You might think of emotional resilience as the ability to bounce back after a setback. Or the ability to keep on trying after several failures, refusing to give up. Or it can mean persevering against adversity, surviving against the odds.
When I think of resilience I think of the plight of refugees who, after escaping from a life-threatening situation, then have to face endless further life threatening situations in order to reach safety. And this is just 1 step in the long journey of rebuilding a life far from home, having lost everything.
But what is that ability to keep struggling on when others may give up? Where does it come from? Why are some more able to bounce back than others?
The more life resources we have or can build up, the more resilient to adversity we can be. Things like
Unfortunately poverty and inequality puts many groups of people at a disadvantage in terms of life resources – the unemployed or underemployed, people with disabilities or health issues, or have had adverse childhood experiences or abuse, for example. However there is often something that differentiates a survivor from a victim of such circumstances – it may be a kind, loving grandmother, a teacher who took an interest, an encouraging friend, a character trait or skill, etc.
We also have emotional resources – this is part of our innate guidance system our genetic inheritance. Things like:
Smooth seas do not make skillful sailors!
We don’t develop survival skills when we are never faced with hardships, loss, disruption of plans, failure or criticism. We build our resilience each time we survive a storm.
People who have been very protected through life – never having had to deal with perceived failure or criticism or hardship – have not had the opportunity to learn the skills required for resilience. This is perhaps what is meant by “snowflake” – people unable to tolerate hearing views that are different from their own. We learn how to deal with unfairness, loss, failure, other people’s offensive views, etc., through being exposed to this – not by being protected from it. Life is unfair at times, people can be cruel, bad luck happens and we need to be able to ride the waves.
Consider the resilience of Bangaldeshi communities repeatedly losing homes and livelihoods to floods or cyclones. They begin again each time, in the knowledge that there will be further floods and cyclones which they cannot control.
But with every disaster there would be lessons learned. Building of cyclone shelters, improved early warning notification systems, better education re safety strategies, safeguarding of children and vulnerable adults, planned stockpiling of resources in shelters, organised training of voluntary groups for evacuation, search and rescue, etc.
All of this resonates with the situation today here and how local communities have responded to the disaster of Covd-19.
Despite huge casualities, some have gained, and many, many have devised ways to cope and carry on in the best way they can.
Yes of course. There are times when too many stresses happen too close together to allow us to recover in between. We have all heard of the last straw that broke the camels back. We can all carry so much until the burden is too heavy for us to bear. That collapse will come sooner if the camel is already in a state of stress – 1/2 starved, sick, beaten, thirsty, frightened. In the same way our resilience is compromised when we are already physically or emotionally stressed. so we can build our physical and emotional resilience by a physically healthy lifestyle – diet, excercise, sleep and an emotionally healthy lifestyle – financial security, emotional security, community, friendship, a sense of autonomy, being stretched physically or mentally, a sense of achievement.
It is OK to withdraw, shutdown, collapse, rest at times. Sometimes this is what we need. Just as the body needs to rest after a physical trauma in order to recover, so does our mind need to rest to recover from too much psychological stress or trauma. A break at home, a holiday, time to rest, relax, nourish, and nurture ourselves is OK. employers grant compassionate leave when we are bereaved but it is not only after a bereavement that we need time out to heal.
So how can we be more resilient?