to put things in perspective and re-engage the creativity of the thinking brain.
Role models are the people we look up to, those that have gone before us to overcome seemingly insurmountable odds. By keeping these people in mind, we are inspired to be the very best version of ourselves.
Looking for and accepting social support is tapping into a natural way to bolster our resilience. We are social creatures, and we’ve always been meant to buoy each other up, to help and be helped, no matter what our individualized culture tells us.
Relying on an intrinsic moral compass supports the strength of our convictions.
Maintaining a spiritual belief or practice that we can turn to in times of trial strengthens us through the ups and downs.
The most resilient individuals integrated physical and mental fitness practices into all aspects of their lives. Once again, we find that the body and mind are not separate.
Emotional flexibility is a bedrock for resilient people. They are able to shift their strategies based on the circumstances they find themselves in. As Reinhold Nieboer admonishes us in his famous poem, “May I have the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.”
The most resilient among us are able to find meaning and purpose in our struggles. As the Holocaust survivor, Viktor Frankl reminds us, “Life is never made unbearable by circumstances, but only by lack of meaning and purpose.” This is not to sugarcoat and say that “everything happens for a reason,” but to challenge us to find ways to keep growing despite, and because of, our hardships.
Yes, we can learn and develop these strengths.
Being a resilient human is being a person who can bounce back from adversity—not necessarily with ease, but with courage and grace. There are many practices that can strengthen our ability to meet the difficulties of our lives, including working with our breath, bodies, and minds to create new patterns and ways of being in the world. Join us in the Reclaim Your Wholeness series on resilience to find out how.