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Resilience: Building a Stronger, Healthier Mindset

Dr. Farhan Shahzad and Sarah Davies-Robertson

Resilience is the ability to bounce back from adversity.

Resilience is an inner strength that helps us overcome trauma and extremely stressful situations.

Resilience is a term used in positive psychology that refers to the ability to overcome from setbacks. What makes resilience different is that the individual usually emerges from the setback or adverse circumstance in much better shape than they were before. Some individuals can get knocked down, but they emerge stronger than they were beforehand. These people are called resilient individuals.

A resilient person will work through challenges drawing on personal resources such as inner strength and other psychological capital such as hope, optimism, and self-efficacy, which is the belief in our ability to succeed.

Relationships play a vital role in harnessing and building resilience. Children that were raised by parents with an authoritative parent style are said to be the most resilient. However, resilience can be developed through life experiences. Authoritative parenting styles display qualities such as warmth and affection, and also give the child the structure and support they need. This is said to create well-rounded individuals. Lopez and Snyder (2009) also found that there are a number of protective factors that make way for the development of resilience and these also include parental educational levels, socio-economic status, and home environment (organised versus disorganised) etc. While these factors may play a fundamental role, there are also occasions where a child has experienced such hardship and adverse poverty and abuse, but have managed to overcome and succeed in life too. Some children are easily able to bounce back from these situations, while other children are not. These children are known to be resilient.

Family plays a fundamental role in the ability to bounce back from adversary. If a child has autonomy and is shown empathy, he or she is more able to recover from the trauma. They have been given the inner resources needed to be resilient. Lack of autonomy and empathy can lead to the child feeling helpless. Children who possess the following traits are more likely to be resilient:

· Good self-image

· Ability to problem-solve

· Self-regulation

· Adaptability

· Faith

· Positive outlook on life

· Useful skills and talents

· Acceptance by others

Those that are deemed to be resilient tend to have more of a positive attitude and see failure as a learning process.

“Challenges are what make life interesting; overcoming them is what makes life meaningful.”

– Joshua J. Marine

One of the major advancements in psychological knowledge is through the work of prominent psychologist, Martin Seligman, on the science of happiness. Seligman was the President of the American Psychological Society in 1998 when his focus changed to positive psychology. He wanted to understand what makes a person or community happy, rather than the focus on the pathological (what makes a person abnormal or mentally unwell). This led to the positive psychology movement, which has expanded globally.

Positive psychology is the study of human wellbeing. Its focus is on what makes an individual flourish and succeed. While it is not limited to positive thinking (it is much more than that), the study looks at how individuals, despite their circumstances, can experience growth, creativity, and optimal wellness. It is defined as the focus on strengths and virtues that allow individuals and communities to thrive and flourish (Gable and Haidt, 2005; Sheldon and King, 2001).

Seligman and his team sought to find out how some individuals flourish and go on to thrive, despite adverse circumstances, and how some people overcome problems to become a much better, more well-rounded, version of who they were before they encountered any traumatic event. There are some individuals that, despite encountering traumatic circumstances, find ways to flourish after the event, while others plunge further into despair. This is called resilience, and it is a key component of the positive psychology movement. Some individuals experience extreme trauma, and while they will initially experience the symptoms associated with trauma such as depression, hypervigilance, insomnia, anxiety, and flashbacks, they go on to recover better. These types of resilient people experience post-traumatic growth.

Seligman was fascinated with resilient individuals and sought to find out what traits they possessed, in order for these traits to be taught to others. Positive Psychology, therefore, focuses on how people can flourish, despite personal traumas, and seeks to teach people the art of being happy.


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