How is it that some people can endure significant stress and even traumatic life events while still maintaining a positive, constructive and optimistic attitude, while others, when confronted with stressful life events, find it difficult to function and to sustain hope. Some people who have coped remarkably well under certain trying circumstances, or at one time in their life, seem to succumb to depression and be unable to cope as well as they did in the past when faced with a new trauma or a new loss, at a different time. What is resilience, how do we define it, how can we enhance it?
The fundamental definition of resilience refers to “the process of adapting well in the face of adversity, trauma tragedy, threats or even significant sources of stress” (APA, 2014, p. 4). However, there can be different meanings in which resilience can be shown, and different ways in which this complex concept is understood. Resilience can be defined as the absence of symptoms under stress, the ability to remain free of symptoms despite enduring significant level of stress or undergoing a difficult experience.
Another perspective on resilience views it as the capacity to manifest positive adaptation to stress and trauma, during the time that these trying circumstances are on-going and also afterwards. This capacity is reflected in the ability to rebuild life and find purpose
after the trauma or the stressful situation ended. This good adaptation can be manifested alongside and despite the presence of some symptoms related to the trauma.
Yet another important aspect of resilience is the capacity to access and harness resources , as in engaging and connecting with others in ways that might help sustain well-being, get needed assistance and make new positive experiences that will balance the negative and bolster one’s sense of self esteem and connections to others.
Resilience is also an enhanced psychological capacity to modulate the stress response, the capacity to regulate one’s internal states and one’s emotional reactivity even under significant stress.
A most critical aspect of resilience seems to be the capacity for re-integration of self after a shocking, disruptive or life-changing traumatic event. Crucial for such re-integration of who one was and who one is, or will be, after such an adverse experience, is a conscious effort to move forward in an insightful, positive manner. It is the conscious, intentional, decision to move onward, despite trauma and loss.
Recently, an esteemed colleague has recovered from a mastectomy, which she openly shared with her large circle of friends and colleagues, myself included. I hope to have the resilience, the optimism and the vitality, that she has shown throughout this trying process, which reminded me so much of the courage and optimism my own mother has shown in going through the same ordeal many years ago. My colleague has found a remarkably creative way to access the love and support of her many friends and colleagues. She had set up a virutal “treasure box” to which we could send our best wishes and blessings for her recovery. After she opened her “treasure box”, she shared with us her joy and gratefulness at the warmth and love that were sent her way from all corners of the world. I marvel with my friend at the circle of connections that she has created around her throughout her life, and am reminded of how important it is to take care of our relationships. Having spent the last couple of weeks of the summer with some good friends in Switzerland, where I lived for a while, I felt how these special relationships makes us enjoy life to its fullest. As studies show us, our connections and the embrace of those around us help us rally in times of great challenges. My collegue said she was “Awe-struck” by the beauty of the “treasures” she found in her virtual “treasure box”.
We have to remember to be awe-struck by the beauty of every day, by the love of those around us, and by the wonderful, inspiring role models that present themselves along our way.