It has been said, “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger,” but why do we have to be brutally attacked in order to become stronger? Obviously this is a figurative statement, but to me it speaks of resilience – the ability to “bounce back” after a rude awakening of sorts. Resilience is the measure of a person’s reaction to facing adversity and how they are able to return to normal and even high functioning after some kind of trauma or crisis has been bestowed upon them.
We see this everyday – whether or not we realize it. We see millions of people going on with their everyday lives and excelling despite the tragedy, sadness, or disappointments within them.
So what does it take to be resilient?
Here are 10 things to practice in your effort to build resilience:
#1: Realizing your own inner strength.
Each one of us possesses unique qualities that make us special, important, and different from one another. However, not every person is able to identify those qualities in themselves. The upside of adversity is that you are able to see where your mental strengths and weaknesses lay. When we experience crisis, our minds go into a survival mode of sorts. Allow this to take over. Don’t think so hard and let your natural mental strengths come through to guide you out of your pain. For some people, this means drowning out your sorrows in television, food, or in bed. For others, it means waking up early and getting out of the house before you can even think about your worries. Everyone deals with traumatic events differently and it’s important to allow yourself to be your own caretaker in the way that feels most comfortable for you. Identify what it is that calms you down, gets you back to feeling yourself and do that thing (as long as it is not dangerous, maladaptive, etc.).
#2: Every scar can heal with time.
Supposedly time heals all wounds. I can’t account to the truth of this statement, but I believe time can really help heal your wounds. Just as our body scars and reminds us of the physical trauma we have encountered, emotional scars are real and present after a sad, scary, or disappointing time in our lives. Time helps heal emotional wounds because as we get farther and farther away from the crisis point in our lives, we have been able to reflect with greater objectivity, identify growth and positive changes that have arisen from our crisis, as well as having had plenty of time to add happy memories to our lives. If you’re still in a place of sadness or crisis, ask yourself if you have been given enough time to be free of the pain. Chances are, you probably need more of it and that is okay. Try to be accepting and hopeful of the fact that emotional change doesn’t happen overnight and every step of the process is a necessary one.
#3: Staying positive despite the odds.
During difficult times, it’s very easy to fall into the trap of hopelessness. Keep in mind that hopelessness is a sign of depression. Depression is an emotional state – it is not a reality. When things have gone sour, it can feel like your whole world is crumbling. The perception of hopelessness can keep us from moving forward, working towards a better future, and can cause us to become stuck in our depressed state. Understand that changing your attitude, even if it’s not something you truly yet believe, can make a world of difference. There are many quotes and motivational essays about positivity, but finding one silver lining each day can help you get through an emotional storm of negativity and propel you to something greater.
#4: Inspiring others to move past their sorrow.
We look to others for advice, support, and sometimes inspiration. Whether or not you are aware, you have likely been the source of inspiration for someone you have met in your life. Working through a crisis can be that time where you seek inspiration from others or maybe become an inspiration yourself. Once you have moved past your adversity, sharing your story with other people can be a great tool, not only for your continued healing but surely for someone else who is going through something similar and may be stuck in hopelessness. The truth is, we are all in this life together. We all feel pain. We all need a little help sometimes. By being the light for someone else, you are making your own light shine brighter.
#5: Learning to trust again.
When you have been wronged by a person or by the world in general, it’s easy to paint the universe as untrustworthy, disloyal, and unfair. Do your best to keep yourself open to the idea that there is some goodness and purity still out there. Having adverse situations can not only help you to find those good people and experiences, but will also open you up to a new level of appreciation for the security they provide. As hard as it is, trust in others and yourself is the only way to experience lasting and fulfilling relationships both inward and out. Taking little steps to get to know yourself and other people will help you navigate this world that can sometimes feel confusing and scary. Finding your gut and listening to it, regarding your own needs and your feelings about others is one way of working through trust issues.
#6: Ignoring those who doubt your potential.
There will always be naysayers. If you don’t learn to drown them out, you will drown in regret. When people are critical of you and shoot down your ideas and life plans, they are really just reflecting their own self-doubt. The same self-doubt that is keeping them from being the person they want to be. Don’t allow their insecurities to take you down along with them. Only you know your true potential and only you can unlock it. It can be hard to ignore the critics, especially if it they are someone close to you like family or romantic partners, but part of being your own best friend means believing in yourself enough to drown out all of the noise that says anything different.
#7: Exchanging bad memories with lessons learned.
Trial and error: It’s primal, really. It’s the same way you learned not to touch the hot stove or ride your bike down the hill without holding onto the handlebars. Our mistakes can be our best teachers. Emotional crises can serve in that same way. We can learn what role we had in the situation, how and why it was serving us at the time, and what is the next best course of action to move forward with our lives. Although regret might be something you are feeling, it isn’t healthy to stay in that mindset. Bad experiences can always teach us something about ourselves and bring us closer to our truth and path to happiness. There is no sense in being hard on yourself for your past decisions. Instead, use the experience to guide you in the future. There is always a lesson available for learning if you are ready to receive it.
#8: Never giving up on your dreams.
One of the great things about life is that it really is never too late to live the life you want. It just starts with today and if not today, maybe tomorrow. Our society sometimes leads us to believe that the road you choose initially is the road you must follow. The truth is it’s never too late to start over. If you’re not happy, if what you are doing isn’t working for you, try something else. If you’re one of the lucky people who knows what that dream is, go for it. An upside of an emotional breakdown is that it allows us to truly get to know ourselves. It is in those moments where you feel as if you have nothing where you can find the answers to how you can have everything. Don’t let those thoughts pass you by like a floating cloud. Listen to that inner voice telling you where you ought to be in life. Think quietly to yourself, “If this were my best life, what would I be doing?” And stop making up reasons why you can’t do this and start moving towards your best life.
#9: Creating your own destiny.
You are the master of your own universe. You are the Picasso of your starry night. You are the conductor of your life’s symphony. Now use that power! Don’t allow life or its circumstances to dictate your future. Each failure means you are one step closer to success. Stop looking for external signs that you are or aren’t doing the right thing in your life. The truth is you know these answers for yourself. Allowing the world to write your story will only cause resentment and regret. Free yourself from what everyone else thinks you should be doing and create the life you want for yourself. Formulate a plan, outline each step, and do one thing each day to get you closer to your goals.
#10: Enjoying life, even though it can be cruel sometimes.
Life has its ups and downs - there is no doubt about that. The hard times can be downright torturous, but always remember that there will be better times to come. Viewing life as a precious gift means facing hellish circumstances with an inner knowledge that pain will pass, discomfort brings about growth, and the truth that happiness isn’t too far away. If you can learn to ease into pain, walk through your turmoil, and live to tell about it, then you are certainly on your way to living your best life.
Resilience will help you out along the way. Once you have experienced serious pain, that same event will never hurt you as bad as it was once able to. Our minds build immunities similar to our bodies - literally making us mentally stronger. Have faith in yourself and remember that the sign of the Yin Yang represents Crisis and Opportunity. Within every crisis, therein lies an opportunity to find yourself and create happiness.
Alyson Cohen, LCSW is a psychotherapist in NYC specialized in helping teens, families, and young adults live their best life. For more information, please visit her website at www.alysoncohentherapy.com .