Resilience is defined by the American Psychological Association as the ability to bounce back from adverse, stressful, or traumatic events. There’s been a lot of talk about it on social media lately, like about how it’s good for children to learn to overcome failure and how resilience can help older adults live longer, healthier lives. But there is also concern that the word has been overused or that people might tell others to be resilient to avoid having to deal with others’ feelings or with unfair situations.
So maybe it’s time to debunk some myths about resilience.
Myth #1: Being resilient means that you don’t feel bad about negative events. While people who are highly resilient tend to be optimistic, this doesn’t mean that they do not feel sad, or angry, or generally bad about adverse events. It is perfectly natural to feel bad when bad things happen. And anything that bounces has to go down, before it comes back up. So people who are highly resilient do feel bad when negative things happen. But they do not get stuck in these feelings. They believe that even if they feel bad now, they will eventually feel better.
Myth #2: Being resilient means you just accept things, even if they are unfair. People who are high in resilience do not ignore unfairness and inequity. In fact, they are problem-solvers. So if they see something that they feel needs fixing, they figure out a plan and they address the issue. Pointing out unfairness is a sign of resilience because it shows that that person is willing to tackle issues.
Myth #3: Being resilient means that you can’t empathize or sympathize with others who are feeling badly. Having empathy for others is actually a great way to grow resilience. If a person can understand that others feel badly and have setbacks, too, they might actually be less likely to get stuck in their own negative feelings. People who are empathetic also tend to have more positive social relationships. And positive social relationships also help people to grow their resilience skills. So empathy and resilience are likely to go hand in hand.
Myth #4: Being resilient means you do not ask others for help. Creating social relationships is one of the most important factors in building resilience. People who have high resilience are aware when they need help from others and they seek it out. This is part of being willing to search for solutions to issues. People who are highly resilient realize that other people may have different perspectives and suggestions that will be helpful. Also people who are highly resilient don’t put pressure on themselves to have all of the answers.
Myth #5: If you are not resilient, you are weak. Resilience is not something that you either have or you don’t. It is a skill. And, like a lot of skills, it takes practice to develop and to maintain. And even highly resilient people are going to have days when they don’t bounce back as quickly as they usually might because they have a cold, or they didn’t get enough sleep the night before. The point is that if you don’t think that you are high on resilience, that doesn’t mean that you are inherently weak. And you can change your resilience level.
So being resilient does not mean that you have to turn off your feelings and pretend that everything is wonderful when it is not. People who have high levels of resilience are not unrealistically optimistic. What they are able to do is to maintain a balance between feeling upset when negative things happen and being able to view setbacks as temporary and find solutions to difficulties. They also have social support systems that help them to do these things. Over the next few weeks we will explore how to grow resilience skills in children, parents and teachers. We can all be highly resilient on most days. We just need to practice!
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