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What is Resilience and How Do I Develop More of it?

One of my favorite quotes from my dad has always been, "bad luck, play on". The idea is, sometimes in life things that we don't like happen. Bad luck, or unfortunate circumstances, are inevitable. This is not meant to downplay the impact of trauma, but to assist in helping us overcome it. In fact, not that he would explain it this way, my dad was inadvertently talking about resiliency.

Resilience, in the context of mental health, is one's ability to rise to challenges and bounce back from setbacks. It is a quality of living that we begin developing in childhood and continue to carry with us throughout our life. It is also the cause of many relational conflicts because some people have more and less of it. For some, forgetting their coffee on the roof of the car and driving down the street with a mess of foam streaking the windows is a comical start to the morning. For others, this is a foreboding event that has the ability to ruin the whole day. The only difference is one's resilience in the face of challenges. Before we go ridiculing people with less resiliency than ourselves, it's important to recognize that many of the factors that assist in the development of this quality are outside of our control.

As we begin developing this in childhood some key markers of resilience are: having at least 1 trusted caring adult who is consistent in our lives, having good friends and social support, having people we can count on, having a spiritual belief system that connects us to something larger than ourselves, and having a sense of purpose. On the contrary, some key factors which inhibit the healthy development of resilience in childhood are sickness, divorce, and not having our needs taken care of like food and safety. It is plain to see that many of us may not get a strong foundation for resilience and may have trouble building one as we grow older. So does that mean people with challenges in childhood are doomed as adults? Not necessarily.

We are constantly provided opportunities to practice resilience in everyday life. When something doesn't go our way we can be intentional about using coping strategies, talking to trusted loved ones, and being kind to ourselves as ways to alter what might've been an unhelpful response. As with anything, the more we practice the better we get. We can also build relationships and systems in our life which foster increased resilience. We can practice being vulnerable and allowing others we trust to support us. The more people we allow to see our struggle, the more we're able to free ourselves of feeling like we have to handle everything on our own. We can ask the big questions about our values and what difficult events mean to us. When I had a small house fire last year I chose to view it with gratitude that no one was hurt and my partner and I could work together to solve a big problem. We can choose to speak kindly and with compassion to ourselves. Rather than saying, "why do I even bother" try my dad's line, "bad luck, play on". Most importantly we can remain focused on what is in and out of our control. I could not control that my fusebox went up in flames, I am not an electrician and I did nothing to cause it. I can control how I choose to go about fixing the fusebox and who I turn to for emotional support. Finally, seeking the guidance of a licensed professional counselor can do wonders for building resilience and overcoming challenges.

Our resilience is in no way a reflection of our character, value, or worthiness. It is a practice of perspective and resolve. Everything in our life has only the meaning and value that we ascribe to it. I encourage all of my clients to explore and evaluate the meaning and value things hold to them in their life, and to challenge meanings and values which do not serve them. As difficult as it is, building resilience in our lives with intentionality can only serve us for the better. If ever you're needing more assistance with this I am happy to help.

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