What Is Emotional Resilience?

I don’t often agree with (or even understand!) Nietzsche but here’s one of his thoughts I do like a little: “That which does not kill you, makes you stronger.”

Underpinning this quotation is the idea of ‘emotional resilience’. I’ve seen this phrase used an awful lot of late, so let’s have a look at what it is and what it means to be resilient.

Of course, being resilient doesn’t mean that you don’t experience distressing times or difficulties. Few people pass through life without setbacks of some sort, for example adversity, threats, tragedy or trauma. Resilience means being able to adapt well to any adversity so that you bounce back no matter what the difficulty is you face. It’s more than just coping.

A word I love in this field is “bounceability” and it’s pretty apt as resilience derives from the Latin ‘resilio’ which means to ‘bounce back’ or ‘retaliate’. But it’s not just the (vital!) ability to recover from any setback that life throws at you; it’s also the knowledge that by being able to learn the lessons offered by these setbacks you grow and flourish as a person. Perhaps Nietzsche was right?

What causes life’s problems?

These setbacks or difficulties can spring from single causes but more often, I think, stem from a multi-pronged ‘attack’. These causes can, loosely, be grouped into five, each bringing with them much stress, worry and anxiety: which are compounded when you are battered by more than one at the same time. These are:
physical – usually centred on your health, changing body shape, the effects of ageing, accidents, and your vitality for life
psychological – many aspects of life here are linked to your view of, and relationships to, yourself, your past and your future. This may manifest itself in many ways for example in your levels of self-esteem, courage, self-confidence, self-expression, ability to think, as well as the adaptability of both your mind and behaviours

social – centred on your relationships to, and quality of interactions with, others (especially your family, friends, co-workers, and your community).
financial – usually deriving from a loss of or change in job, and hence change in your income level. Believing you have too much or too little can both cause you emotional problems and compound them as we so often value ourselves (and others) by our bank account and possessions.
spiritual – feeling that there is, or isn’t, something bigger than you and your community can be unsettling. It’s often brought on by a shock, perhaps the death of someone known to you or your own growing awareness of your mortality. This might lead you to consider your relationship to something ‘other’, to something that might be called ‘Divine’, to seek ‘meaning’ in life. All this can lead to internal disquiet, of some magnitude at times.

Of course, facing something you deem unpleasant is not easy, but when you overcome it and learn from it you feel more confident in facing anything in the future. This is deeply empowering and enhances your sense of who you are. Surely that’s worth working for?

Societal changes

The growth of the term “snowflake generation” has drawn attention to people’s belief that there has been a reduction in emotional resilience in recent years. If this has occurred it is in response to changes in our society, including the following:
individualism – there has been an increased focus on “I” rather than “we” that has encouraged people to believe they are the centre of the world.
infantilism – perhaps rightly, society seeks to protect everyone from everyday concerns and worries from birth. This process is aided, naturally by parents who see no value to their children in negative experiences which has led to many claims that they wrap their children in cotton wool.
entitlement – it seems there has been a growth in a sense of entitlement almost certainly aided by the rise in the celebrity culture which offers the view that success can be gained immediately and without effort or skill.
positivity – increased numbers of people seem fearful of negative emotions, which has led to an increased unwillingness to express them openly and a feeling of failure in feeling these emotions.
perfectionism – much modern media encourages comparisons between people, especially with the rich and famous. This helps people believe they have to be perfect in both mind and body to be feel fulfilled and successful. This leads to feelings of inadequacy.
overwhelment – there are far more choices than ever before in virtually every aspect of life. This leads to people not making choices, regretting their choices and feeling overwhelmed by life.

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About the Author Nigel Lowson

I loved teaching and loved working in schools because I learnt so much from my colleagues and the students. They never failed to inspire me and make me laugh! My curiosity in what makes people tick moved me into pastoral care and I was privileged to be in charge of a school's pastoral care and co-curricular programmes for 18 years. Here I saw first-hand the pressures on both staff and students (and their parents) and learnt so much about human nature, especially under stress. My focus has always been on offering practical, easy, quick solutions that work which are supported by science.

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