Ever look at someone and think to yourself, “How are you still alive?” Maybe that’s just me and the field I work in, but we all know someone who has been through hell. Someone who either struggled with addiction, abuse, poverty, or other challenging life circumstances. We hear stories of life challenges and think, how did this person make it out? How are they so normal? Or even, inspirational? I know a number of people like this, both in business and in my personal life, who have somehow beat the odds and despite a beat-down from life, have come ahead of it all with strong values, confidence, and hope.
How does one person end up this way and another end up a victim? Studies in positive psychology have done a lot of work on resilience and have gone further to working with the military to help foster resilience so that the traumas of war are not creating a life-long trauma disorder. What is resilience exactly? We might describe this as the ability to “bounce back” from an adverse event or not be as brought down by stress as others might be. Is this something we are born with? Something that we gained in childhood? Can we still become resilient, even if we have not been in the past? The answers to all of these is YES.
Some of it, we are likely born with, as about 50% of personality is genetic. Studies show that authoritative parenting styles, or styles that involve structure, support, and warmth, generally lead to children who are more resilient than the alternative styles of being overly strict and cold or overly passive. But also, we can learn resilience at any age, even if your parents were not resilient people and did not parent in the most ideal way. There are a few things you can start doing even today to make yourself a more resilient individual and let go of any previous victim patterns you have had.
Know Your Strengths
First, identify your strengths. Some of us know these are some of us don’t. Often, we know what to say on an interview, but not what our true, core strengths are. A quick easy way to find this out is to take the VIA Strengths Inventory. Once you are aware of your strengths, find ways to use these in your every day life and especially in difficult times.
Second, practice mindfulness. If you would like to know more about mindfulness, check out my blog on mindfulness. Mindfulness is mostly about being present in the moment. Taking time to stop and observe. To acknowledge your surroundings, your emotions, sensations in your body, and what is going on around you, this is the practice of being mindful. There are a number of wonderful mindfulness exercises and apps to help you get into a mindfulness meditation practice.
Third, mindset is everything. How we view an experience of adversity is directly related to how we will cope with it. If we see a negative event as a failure or something that is only horrible and nothing else, we miss an opportunity for growth. But, if instead, we see it as a learning experience, something to see fully, acknowledge, and figure out what went wrong and how we can prevent this in the future or look for a way to grow from the experience, we create different neuro-pathways in our mind that result in more positive, hopeful emotions.
Fourth, we need to acknowledge our progress. Whether you are good at setting goals for yourself or not, there is a good way and a not so good way to do this. If we look at a goal and only see the space between where we are now and the finish line, it can feel overwhelming and negative. But, if instead, we acknowledge each step of progress we are making towards the goal and celebrate that, it gives us momentum to keep going. We feel good when we have accomplished something and we are much more likely to keep moving when we are being cheered on along the way.
Lastly, use Albert Ellis’ ABCDE Model. This is a common psychology model, but I think it helps us to keep things in perspective.
A-what was the Adverse event?
B-What are your Beliefs surrounding the event?
C- What are the Consequences of the event and your beliefs surrounding it? How do the beliefs make you feel?
D- How can you Dispute the beliefs surrounding the event? Are your beliefs based in reality? Logical? Are they effective?
E- What is the Effect of the dispute? Might you have more reasonable or effective beliefs around the event now?
Recognizing that it is our beliefs and thoughts surrounding an event, rather than an event itself that causes an emotional reaction, gives us a new sense of control. Have you ever responded to a friend’s loss of a grandparent with the standard, “I’m so sorry for your loss” and instead of the typical response, they say, “Thank you, but I’m fine, she lived a long beautiful life.” This is the belief they had around the event of the death of their grandmother. The consequence is that they do not feel sad. If they had responded differently, saying something such as, “Life’s just not fair! Everybody leaves!” The consequence is that they might feel sad or despair. This might be a good time for them to dispute these beliefs as to whether it is “fair” that their 95 year-old grandmother had to pass away, whether it is true that “everyone leaves” and also if these thoughts are the most effective way of handling their grief in this time. They might find that after disputing these thoughts, recognizing that their grandma was in pain, and now is no longer in pain, they feel somewhat better.