SUPPORT: What is Resilience?

SUPPORT: What is Resilience?

By Gill Seaton-Jardine, Counsellor/Psychotherapist

I seem to keep hearing the word resilience everywhere I turn right now, and it’s got me thinking about what resilience is, why might we need resilience and how we might develop it in ourselves.

So firstly what is it? Resilience seems to be about finding a way to not only deal with life’s difficulties, but to bounce back after dealing with them or, at least, be able to function and get on with our lives. ‘Our lives’ may well be altered by events we experience, and even if we are resilient, we may have to make changes to go forward. It may be that this is where we need the resilience – not just to survive the challenge, but to find our way in the new circumstances.

So what do we need to be resilient? Are we born with a certain amount of this, different for everybody? Does it develop in response to challenge? It is so hard to say whether or not we are born resilient. Different theorists have different views. Some say we are a blank slate when we are born and everything is put in place by our experience of life, i.e where in the world we were born, what was the culture we were born into etc.

Some say that we have certain traits, probably inherited, and some learnt from experience. We can already see that this is a very complex subject, and perhaps the only conclusion we can come to at this stage is that every individual is just that, an individual!

So now that brings us back to the question of does it develop in response to challenge? I like this idea because it suggests that even if we are not born resilient, we can become so in the face of adversity. This perhaps gives us a sense of personal power, that we can take care of ourselves should we need to. That we will not collapse under the weight of what life may dish out. A very common fear in life is that of the unknown. Life has a way of taking its own route, sometimes not the way that you had expected and throwing up obstacles you hadn’t anticipated. These obstacles are part of that unknown and can be a shock when encountered. A river also finds its own way encountering obstacles on the way but when it does, it simply changes route and finds another route even if it has to split in two, or even more to carry on its journey. The point here is that it has to make changes in order to continue and so we do in life. If we can change route, find another way, we can survive to live another day, week or month.

So what do we need to make those changes – I would suggest the very first thing is resilience. Perhaps this tells us that we need to be aware of the likelihood that, at some time in our life, we will need to show resilience. We will, without doubt encounter good things and bad things as life goes on. We need to prepare for them both. Rudyard Kipling’s poem ‘If” describes it perfectly; recognising both good and bad as being ‘imposters’. I would suggest that being prepared would be a good forerunner to being resilient.

We can’t always know how something will turn out, but we can take the time to think about what may be coming, what may be happening. In this way we can prepare ourselves for the best and the worst. If we ignore the possibilities, especially the bad ones, and don’t prepare for them, they could become unmanageable. This is not easy though. We want things to be good and positive, we don’t want to think about the negative side but, if we don’t, we leave ourselves open to a feeling of losing control – a feeling we all fear.

So now we have gone on to talking about preparation in order to develop more resilience, how do we do that? How do we prepare ourselves for what we don’t know? This is where we need to consider self-awareness. I have said in my articles before, I believe we all have resources, designed especially for each one of us as individuals, to help us through life. We can lose track of these resources as life goes on by feeling the need to be somehow different to please other people. These ‘people’ may be parents, other family members, employers etc. for whom you try to be what they want you to be rather than who you really are. If this is the case, we need to stop for a while and reconnect with who we actually are.

How do we do that? We give some time to think about what makes us happy and what makes us sad. We have probably forgotten what we enjoyed doing as a child. Did we love the seaside, or the countryside? Did we love fishing or dancing’ Did we enjoy playing games? In other words, who we were before we tried to change.

By getting back in contact with our ‘true’ self we can, once again, access those resources. We may discover that we haven’t been doing anything that used to bring us joy or pleasure for a very long time and that we had lost the positive vibes we experienced. It is my belief that we need to find this joy in order to build up our psychological strength.

If we feel strong psychologically, we are in a better place to deal with challenges when they appear. By recognising our own needs, our strength will grow and our ability to cope improves. It seems to me that ‘ability to cope’ and ‘resilience’ are very similar so perhaps we are on the right track here.

Start by finding one of those things that you used to do that made you smile and go and do it again!

Good luck!

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