We hear the term resilience used quite a lot these days, likely because it comes into the picture of so many adverse and unpleasant events occurring in our world. We see the likes of surviving the ravages of war, recovering the destruction of hurricanes or fires, and managing the tragedy of senseless losses and deaths. And of course, resilience is that necessary quality to get back up on one’s feet and stay determined to return to normal as soon as possible. We always want to ask: How do the victims of these events recover? Is it always possible to re-build and recover? How long does it take? And what about those who choose not to “get back up off the mat?”
There are many words synonymous with resilience, words like grit, drive, fire, and even spirit. Whatever we want to call it, I believe that this quality resides in each one of us. It doesn’t go away. Though, sometimes it may feel like we have no resilience left inside, maybe after repeated trials or suffering. Or, it may be blocked or covered up, and we say we have nothing left to make it through. But, I maintain, one’s resilience is always there to tap into. We may have to dig deep and fight that sense of helplessness during the most difficult times. But the resilience is there. As long as we are breathing, and we can make decisions for our self, we can access this inner quality.
What Does Resilience Look Like?
Here are the features of resilient people:
- Emotional awareness – resilient people are aware of their (many and mixed) emotions that are triggered by the distressing loss, and respect these emotions but they do not let them control their actions
- Persevere in the face of difficulty – this is the ability to maintain a purpose in spite of the difficulty, obstacle, or discouragement
- Competence – resilient people can call on past coping skills and are confident of their self-reliability to cope again
- Seek and maintain social support – reaching out and asking for help at time of need also is a characteristic of resilient people
- Courage – a belief that he or she can persevere
- Mental clarity during a stressful event – this is related to the ability to stay calm in a crisis
- Optimism – resilience is always paired with a certain amount of optimism, and the belief that the positives will outweigh the negatives
- Internal locus of control – those who are resilient use their own intuition and judgement to make decisions and guide future actions, and are not solely driven by the opinions of others
- Sense of humor – in time, a sense of humor will dull the sharp edges of the loss
- Spirituality – for many resilient people, a belief in God or a higher power serves as a major encouragement
- How many of these characteristics can you identify with?
- Would you consider yourself someone with low, medium, or high resilience?
- Are you able to see these qualities in others?
- Can you adopt more of these qualities in the face of a new stressor or setback of your own?
- What about using the qualities of resilience to aid a loved one?
- How will you feel in the future if you had more of these strategies at your fingertips?
In short, we know advancing age brings with it new stresses and new losses. And as we’ve heard so many times, “Aging ain’t for sissies!” It is so important to spotlight the fact that resilient people are able to bounce back after hard times. Maybe we can return to “normal,” like after a fall, hip fracture, and successful rehab. And maybe we can never return to normal, following the onset of a dementing illness or the loss of a spouse, so we create a “new normal.” Regardless, we recover emotionally from the loss and stay determined to keep moving forward.
As distressing as the negative event is, there is always opportunity to start a new chapter, and keep a positive outlook toward the future. Resilience matters, and ours is always available.
Dr. Joe Casciani is the owner and Chief Curator for the Living to 100 Club, a source of solutions to living longer and healthier, with a special focus on mindset and attitudes about aging. He has a 40-year history as a psychologist and manager of mental health practices specializing in behavioral health services with older adults. In addition to his work as a clinical consultant, he is an engaging and inspiring speaker, and helps audiences move beyond their questions and concerns about aging to create a vision of what is possible in the years ahead. He strongly believes there is value in helping people feel inspired about their future.