Wellness CenterJuly/August 2015
Bouncing Back from Adversity
We have met people with an uncanny ability to bounce back from the many adversities that life presents. They exhibit what social psychologists call resilience.
In the face of distressing or traumatic events, like chronic or terminal illnesses, financial loses, tragic accidents, death of loved ones, they are suddenly pulled down into an abyss of anger, pain, fear, and despair. But, shaken up and stunned as these individuals feel, they do not give in to this torrent of negative emotions.
Instead, they keep calm, flexible, focused and strive not to loose perspective. When they deem that the threat could be managed they put their minds to work on a solution. When the event is judged as irreparable or incurable, they initiate an emotional process aiming to find acceptance, strength to go on, and in many cases, new meanings for their existence. In the end, they emerge re-energized, more prepared to meet future life challenges. Yes, to paraphrase Nietzsche, what does not kill you makes you stronger.
When we hear about these exemplary human beings we ask ourselves if we would be capable of coping with losses, adapt to life challenges in the same manner. We harbor doubts about our own capacities. But the answer is that, yes, we would be capable. According to studies, it turns out that the ability to bounce back from adversity is not rare or reserved for a special breed of individuals. Resilience is a fairly common occurrence. Further, resilience is an ability that can be cultivated. Based on what resilient individuals do, existing studies recommend several strategies:
- Have in place a structure of emotional support. Invest in constructive relationship with others. Dedicate time and attention to friends and family. Build a network. In times of distress it will be your refuge, your safety net. The place where you will find guidance and support.
- Practice keeping your emotional balance. Distressing or catastrophic events throws us for an emotional spin, where anguish, fear, hopelessness overtake and paralyze. But this is precisely the wrong moment to loose control and allow being swept by negative emotions. Resist the downward spiral and strive to stay focused and not loose perspective.
- In the face of submerging, debilitating, negative emotions, deliberately, mindfully, make the extra effort to commit to positivity. Confronted with despair, seek solace in hope. Feeling abandoned, resist the path of emotional and social isolation. Instead, open up to your network of support.
- In the midst of turmoil, and in spite of it, determine what action to take. Analyze. Strategize. If the challenge appears surmountable, focus on finding a solution. If it appears irreparable or incurable, seek acceptance and begin to reinvent a future.
- As you resist, be flexible. Life challenges, adverse events often call us to significantly change our ways. Open up to that possibility.
- Embark in your own reconstruction. Consider what the adverse events took away and what remained. Grieve the losses and reconstruct with what was left.
- Strive to find meaning or benefit. While in crisis or out of losses we can frequently find new perspectives, such as a new understanding of what really matters in life. A negative, traumatic event can reorient our existence toward a more satisfactory future.
- Share your story with others. Engaging in meaningful self-disclosure is clearly beneficial to the person sharing it, as it is to the person receiving it.
- Embrace optimism and gratitude. Adverse events, like storms, subside. Although the proverbial glass might appear to be half empty, from the vantage point of our wellbeing, it is more useful to regard the glass as half full. This is not a call for positive thinking but, instead, positive emoting. And concerning what was lost, the negative outcomes could have been much worse. So, let us consider letting go of our lament and engage in a heartfelt expression of gratitude—for all that we still have.
Julio F. Angulo, Ph.D.
Julio F. Angulo, PhD
March 24, 2015
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