We usually associate traumatic or difficult events as something negative and we tend to feel compassion or pity for the people who are going through them, but I would like to offer the other side of the coin. We can learn from them and grow in various aspects of our lives thanks to the bad spells or moments that have caused us a great psychological impact. Not for that reason we must reduce the importance or seriousness of the event, but we must assess the fact that it has both negative and positive aspects and focus on the latter.
Surely an event comes to your mind that since its occurrence, your life has never been the same again, and it is common for you to believe that things are now better than before. Because, after all, most people are able to turn the page to these bad times.
This is precisely what I want to talk about today, about resilience.
What is resilience?
Resilience is the ability to cope with the adversities of life by coming out stronger from them. It is the result of a dynamic process that varies according to the circumstances, the nature of the situation, the context and the stage of the individual’s life, which can be expressed differently according to the culture (Manciaux et al., 2001).
How a process it is, it is not so much the person itself, but rather evolution and the process of structuring their own life history (Cynulnik, 2001).
How are resilient people?
To know how resilient people are, nothing better than reading the article by Bertrand Regader entitled “The resistant personality: are you a strong person?”, Where you can have a more extensive view on this issue. The fundamental characteristics of the resilient personality, summarized, are the following:
They have confidence in themselves and their ability to cope.
They have social support.
They have a significant purpose in life.
They believe that they can influence what happens around them.
They know that you can learn from positive experiences as well as from negative ones.
They conceive and face life in a more optimistic, enthusiastic and energetic way.
They are curious people and open to new experiences.
They have high levels of positive emotionality.
They deal with difficult experiences using humor, creative exploration and optimistic thinking (Fredickson and Tugade, 2003). This positive change that they experience as a result of the struggle process leads them to a better situation in which they were before the event occurred (Calhoun and Tedechi, 1999). Changes can be in oneself (at an individual level), in interpersonal relationships (with other people) and in the philosophy of life.
Changes in oneself: it increases confidence in one’s own abilities to face the adversities that the future presents. It is common in people who have been subjected to very strict rules in the past and from their struggle, have managed to redirect their lives.
Changes in personal relationships: the traumatic experience can strengthen the union of relationships with people who have been in these hard times.
Changes in the philosophy of life: the hard experiences have to shake the ideas on which our vision of the world is built (Janoff-Bulman, 1992). The scales of values change and the value of things that were previously ignored or taken for granted is more often appreciated.
Does that mean there is no suffering?
Of course you experience negative emotions and stress, in fact, without it personal growth through them would not be possible, it does not eliminate the pain, but it coexists with it.
Neither does it mean that you grow in all aspects of the person’s life, but that you may experience positive changes in some areas but not in others.
Among the most studied life events are the divorce of parents and traumatic stressors such as abuse, abandonment and war (Grarmezy and Masten, 1994).
Tim Guenard is the most well-known case of resilience and explains it in his book: “Stronger than hatred”.
When he was 3 years old his mother abandoned him on a power pole. At 5 his father gave him a beating that made him stay in the hospital until 7. The rest of his childhood was spent in a foster home in a foster home. He suffered abuse from the people in charge of his care and ended up in a psychiatric hospital because of an administrative error and from there to a reformatory, where he learned to hate the whole world and only the desire to kill his father kept him on his feet.
The vicious circle continued with more escapes, physical abuse, street experiences, a rape and the mafias of prostitution.
After 16 his life began to change and now Tim is a man of almost 50 years happily married with 4 children. He welcomes in his own house people with problems to which he orients and encourages them to find new reasons to live by offering them a roof and a helping hand. Thus he fulfills his promise that he made in adolescence: to welcome others with the same needs that he suffered.
Can we do something to develop resilience?
According to the American Sociological Association there are 8 things that are in our hands and we can do to be more resilient:
Establish relationships: in these moments we have to let help more than ever and establish emotional bonds with family, friends and people that for us are important. Helping others can also be beneficial to strengthen resilience.
Avoid seeing events as obstacles: you can not prevent certain events that hurt us from appearing but the way we interpret them and react to them. Think about the future and keep hope that everything will change sooner or later.
Do activities that make you feel better about the situation while it lasts: if you feel better walking, talking with a friend, hugging your pet, do it frequently.
Carry out decisive actions: in adverse situations look for solutions and act in the best way you can according to your situation. You will feel that you are doing something productive to change your situation.
Look for opportunities to discover yourself: think about those things that thanks to this you have learned and in what aspects you have improved. You will see that suffering has not been in vain and that you have grown in this process, look at all the things you have gained and not those that you have left on the way.
Cultivate a positive vision about yourself: Trust your abilities to resolve the conflicts you are going through and how valid you are.
Do not lose hope: no matter how dark the sky is, the sun will always rise. Visualize yourself in the situation in which you want to be and not in what you fear.
Take care of yourself: Pay attention to your needs and desires. It will help you to keep your body and mind healthy and ready to face the situation you are living.
Poseck, V., Carbelo, B., Vecina, M. (2006). The traumatic experience from positive psychology: resilience and post-traumatic growth. Papers of the Psychologist. Vol. 27 (1). 40-49.
Gómez Campos, A. M. (2008). Ten actions to develop resilience. Portfolio Retrieved on November 12th from: http://search.proquest.com/docview/334389604?