Bouncing Back: The Resilient Personality

Published 8:35 pm Friday, November 6, 2015

All of us experience hard times and loss during the course of our lives.  But, have you ever noticed how some individuals seem to be able to bounce back from these events, returning to normal life fairly quickly, while others seem to have very little bounce to their personalities and find the same kind of events overwhelming.

Why is a mere bump in the road for one person a “bridge out” sign for another? Why do some people seem to have a resilient personality while others do not? And, can this resilience be learned?

Resilience is the flexible strength required to adapt to both positive and negative change and challenges and to draw benefit from those experiences. It lies at the heart of mental, emotional and perhaps physical health.

So when some “so called victims” of life upsetting events turn out not to stay victims but seem to become more motivated, grow stronger and develop more meaningful lives as a result of their hardships, we wonder how they do it? And, how can we all become more resilient and learn to use hardships for good?

Here are some of the key qualities that resilient persons share:

They trust in the basic goodness of the world. Although they are realistic and recognize the negative when it occurs, they believe that things can turn out all right in the end.

They reframe situations when things seem hopeless — put another frame or context around the picture —see a new perspective, develop other options, and get unstuck.

They relentlessly seek out and use whatever positive support systems that are available and aren’t afraid to ask for help or take a chance.

They do not isolate, but emulate role models, find mentors, build meaningful friendships, and gather group support.

They refuse to be victims and develop strategies to tolerate and manage emotional and physical pain.

They get the medical and psychological treatment and spiritual support they require to heal and grow.

They think. They practice the personal responsibility required to take focused action or they punch the pause button so they do not foolishly react.

They learn from their mistakes and choose not to be complainers or blamers of self or others.

They are open to letting new life in—are lifetime learners, accomplish new things, and develop a wide range of interests.

They laugh! They use humor to relieve stress because it changes their perception of the situation and makes them stronger.

These findings underscore the words of Ralph Waldo Emerson “What lies behind us and what lies before us are tiny matters compared to what lies within us.”

Focusing on and developing what lies within us today will build our resilience and aid us in negotiating and transcending future obstacles. Since nobody gets to escape these disruptions to normal living, building the resilience we need to face them becomes a do it yourself job—one that will pay huge dividends to its investors.

Dr. Anne Strand is a Chaplain in the Episcopal Church, a pastoral counselor and a retired marriage and family therapist.