What is Emotional Resilience?
Emotional Resilience describes the ability to adapt to emotionally difficult situations without breaking. This skill shows itself in how we can bend with the wind when faced with challenging events and experiences, thereby reducing the stressful effects of life’s most critical and existential threats.
While this may seem like some unattainable superpower, it is – in fact, as mentioned above – a skill; one that can be learnt. It may not come easily, but things of value rarely do. Some of us may have had the good fortune to have been born with inner resilience; others may have had it thrust upon them, whilst the remainder must seek it.
Exposure to trauma and the concomitant reaction and response to it may display one’s degree of resilience. It may even be the trigger that causes one to develop such protective measures. It doesn’t have to be this way: resilience is open and available to all, regardless of the situation. Rather like an insurance policy, we might hope not to be forced to call upon it, but it is a great comfort to know that is there, to hand in times of greatest need.
How do we recognise it?
Emotional Resilience may be seen by its effects in handling stressful situations and events; the traits and characteristics that make it up are of more useful importance. How can we be expected to achieve this state if we are unaware of the processes and ingredients? Rather like making a cake, which bears no resemblance to the individual ingredients, our recipe for success comes from a variety of sources. Individual tastes differ, so mix these around to suit you palate and personal preferences.
In alphabetical order, some of the main characteristics of the emotionally resilient include:
Emotional awareness means understanding what one is feeling and why. This can help with the development of empathy, understanding the feelings of others more keenly by being more in touch with one’s own internal workings. Greater emotional understanding enables us to respond more appropriately better deal with difficult emotions such as anger and fear.
I left this one for last, probably due to my Imposter Syndrome, or “when you think you are a fake, soon to be revealed” as I typed into a preeminent search engine. In this context, the meaning focusses on certainty in one’s potential: being able to effectively manage stress and stressors, with confidence built by experiential feedback from actually dealing with such events and experiences.
Emotional strength and resilience can help us to laugh in the face of adversity. This is helpful in shifting perspective from the perception of threat to the more positive one of recognising a challenge, resulting in a better physical, emotional and cognitive reaction to the original stress. The resultant “gallows humour” that may be employed also has its own benefits in its innate entertainment value.
Internal locus of control
No locusts or grasshoppers are involved in this matter. Simply put, you believe that control of your life is within your power rather than in a capricious fate or vengeful deity. This outlook provides a more balanced world-view and allows greater autonomy in problem-solving, thereby enhancing your feeling of potency against life’s brickbats. This, in turn, leads to a reduction in stress.
Resilience allows us to see the positives in and advantages of situations and gives us belief in their own strengths. From this perspective, a victim mentality may transform into an empowered one, affording greater choices and opportunities for dealing with the vicissitudes of life. It really might be the best of all possible worlds.
Continuing to do something despite difficulties and delays in achieving success is the very definition of perseverance. Actively trusting the processes as well as one’s character and judgement enable us to keep on pushing ahead. Other skills might give us further clues to solutions when a brick wall is encountered; still, perseverance gives us the strength to keep going.
How we see things almost seems to define them. Our viewpoint is unique and supremely individual; this subjectivity must be counterbalanced by an objective point of view. Adversity can alternatively be seen as challenging, obstacles as guides, and even grief as a way of finding meaning in one’s life. Awareness and spirituality also feature this method of wellbeing brought through noticing, bringing our attention above our bootlaces.
A spiritual connection, be it with a form of Godhead, a higher power, the Universe, or one’s will to meaning, can help further strengthen our resilience. This is connected to perspective, in that we see things as having a deeper, more connected meaning rather than just arbitrary happenstance. To paraphrase Nietzsche, “He who has a why to live for can bear with almost any how.”
Connecting is one of the five ways to wellbeing and social support plays a critical role in developing and maintaining resilience. Despite the apparent inner strength that resilient people may show to the outside world, much of this is further supported by the networks that they develop, starting with family and moving on through friends and colleagues, to the wider world. We are never more than a few links away from any other person and there is hardly a problem or situation that has not been encounters and resolved by someone, somewhere before. In the rare circumstance that our difficulty is truly unique, the support, compassion and creativity of our tribe may be the only things that carry us through.
So, what next?
It’s all very well knowing what it looks like and what it might comprise, but how are we to actually build and develop these strategies, skills and traits?
Although this is your own path to enlightenment, there are many whose experience may guide the way, even sometimes as a warning to others rather than as an example. The posts and comments on the “Resilience Is …” and “Building Resilience” pages go some way towards helping find steps towards that goal.
One fascinating outcome from all of the research on wellbeing shows that the mere knowledge that certain things are good for our wellbeing actually enhances our wellbeing.
Please share your questions, thoughts and experiences.