What is resilience? How to strengthen and activate it so it can help me in times of need?

Resilience crevice flowers


Resilience is a hugely significant resource. It’s been defined as ‘the human capacity to face, overcome, and even be strengthened by experiences of adversity.’ (Civitan International Research Centre, University of Alabama). More poetically, Anne Deveson (author of Resilience) suggests it is ‘the life force that flows and connects every living thing, continually prompting regeneration and renewal.’

Genetics, personality, the influence of our environment and, of course, our other resources, all affect how resilient we are. If you feel any of those factors work against you, it’s cheering to know that resilience isn’t inborn and can be learned. Martin Seligman – an expert in childhood development, researcher, psychologist and author – notes that not only can children learn to alter their attitude, but adults too can make a choice.

Qualities and attitudes that strengthen resilience are said to include

* A sense of belonging

* Having meaning or being able to create meaning

* Having a religious affiliation or a sense of the spiritual dimension

* Humour 

* Creativity and innovativeness

* Adaptable to change and adversity


Hope and optimism

Anne Deveson makes a distinction between what she calls ‘resilient hope’ and ‘illusory hope,’ when she writes:

‘Resilient hope gives us wisdom to understand the past, and energy to plan for the future. Illusory hope hinges on fantasies that something or someone will magically make things better.

‘At some point, resilient people stop trying to control the uncontrollable. They put aside unrealistic hope because it no longer helps.’[1]

Meditation is acknowledged as very significant in building and maintaining resilience. See Meditation and Resilience.


How you can help yourself

* Identify your resources, both the external and the internal ones, and make use of them. (The movie, Touching the Void, is a powerful testimony to one man’s resilience.)

* Use ‘positive self-talk’; in other words, encourage yourself! If we are at war in ourselves, beating ourselves up, that only creates more stress. This is the time to support yourself, to take care of yourself. Tell yourself that you are doing well…the best you can. Love yourself. Be gentle and compassionate with yourself. Whatever you need to hear to help you hang in there and to keep going.

* Remind yourself of other times when you faced a challenging time and were able to hang in with it.

* Talk with a good listener – someone with whom you feel comfortable, someone who accepts as you are and who knows how to listen – so you can discuss with them what you’re feeling. Just giving voice to your feelings, rather than keeping them all bottled up inside and trying to tough it out alone, is very helpful. Ideally, choose a person who is not hell-bent on giving you advice but who can support you in finding the clarity that you need.

* Practise a meditation method regularly.

See also Remembering Your Resources


Sources and Recommended Reading/Viewing

  • Resilience     Anne Deveson   (Pub: Allen and Unwin)
  • Touching the Voidbased on a true event, a documentary drama about two young mountaineers
  • Meditation: The First and Last Freedom   Osho   (St. Martin’s Griffin)


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