What is resilience?
Resilience is the capacity to withstand stress and catastrophe. Psychologists have long recognized the capabilities of humans to adapt and overcome risk and adversity. Individuals and communities are able to rebuild their lives even after devastating tragedies of which we so much in our world today.
Being resilient doesn’t mean going through life without experiencing stress and pain. People feel grief, sadness, and a range of other negative emotions after adversity and loss. The road to resilience lies in working through the emotions and effects of stress and painful events and changing how we think about these events.
Resilience is also not a trait, i.e. something you are born with or not. Resilience develops as people grow up and gain better thinking and self-management skills and more knowledge. Resilience is found in a variety of behaviours, thoughts, and actions that can be learned and developed across our lives, it’s never too late to develop this adaptive response
Psychologist Barbara Fredrickson and her colleagues have found that resilient people still felt as many negative emotions as less happy people, often very intense ones. Their increase in happiness came from feeling good; not from avoiding feeling bad.
Within the REBT approach resilience is developed through the acceptance of negative events and experiences rather than insisting they shouldn’t have happened. Through accepting that bad things may happen we disturb ourselves much less than when we insist they mustn’t happen. The reality is life does present complex situations to deal with and REBT looks not to avoid or put a positive spin on these events, rather empowers the individual to face and accept even the worst case scenarios in life By holding healthy beliefs about complex life experiences i.e. beliefs which are flexible, open to all possibilities, logical, that are consistent with reality and helpful, we can disturb ourselves far less and cope with whatever life has to throw at us.
Additionally, one of the central features of REBT is the concept of discomfort disturbance, provoked by irrational beliefs about one’s ability to cope, tolerate, bear and withstand negative or stressful events. Clients are taught how to transform their Low Frustration Tolerance (LFT) beliefs into High Frustration Tolerance (HFT) beliefs and become resilient.
Imagine you have just had a particularly difficult day; that you have a hangover on top of it, from the party the night before. Your boss brings forward a deadline on some work and your child is not well. You can feel overwhelmed with stress and anxiety and other negative emotions if you believe that such things should absolutely not happen and that you cannot cope or tolerate them or that life must be fair and easier or that your boss must be more considerate.
Then imagine all those same events but you acknowledged that things are difficult and challenging, that unfortunately sometimes unfair things happen and that your boss is not an a totally inconsiderate person and that you can discuss the new deadline and your concerns and that you can cope and tolerate what is difficult. Your emotions and behaviours would be healthier and more constructive.
Albert Ellis recognised that acceptance/acknowledgement that life can sometimes be complicated and that we can tolerate and bear what is difficult helps emotional wellbeing and resilience. He also recognised that self-acceptance also leads to constructive and healthy psychological outcomes. When we accept ourselves as fallible human beings who make mistakes rather than victims of circumstance our resilience is strengthened.
Developing emotional resilience through REBT helps us to understand that it’s not the event but our beliefs that impact our wellbeing and tolerance of challenges. It also helps us to learn and apply strategies to change our limiting self-beliefs. As a result we develop a healthier and more optimistic mindset and learn to use a universal philosophy that can be applied to work, home and other life issues.
So developing your resilience is not about toughening up, it’s more about acceptance of negative events and emotions and how we choose to think about them.
“Its not the event itself that disturbs us it’s the view we take of it.” Epictetus – our favourite Stoic – well along with Marcus Aurelius!