When you think of the word resilience, what comes to mind? Maybe it reminds you of a sturdy material like wood or steel. Or maybe you think about the resilience of groups like certain communities or institutions.
Have you ever asked yourself if you’re resilient? Can a single person even be called resilient?
As it turns out, personal resilience is something that almost everyone has the capacity to create, build, and strengthen within themselves. It’s a skill you might not even realize you’re strengthening, especially during difficult times like a pandemic. Resilience is a particularly useful trait to nurture if you’re a caregiver or a guardian, like the direct care workers in Southwest Key’s shelters. And many of the youth we serve show incredible, inspiring examples of resilience when they share their stories with us.
What is Personal Resilience?
We could throw around dictionary definitions and analyze the differences all day long, but for the purpose of this post, let’s define resilience like this:
Internal, flexible strength that supports you through difficult situations and emotions.
Resilience is what gets you through the hardest parts of your life, whether it’s a struggle related to your career, your personal life, or the world around you. And while strength like this in general is important, we should also distinguish that resilience is special. That’s because:
There is no resilience without adversity.
Resilience is always in response to difficult situations and emotions. That’s what makes it different from other kinds of personal strengths. While being proactive can be a part of being resilient, your resilience is a reaction to the adversity around you.
Learned Helplessness and Optimism
So how do you build your own resilience? It starts with identifying your own behaviors and whether they lean toward Learned Helplessness or Learned Optimism.
Learned Helplessness is a psychological concept where a person can find themselves reinforcing unhelpful thought patterns. For example, a case manager in one of our shelters might think they’ve found the perfect sponsor for a child, only for the unification to fall through days later. Then, when the case manager struggles to find another sponsor, that could reinforce the sense of helplessness. There’s nothing that can be done, they’ve concluded that they’re helpless at this task and will fail.
By contrast, Learned Optimism is a similar concept, except the person can reinforce more helpful and constructive thought patterns that help them stay resilient and grow when faced with adversity. To practice Learned Optimism, a person should challenge their own negativity.
For example, let’s consider the case manager struggling with finding a sponsor again. Instead of concluding that they’re simply failing the child, the case manager could remind themselves, “I’ve had sponsors fall through before in situations just like this, and I still found a way to unify this family. I can do it again for this case.”
Learned Optimism isn’t about being relentlessly optimistic, forcing yourself to see the positivity in anything. Instead, it’s about balancing negativity with realistic optimism to avoid getting stuck in a spiral. We like using these four different ways to challenge negativity:
- Evidence – How much evidence do you have that contradicts it? Probably quite a bit.
- Alternatives – Even if you’re struggling with something, there are likely other methods of accomplishing your goal.
- Implications – By describing the worst case scenario to yourself, you can quickly realize how silly it sounds. In reality, you’re part of a much larger picture with many other factors.
- Usefulness – Even if your negativity is correct, is it something that’s useful for you? Just because a belief is true doesn’t mean it’s useful.
Tools for Resilience
Maybe you don’t have a problem being optimistic, but it’s starting to get a little tough to be positive so often. Consider these tools to give yourself a firmer foundation in your resilience. When you feel yourself starting to feel unsure, glance at this list and see what you can do to reinforce your resilience.
INSIGHT – Ask questions, even if those questions are hard to ask. If you answer honestly, you can learn and move forward. These answers help you understand the problem and analyze the situation from as many perspectives as you can.
INDEPENDENCE – Maintain a healthy distance between yourself and other people so you can take time to consider the right action for you. This might also mean stepping away from people who cause trouble or make things worse with their behavior.
RELATIONSHIPS – Find connections that are healthy for both you and the other party. Use these relationships to help each other and show resilience when the other person needs some.
CREATIVITY – Use your imagination or your hobbies to express your feelings, thoughts and plans in a new way. Remember that when you create something, it shows resiliency through your dedication and attitude.
HUMOR – Look for the humor in a situation, even when things seem truly awful. Humor often gives you the perspective needed to relieve tension and improve your circumstances.
MORALITY – Everyone has an inner philosophy or belief of right and wrong. Use that sense of morality to follow the path that you believe is right.
Resilience is more than just persistence. It’s a skill you can develop to weather the harder times in your life. With these tools and tips, you can help strengthen resilience not just for yourself, but also friends and family. The next time you find yourself thinking negatively, stop for a moment, challenge that negativity, and think about the options you have for moving forward.