How to develop resilience in yourself? 5 principles from a psychology professor

How to develop resilience in yourself? 5 principles from a psychology professor

Resilience allows us to withstand problems, stress, loss, psychological trauma and other vicissitudes of fate. However, we usually do not think about the presence of this ability until we are faced with serious difficulties.

Most people face a traumatic experience at least once in their lives, such as the death of a loved one or a dangerous situation. However, trauma may not always be related only to life and death issues. A difficult separation from a loved one, the loss of a job or the collapse of one’s own business, or a serious illness can also be the cause of acute stress, which is very difficult to cope with.

Is it possible to make yourself more resilient? Yes, it is possible. You just have to figure out where “to dig” first.

What is resilience?

Resilience is the ability to survive such situations while maintaining performance and inner balance. Traditionally, there are three components of resilience:

  1. Engagement. This is satisfaction with own life, the ability to make decisions independently;
  2. Control. It is the ability to avoid helplessness, understanding the cause-and-effect relations between events;
  3. Risk-taking. Adequate attitude to risk and its inevitability.

In principle, all of these components are in all of us, just developed differently and, accordingly, we react differently. George Bonanno, a professor of clinical psychology at Columbia University, has conducted several studies in an attempt to understand what determines resilience. He concluded that we endure serious short-term problems and less severe but prolonged crises in the same way.

In explaining the differences in how people cope with traumatic experiences, Bonanno said that resilience depends on many factors – some of them quite unexpected, such as level of education. That said, the professor believes that the ability to take life’s blows with dignity can be developed on one’s own.

How to become a more resilient person?

Here are 5 basic principles, adhering to which it is easier to endure stress and unhappiness:

1. Accept the fact that not everything in life can be controlled

Most people have the mechanisms necessary to cope with the consequences of traumatic events. For example, 65% of Americans surveyed by psychologists, somehow affected by the terrorist attack of September 11, 2001, coped with the stress after six months.

Nevertheless, when faced with misfortune, some people fall into a vicious circle: feeling pain and stress, they painfully reflect on what they did wrong and what they should have done, which only worsens their condition. This kind of behavior does nothing to improve your situation or build resilience.

To get out of this situation, you have to figure out what depends on you right now. You can’t change the past, but you can act in the present. And even if you have reached a dead end and are unable to influence circumstances, you can still change yourself. This, for example, is what the Austrian psychologist and prisoner of the Nazi concentration camp Viktor Frankl believed.

“The humans can adapt to anything. You are more resilient than you think”.

2. In any situation, it is vital to maintain social connections

Not only are many events uncontrollable, but some of the factors that affect our ability to weather “the storms of life” are also uncontrollable. Among these are our past experiences, such as childhood experiences. However, one of the most important factors in resilience is largely up to us: communication with others.

When the pressure of problems, the pain of loss or any other negative feelings is on you, social contacts become especially important. Often in difficult moments you want to withdraw into yourself and cut yourself off from the world: do not communicate with anyone and do not see anyone.

However, remember that communication with other people may have the opposite effect: it can help you cope with the experience, and maybe not, it can relieve stress, but also can make it even worse.

Nevertheless, scientists have proven that social support is one of the most important factors that allow a person to maintain self-control in all situations and overcome problems more easily. So meet, call or at least correspond with loved ones, especially those with whom you can share experiences, from whom you are ready to ask for advice or help.

3. There is nothing wrong with talking about your pain

This principle is largely related to the previous one, because in order to share your pain, even with a loved one, sometimes you have to make a huge effort.

However, according to another study in which Bonanno participated, the most resilient individuals are not afraid to talk about what worries them. The psychologist and his colleagues came to this conclusion after studying how people overcome the grief of the loss of a spouse over a long period of time. The researchers talked to them twice: six months and a year and a half after the tragedy.

It is important not only to be able to share your pain and get support, but also to be able to accept the negativity and come to terms with it.

A clear understanding of what has happened gives a person back a sense of control over his own life. This, in turn, sends us back to the first principle: think only of what we can influence.

4. It’s easier to survive a problem if you see it as a challenge

An effective strategy for overcoming difficult circumstances can be a change of perspective on the situation. This is called cognitive reassessment. For example, you can look at an illness or trauma that requires a long recovery as the end of the world, or you can look at it as a challenge.

Understanding what a difficult situation can teach you not only helps you to survive stress more easily, but also to cope better with negativity in the future. The main thing is that it really should be a conscious practice, not an empty optimism.

5. Mankind is not extinct just because it knows how to adapt

Unfortunately, there is no single strategy, equally applicable to get out of any problematic situation. Some people can tolerate economic turmoil easily, but suffer severely from disadvantages on the personal front. Others – on the contrary. Still others cope poorly with both difficulties.

Therefore, Bonanno calls adaptability an important skill that distinguishes a resilient person. If something doesn’t work, then you have to try to do it in a different way. It is not necessary to be a universal soldier:

A resilient person is not one who is undeterred and walks out of every situation with an unfazed look. Sometimes circumstances are such that resilience is the ability to overcome a problem with the least amount of loss.

In addition to the factors listed above, Bonanno also highlights the desire for self-improvement, the presence of positive emotions and regular laughter. All of these things together can help you through a difficult time in your life. But if you feel like you’re not getting better, are having suicidal thoughts and feel like you’re losing control, be sure to see a psychologist or psychotherapist.

You can read all of the findings and results of Professor George Bonnano’s research here: https://www.researchgate.net/publication/8909498.


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