Published in Womeninc, June 2005
by Diana Gabriel
All of us have unexpected circumstances in our lives that we can’t control, which catch us off guard. The sudden death of a loved one, illness, disability, natural disasters, loss of a relationship or job, all are examples of times when we do not have the luxury to prepare our responses – we just react. But we do have the capacity to build our resilience, which is the bounce back factor, to assist us in thriving as a result of difficult circumstances.
Resiliency is the capacity to grow in the face of adverse circumstances. Whenever we “bounce back” from something that was difficult or traumatic, we are demonstrating our own resilience. It is something that we can build and create within ourselves in preparation for life’s challenges. The bounce back factor is not about returning to where you were before the event. We are forever changed by these events. The reference to bouncing back is to a person thriving in life, moving forward more fully rather than just surviving and getting by.
Individuals who demonstrate resiliency lead broad based lives, which is to say they engage in a variety of interests, are life long learners, have several relationships that support who they are, and they see themselves as a larger part of a whole. Being pro-active about taking care of yourself is also part of resilience, so that when you are in a difficult or traumatic situation, you have resources to draw on that sustain you through the life situation. Examples of self care may include taking time to go to the spa, get a massage, taking a warm long bath, or working out to stay fit and strong. Others may take time for themselves pursuing interests that they are passionate about, like gardening, painting, quilting or others. Such pursuits can offer you a sense of creativity and competence, boosting your positive sense of self and creating a reserve which you can call forth when dealing with trying times.
Resilient individuals tend to have a strong sense of their life purpose. They are better prepared to turn life’s challenges around if they have articulated their values and have a clear life purpose. [See column in February/March issue] The challenges they encounter, and how they choose to respond, serve to enhance not only their own life but the lives of others, as well. The feature story about Sarah Person is an exemplary example. Person looks for ways to turn her challenging experiences into something that benefits others. She has a deep capacity to find meaning and value in whatever she is engaged in – even when those things seem daunting.
Bonnie Benard, MSW, a writer/researcher on resiliency once wrote: “We are all born with innate resiliency, with the capacity to develop the traits commonly found in resilient survivors: social competence, problem-solving, autonomy, and a sense of purpose and belief in a bright future” (Resiliency In Action, Bonnie Benard, M.S.W.) We can all develop and strengthen these traits within ourselves. In doing so, we become more resilient and therefore more able to bounce back from life’s ordinary – and not so ordinary – challenges.