These are more than just “tough days.” Ever since emerging from the pandemic, it seems we’ve been ripping away at our own social fabric, with take-no-prisoners politics, arbitrary violence, and Armageddon thinking. If there was ever a time requiring resilience, we could say it is now.
“Resilience” is actually something scientists have been studying. They define resilience as “an adaptive response to serious hardship.”1 It’s the ability to bounce back after major blows to one’s sense of what life is all about. As one source puts it, “Resilience doesn’t make the problems go away and doesn’t solve all problems – it just helps you cope, adjust and stay on your feet.”2
Childhood development researchers say this quality can come from accumulated experiences – good and bad – that prompt us to develop adaptive coping skills. Children cope better when they’ve seen they can initiate a positive change in their lives, they have a supportive relationship with an adult, and they have faith and cultural traditions that give them a foundation for hope and stability.
If this is true about children, odds are it also applies to adults. In the midst of big-time struggle, it helps to be resilient – not stuck in rigid rules or life-suffocating denial, but able to respond to manageable threats with a general sense of physical and social well-being.
Researchers3 say these are the characteristics that resilient people share:
A support network – They have one or more family members, friends, teachers, or others who offer understanding, guidance and comfort when they’re struggling with a problem. They can ask for help when it’s needed.
Giving back – Giving to others helps people get through their own difficulties. Making a commitment to themselves, to others, or to a cause takes the focus off their problems and expands their life skills.
Not giving in – Accepting emotional pain as part of life helps people keep from letting difficulties define them. They’re not denying the fact of struggle – just refusing to get stuck in it forever.
Accepting change – When people’s goals and hopes are dashed, accepting that they cannot change the past helps them deal with the situation. They can put their effort into a new possibility.
Choosing one’s attitude – Most of the time, people cannot change the obstacles that confront them. But they can decide how they respond to the challenge: as a fighter, not as a perennial victim.
Having a sense of humor – Resilient people can laugh at themselves or along with others. This reduces the physical effects of stress on one’s body and can lighten up the situation.
Keeping it in perspective – When facing adversity, a resilient person keeps from making things worse by jumping to extremes. They may remind themselves that troubles won’t last forever, and hold realistic expectations of themselves and of what they can achieve.
Developing resilience doesn’t keep us from having to deal with the chaos life may bring us these days. But it can help us decide to live through it and move on.
Your partner in faith,
1 – Center on the Developing Child (2015), The Science of Resilience (InBrief), Harvard University
2 – The Jed Foundation, a nonprofit organization that protects emotional health and helps prevent suicide among American teenagers and young adults.
3 – Ibid. I have paraphrased these summaries.