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The Healing Power of Resilience

Updated on August 30, 2013
maramerce profile image

Melissa is a professional poet and writer. She currently has several works in her "vault" that she plans on publishing when she gets to it.

Bouncing Back Vs. Falling Flat

Even though life dishes out tragedies, failures, and disappointments to us all, it always seems like some people have an easier time dealing with their setbacks. Why does one person decide to get up the next day and fight for a better life while another person decides to sit with their sorrows and drown their cares in a bottle? Some people talk about resilience like it’s a genetic trait, either you have it or you don’t. However, it’s not like being tall or short. Perhaps some of us are born with a more tenacious predisposition than others, but anyone can learn to be resilient by studying the qualities of other resilient people.

What Are the Qualities of Resilient People?

You may have some of them already. We all possess some ability to adapt to the changes in our environments. Evolutionary biology would suggest that none of us would be here right now if we didn’t have some innate instinct which makes us resilient. Our ability to learn, for one thing, and gather information gives us an edge over all the lurking beasts in the wilderness. Okay, but what about the civilized world? What gives some of us a resilient edge over everyone else in the same boat? I know there are studies out there, some of which I’ve read, that speak to the remarkable qualities of resilient people, but I prefer to have this discussion from personal experience, not what I’ve heard works, but what I know works.

Resilient People Have a Sunny Outlook

The fact is, no matter what happens to them in life, they choose to think positively, to look on the bright side of the situation, to find a blessing in the curse, and to focus on what is good in their lives. In doing so, virtually nothing keeps them down or keeps them down for long. They seem to bounce back quickly from disappointments and heal faster from grief and tragedy. They don’t sit around dwelling on what they cannot change or what is past. They look, instead, actively forward and busy themselves with positive behaviors whether that means rebuilding from a disaster or helping someone else as equally in need. Their focus tends to be outside of themselves and into the world around them.

It’s not that they don’t deal with the sadness that inevitably comes from those terrible situations in life. It’s that they deal effectively with the sadness by not simply holding it all inside and becoming bitter. Resilient people know how to express their grief openly and share their feelings when appropriate. They also know how to let the pain move through them and release their suffering by being grateful for what they do have in their lives instead of always thinking about what they’ve lost.

Resilient People Don’t Give Up

The enduring quality in resilient people is the ability to get back up again and again and again when life knocks them to the ground. You can’t keep them down. The reason is simple. Resilient people believe that eventually everything is going to work out in their favor so they try harder to get to the end result. Whether everything is going to work out for them or not isn’t the point. The point is they truly, truly believe it’s going to work out so they behave in accordance with that belief and oftentimes it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy because they do not give up. They reach their goals eventually and are more satisfied having made the effort alone than others who gave up, knowing they did everything they absolutely could to make it happen. They are people of action who work towards their vision each day instead of just passively wishing for what they want in life.

I read a study once about resilient people who were given an unsolvable puzzle. There were two groups of people: the first group self-identified as lucky and the second group self-identified as unlucky. The results of the study showed that the people who believed themselves to be lucky were less likely to give up working the puzzle and worked at it much longer, almost twice as long, as the people who believed themselves to be unlucky.

Resilient People Believe They’re Lucky

Once again, whether luck exists or not isn’t the point. Resilient people believe they are lucky to some degree so an interesting thing happens when they go out into the world. They see what they want to see and end up creating their own luck and opportunities. In psychology, this is called selective attention, and we all do it to some degree. Most of us use selective attention to block out the noise in the world. Something fun to do when you’re waiting in line at the grocery store checkout is to pick a sound (bags rustling, beeping, baby crying, intercom, etc) and focus on one sound at a time. If you put a particular sound in the forefront of your mind, suddenly that will be the only sound you hear.

Resilient people use this same principle in a remarkable way. They focus on the positive, whatever affirms their goals in life, and largely ignore anything that does not support their chosen path. They become really good at blocking out the noise so the setbacks and disappointments never take precedence in their lives or interfere with their priorities. People who are not as resilient tend to either have a difficult time paying attention to the right things or maybe even ignore the more positive aspects of the situation. They may even believe themselves to be unlucky so they behave in a way that affirms that belief system. They notice every unlucky event that happens to them while ignoring any positive cues in their environment.

Resilient People Are Flexible

They bend a lot further than others before they break. Resilient people have a mental flexibility that enables them to change their opinions when given information that suggests they are going the wrong way. They don’t stubbornly stick to an idea or a plan that isn’t working out for them. They can burn a bridge or go back to the drawing board, starting over as often as it takes to get it right. They also learn from their mistakes, making improvements along the way which are sure to strengthen them for future tasks. This flexibility comes with an open-mindedness as well. Resilient people know how to suspend judgment until they have all the facts in front of them to make the best decision.

Resilient People Make the Right Friends

They are able to attract the kinds of people to them who support them in life and help them achieve their goals. Resilient people have an ability to recognize the resilience in others and so are able to build very effective support systems which gird them up when times get tough. They also know how to lean on others in such challenging times and ask for help when appropriate. The storms in life may not seem to hit them as hard simply because resilient people know how to find and look for shelter as disaster strikes. They are a bit more emotionally prepared and also willing to use their emotional resources.

The Positive Effects of Developing Resilience in Your Life

Being a resilient person has many advantages. The ability to succeed is chief among them. The most successful people in this world are people who have experienced loss and failure, but have never let those negative experiences define them. Most successful people will tell you they have failed much more than they have ever succeeded in life. Learning to be resilient takes the sting out of failure and the power away from negative experiences. It’s also much more inspiring to hear the story of a person who has succeeded after many attempts than someone who succeeded the first time around. Life is going to be filled with painful and sad experiences. That’s a given. Whether they overcome you or you overcome them is your own decision.

© 2013 maramerce

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    • maramerce profile imageAUTHOR

      maramerce 

      5 years ago from United States

      Thanks, Denise! I'm not a fan of feeling sorry for myself or feeling sorry for anyone else in general. I'm a very compassionate and empathetic person, but I believe in being solution-focused and action-oriented. I don't believe in complaining and wallowing in what you can't change. We all have moments of feeling sorry for ourselves (I certainly do it from time to time), but we shouldn't dwell there too long. Have your pity party, but clean it up the next day and move on.

    • denise.w.anderson profile image

      Denise W Anderson 

      5 years ago from Bismarck, North Dakota

      Your last statements say it so well, "Life is going to be filled with painful and sad experiences. That’s a given. Whether they overcome you or you overcome them is your own decision." Having been on both sides of this equation, I prefer to be the one overcoming! We all have it in us, we just have to make that decision!

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