Resilience does not mean pressing on without regard to your feelings. This mentality has done many of us no favours over the years. In fact, ignoring and avoiding the emotions surrounding adversity is linked with many mental health problems, warns Wendy.
Published academic researcher and best-selling author Dr Lucy Hone is an expert in resilience. She says in her book, Resilient Grieving, written after the death of her daughter, that resilience is “not armour”.
“Resilience enables us to feel pain and anger, anxiety, guilt) and to move through these emotions so that we can continue to feel joy, awe and love,” says Dr Hone. “Fundamentally, resilience is about marshalling what is within us to make it through, and maybe even transform, what is before us.”
The reality is that none of us know how we will really react until we face hardship. When Lim Siew Ling* was diagnosed with fertility issues at 34, her reaction to the devastating news surprised her.
“It jolted this fight in me,” Siew Ling admits. “Yes, I felt disappointed. Devastated, in fact. But I was not going to let this diagnosis take me down. In the end, I did 16 founds of IVF with a donor and I gave birth to a little boy just before Christmas.”
Resilience can be learnt
Each of us is resilient, in varying degrees. Experts believe that people are a lot more resilient than they actually know. After all, stories of ordinary people thrust into incredibly challenging circumstances prove just that.
However, while resilience is in part an innate character, later shaped by family, friends, community and social structures, it can be developed, even if you are naturally more sensitive to life’s difficulties. It is fluid, meaning that it can also deplete, depending on the situation.
“If someone is brought up in a very caring family, with very strong relationships, having people who are teaching them perseverance and that failure is OK, then all those early things make us to be a hardy person,” Wendy explains.
“But we can all increase our ability to rise to future challenges. And that the central elements of resilience are changing the way we think about adversity and being able to take positive actions.”
Resilience can be taught at a young age
Moving through a tough time in a healthy way has been proven to evolve three massive areas in our life – humility, maturity and empathy. It also contributes to greater emotional flexibility, as you have felt pain and sadness and survived.
It is not just about readying ourselves for the major crises but is beneficial for daily life, including our approach to work, relationships and even parenting. After all, if we can weather the small stresses, then it undoubtedly better prepares us for those inevitable bigger ones.
In fact, after carrying out in-depth research into the power of resilience, Professor Sally Merry, an expert in child and adolescent mental health, believes that skills to increase resilience should be taught to children from a young age. She is currently looking at ways to do this via a digital platform.
“I think anyone can learn to be resilient,” Professor Merry explains. “Not being too tough on ourselves, not expecting perfection, ‘rolling with the punches’, realising that bad times pass, are all good mindsets and these can all be learnt. Everyone can benefit from learning to be more resilient.”
* Names have been changed for privacy.